Roots rock”s most unlikely sketch artist; here”s to Charlie

Jun 11, 2008 at 1:03 pm

Wednesday, June 11

James McMurtry has made his name as a singer/songwriter by doing just that: brilliant little character sketches of people going from place to place living their lives, long rambling diatribes about the status quo, and some that lie in the space between these two. But lately, McMurtry’s taken on a different persona: the guitar hero/roots rocker.

James McMurtry takes a meditative turn on his latest album, Just Us Kids.
James McMurtry takes a meditative turn on his latest album, Just Us Kids.

Live he’s an amalgam, wowing audiences with his guitar playing while breaking hearts with the intimate tales that unfold within his lyrics. “(In concert) I work some acoustic songs for the crowd, but for the most part it’s pretty rockin’,” says McMurtry.

“Rockin’” is a good way to describe his new album, Just Us Kids. It’s a rootsy meditation on the state of the world, its leaders, and the little people caught in the middle. The songs rank among McMurtry’s finest, but it’s the volume that is most jarring upon the initial listening.

“The loud stuff is more fun. Music is kinetic, you want things moving around, you want to overdrive the amp just a little bit and make it sound like it’s supposed to,” says McMurtry.

With his newfound verve for the electric guitar, the question looms: What would McMurtry like to be remembered as, a roots rocker or a genteel singer/songwriter? 

“What you’re known as doesn’t matter until you’re dead. I don’t really care about what I’m remembered as, as long as I’m remembered for something,” he says.

McMurtry opens for Alejandro Escovedo and Ben Sollee at Headliners Music Hall (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088). Tickets are $15 and doors open at 7 p.m.

Thursday, June 12

Every summer needs an anthem or band to provide the soundtrack to the long days and good times, and New York-based dance-punk sensations Cobra Starship just might be the band to do it this year.

Having as much in common with The Clash as with Britney Spears, the Starship may not be critic’s darlings or global ambassadors, but they are providing a key ingredient: fun (remember that?). As the band sings in the first single from their 2007 album Viva La Cobra (Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen Recordings) “Guilty Pleasure”: And I came here to make you dance tonight/I don’t care about my guilty pleasure for you. The band is well aware of their place in the rock universe: an official party band.

“This is a project where we just wanted to have fun, and we try to convey that in the lyrics to our songs, that song in particular,” says guitarist Ryland Blackinton. 

“If we saw someone doing what we were doing and they were doing it seriously with a lot of emotion it wouldn’t work. We try to have fun with what we are doing,” says Blackinton.

So when the band pours into town on their current tour (“The Really Really Ridiculously Good Looking Tour”), expect an evening of booty shaking, pogoing and good old-fashioned romping. Cobra Starship, The Secret Handshake and Tyga play Headliners Music Hall.

Tickets are $10 and are available at all Ticketmaster outlets. Doors open at 8 p.m.

Sunday, June 15

To describe the music of the Sun City Girls in the short space of this column would be next to impossible. Their music combined sea shanties, free jazz, Mid-Eastern jams and out-and-out noise improvisations into a sonic stew that defied categorization.

But late last year, the Girls were dealt a crippling blow when their drummer, Charles Gocher, died.

In the wake of the loss, guitarists and band leaders Richard and Alan Bishop decided to retire the Sun City Girls moniker, but not before doing one last tour, to celebrate the band’s 20-plus year history as well as the life and work of Gocher.

“It wasn’t difficult to put together at all. Nor is it difficult to do (now),” says Alan Bishop.

In fact, the concerts, which include a showing of a film about the band, are anything but mournful affairs, he says.

“We are not mourning Charlie’s death. We are celebrating him with these shows …. Obviously, it took a while to get beyond what happened last year, and that’s why we’re doing this now instead of then. He’s still a huge part of this tour and travels with us wherever we go.”

Bishop says it marks the end of an era. “Before we met Charlie, we were doing acoustic guitar duets at open mics and gigs, so this is a very natural setting for us. But I’d wager that whatever we do next will not sound like this tour. That’s why you need to see this show. There’s nothing like it anywhere else, so see it while you can.”

But with music that comes from a multitude of genres and places of origin, lesser artists would quiver at the idea of interpreting the musical legacy of the Sun City Girls. Bishop treats it as a challenge. “We destroy obstacles and eliminate psychological barriers which may affect others in situations like this,” he says.

“Alan Bishop and Richard Bishop Present: The Brothers Unconnected: A Tribute to Sun City Girls and Charles Gocher” happens at the Pour Haus (1481 S. Shelby St.). The film begins at 9 p.m., and the music starts at 10 p.m.

Tickets are $10 at the door, and there will be no presales, so arrive early. 

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