Arizona's Andrew Jackson Jihad continues its folk-punk revolution with relentless personal rhetoric

Andrew Jackson Jihad with O Fidelis, Ali Bro and the Hippo and Petis
9 p.m. Wednesday
the Conservatory
8911 N. Western

Andrew Jackson was our seventh president and a hard-ass. A notoriously ruthless military commander nicknamed "Old Hickory" for his stern, ramrod ways, he was often derided as a jackass, which he adopted as a symbol, leading to its institutionalization as the emblem of the Democratic Party.

So it's fitting that his spiritual kin, Andrew Jackson Jihad, honor the legacy with brash, uncompromising music characterized by unsparing rhetoric and poignant stories.

The Phoenix folk-punk duo rails about the exploitation involved in cocaine production in "Personal Space Invader," and suggests "Let's make the most of it, because life's too short to fuck with" on "Jesus Saves."

Jihad saves its most vitriolic outburst for the haters on "We Didn't Come Here to Rock," which reports, "You wanted us to bum you out, so you could build us up, and you could knock us down / If that's what gets your dick hard, telling people they're bad at making art."

"I read some message board things about our band, and got frustrated and needed to let it go," said singer/guitarist Sean Bonnette. "It's about the anonymity of the Internet in a way, and how it really allows you to break the social regulation of being polite. I really value manners and saying things the right way, but then again, I'm apparently an asshole."

Bonnette's simultaneously stinging/thoughtful/self-deprecating lyrics are often backed by nothing more than his racing acoustic strums and bandmate Ben Gallaty's upright bass. 

Performing tonight at The Conservatory, Jihad formed six years ago when Bonnette and Gallaty worked together at a coffee shop. The café closed, but the partnership continued, producing more than a dozen 7-inch, EP and LP releases.

The duo is currently supporting its most accomplished album to date, 2009's "Can't Maintain," which augments their hard-charging acoustic fervor with a bevy of additional instrumentation that enriches the brief, two- to three-minute songs.

From the violin that evocatively shades "Love in the Time of HPV" to the majestic horns of "Evil" and the E-Street Band-ish sax of "You Don't Deserve Yourself," the flourishes help make the arrangements as arresting as Bonnette's lyrics.

"We kind of came to a point where we realized we have as much time as we want to record a record, along with a lot of really talented friends that could play instruments we couldn't play. So we just decided to make it as interesting sounding as possible," Bonnette said. "Because in recording, an acoustic guitar with an upright bass and a dude singing isn't really that entertaining to listen to on a record."

Bonnette admitted he's not very good at writing love songs or singing about girls, which has lead him to focus on the pain and confusion of the human condition. It's something close to his heart, especially since he graduated with a degree in social work and began working in a youth outreach program a few years ago.

"Has someone ever told you when you're depressed that there are a lot of people that have it way worse than you, and made you feel like an asshole about feeling bad?" he said. "It doesn't really matter how bad someone else is feeling, because no one else has ever been you, and you've never been someone else. By that same token, I think as human beings we should make a good effort to make things better for people that have it worse than us."

Jihad has started pulling material together for its fourth album. With five songs written, Bonnette and Gallaty are thinking about which friends they might enlist for accompaniment, as they intend to continue to fuller sonic palette of "Can't Maintain," and spend more time recording it. Meanwhile, the duo will keep doing its part to make the world a better place.

"It'd be really cool if everyone had to be a social worker for a year, and also a barista or anyone in the service industry for a year," Bonnette said. "Just to teach people a little more empathy. Empathy's a very important thing." "Chris Parker

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