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Good Tunes/Bad Tunes 

The good and bad of Spokane's music scene in 2006

BAD The Closures
Fat Tuesdays, Empyrean, Rock Coffee, the Twilight Room, the Shop's musical lineup -- all shut down this year. The people behind each said the same thing: "It doesn't pencil out." Too many costs, too few fans. By August, it was looking like live, local music was gone for good.

BAD Infighting
As if it weren't bad enough that Rock Coffee simply closed, the often-packed venue was shut down over complaints from the perennially resented Big Easy. Not only did Spokane lose a key venue in Rock, but the fracas stirred up a big pot of bad blood and scenester ennui.

BAD Title Transfers
When Rick Turner handed over the keys to Moosty's, regulars at the mainstay venue and dive bar thought the sky was falling. It wasn't. Mootsy's had survived the transfer of ownership fairly well. Not so the B-Side, which became the Spread, failed, and now has another new identity: the Bricks, a sporty bar with soul food. We miss you, B-Side, toilets and all.

BAD A Dearth of Inspiration
Where was the star power this year? We scanned our music listings from January 1 to mid-December to see what the city's biggest outfits -- the Arena, the Opera House, the Big Easy and the Bing -- have done for us lately. The Arena brought the Nashville heat this year (Toby Keith, Brooks & amp; Dunn, et al) but only hosted 24 bands all year. The Bing showed a measly 26. The Opera House: 11. The Big Easy, on the other hand, showcased 229 bands in our count. But the quality doesn't quite match the quantity, with a line-up heavy on hardcore, metal and '90s has-beens (Reel Big Fish, Toad the Wet Sprocket) and light on artists doing something interesting right now.

BAD Manchester Took Off
The ragtime-inspired, wannabe-British duo from Whitworth wasn't the only band to leave for greener pastures this year, but we were just starting to get psyched about Manchester when they headed for Seattle this summer.

GOOD The Garden's in Bloom
This past year was a culture shock for a town historically dominated by metal and various strains of "core." The scene opened up in 2006, with a wealth of indie music (from La Cha Cha to Paper Mache), the DJ scene, a surge in acoustic singer-songwriters (born from a vibrant open mic scene), a new hot jazz band (Viktor Novorski), a young blues unit (Zac Fairbanks). We've never seen local music-goers turn out for (and respond to) any local band the way they have for Seaweed Jack's "pirate rock." For the first time in a long time, there's something for almost everyone. And local fans are tuning in.

GOOD Vinyl Sounds Better
The funktastic DJ James Pants won a place on an impressive compilation put out by the revered Stones Throw label and, with regular gigs at Mizuna, Raw, the Baby Bar and Bluefish, helped build a thriving DJ scene in Spokane in 2006. More, please.

GOOD We Heart Local Music
While venues closed and patrons sounded a tentative death knell, local music actually got more attention this year than maybe ever. Inlander music editor Luke Baumgarten has reshaped and amped up our music coverage (stay tuned for a new look in January). And 7's tireless Isamu Jordan has become a one-man multimedia empire, with his ceaseless podcasting of local and national shows. Toss in The Word and the new bi-weekly Sidekick, and you've got a media scene that's hungrier than ever for local music.

GOOD College rocks
It took almost the whole year, but Whitworth seemed to finally figure out what Gonzaga's been missing for years. College kids love live music. And a college scene is key to any city's local music scene. Whitworth's Thomas Ruble booked an outstanding slate of indie music last semester. We hope he keeps it up. And that it wakes up the rest of the colleges. (What's a U-District without music, GU?)

GOOD Grand Reopenings
The scene's karma is about to swing back around. Less than two months after it closed, Empyrean is reopening under new management this weekend (see Sound Advice), and Rock Coffee is set to be resurrected in January. Whether its (allegedly awesome) location on Garland will draw the same crowds remains to be seen, but after four months of buzz, it should open with incredible momentum.

JOEL'S TOP 10 CDS OF 2006

10) Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
9) Old Crow Medicine Show, Big Iron World
8) The Concretes, In Colour
7) Bob Dylan, Modern Times
6) Hem, Funnel Cloud
5) Norfolk & amp; Western, The Gilded Age
4) Paul Simon, Surprise
Simon's lyrics are getting flabby, but his too-poo-pooed work with Brian Eno makes the 65-year-old sound fresh.
3) The Decemberists, The Crane Wife
2) The Avett Brothers, Four Thieves Gone
1) Josh Ritter -- The Animal Years
This is the best work of the Moscow, Idaho-bred singer-songwriter's young career and easily the finest songwriting I heard all year. From the catchy and tragic "Girl in the War," to lonesome "Idaho," to the thunderous, Bosch-esque "Thin Blue Flame," this is a brilliant record, beginning to end.
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