Half the fun of following a band like Sun City Girls is wrapping your head around the notion that they could actually exist.
Self-described "aristocrats of impertinence," the Sun City Girls have been performing and recording their defiant music since 1981. And there's really no sense in classifying that music, which was initially (and fittingly) developed in Phoenix's open-mic circuit. The Sun City sound shifts without warning, encompassing woozy improv, tight jazz, industrial noise, performance art, various confrontational tactics, etc. Performances are often given in mix-and-match tribal garb, with each Girl (there are three) wearing some sort of perplexing mask.
By now, much of the Sun City Girls' music has been released on CD, but there's plenty more out there on unlabeled vinyl or homemade cassette. It's the type of underground elusiveness that drives completists mad, and that music nerds absolutely adore.
At the center of this medicine show are two brothers: Richard and Alan Bishop, which marks at least one SCG fact we're comfortable in reporting. And somewhere you can hear the Bishop brothers laughing at how they've managed to toy with underground culture and its attendant mix of elitism and consumer fetishism.
In an interview with Perfect Sound Forever (www.perfectsoundforever.com)from way back in 1998, Rick Bishop seems earnest in addressing the Sun City Girls' mystique: "I don't think we keep a low profile, we just don't find it necessary to put our names on everything we do. The music speaks for itself and we know it's our work. That's all that matters."
Elsewhere, in discussing the Girls' format selections, he states: "I'll always be a fan of vinyl, though CDs are a necessary evil. I'll also always be a fan of evil."
And it was Richard, appearing this Friday at the A\V Space, who in 1998 added yet another layer to the Girls' mystique. With his solo debut on John Fahey's Revenant Records, Richard Bishop (Sir Richard Bishop if you're playing along) was outed as a classical guitarist with jaw-dropping talent.
Bishop's approach to steel-string wooden guitar is so entirely focused compared to the Sun City Girls' schizophrenia, it's nearly jarring in its purity. Which isn't to say the Girls' output is not musical. On the contrary, some of their recordings sound too alarmingly accessible --- too downright joyful --- to have been relegated to the "out there" bin.
Over the course of three albums (one for Revenant and two for Locust Music), Bishop has revealed himself as a guitarist sitting firmly in the tradition of Fahey and even Robbie Basho; an exploratory musician bent on coaxing every emotional capability from his instrument. Like Fahey (and Sun City Girls), Bishop does this without regard for formal restrictions. Epic pieces traverse the Delta blues, minimalism, the ragas of the Middle East, arabesques, and quaint gypsy asides. It's personal music that's still capable of taking listeners along for every dazzling run and hairpin turn.
"One part bruit Peckinpah muscularity and two parts illuminated Jodorowskian symbolism," is how Bishop explains it, once again showing his willingness to play around with avant-garde tendency.
Richard Bishop calls himself a "dealer of rare occult books and fine paper ephemera," both of which would be enough to pique the interest of the culture geeks he typically appeals to.
But if you skip his involvement in Sublime Frequencies, you'd be missing yet another giant chunk of what Bishop has contributed to the musical landscape.
"A collective of explorers dedicated to acquiring and exposing obscure sights and sounds from modern and traditional urban and rural frontiers," Sublime Frequencies has issued countless recordings that you should only be so lucky to hear.
Field recordings, radio and short-wave transmissions, various far-flung pop and folk forms, and other "sound anomalies" have wound up in the Sublime catalog.
A description of the label's I Remember Syria two-CD set serves as a touching statement of purpose: "A jaw-dropping exposé of music, news, interviews, and field recordings from one of the least-known quarters of the Arab world. The country of Syria has been politically and culturally exiled for decades by western media, leaving little known of its rich heritage of art, music, and culture." The set includes street scenes, interviews with citizens, radio broadcasts, a song about Saddam Hussein, and "the mystery of an underground city called 'Kazib.'"
But when Bishop hits the A\V Space, it'll just be the unmasked man, alone with his mystique and his guitar; and the knowledge of so many frontiers yet to explore.
Sir Richard Bishop of the Sun City Girls plays with Pengo on Friday, April 29, at the A\V Space, 8 Public Market (second floor), at 9 p.m. $5. 423-0320 or www.avspace.org. More on Bishop: www.suncitygirls.com, www.locustmusic.com/sirrichardbishop.com, www.sublimefrequencies.com