Spotlight 

Watsonville Patio have got legs. They're one of these bands committed to touring ceaselessly until even tribesmen in isolated pockets of the Amazon Basin recognize their faces and hum WP tunes as they blow psychedelic bark dust up each other's noses. They're no strangers to Missoula, either-around the time their self-titled debut album was released in February 1996, they played something like three Missoula shows in two weeks. They tour like fiends, and that pays off in the long run.

And, for that added local cachet, there's that three-degrees-of-separation personal connection to Missoula. When local rocker, Drywater Studio honcho and sound guy Sacha Perrin packed up and moved away practically overnight two or three years ago, the last thing anyone heard was that he was off to Los Angeles to play guitar in Watsonville Patio.

Exactly what happened to Sacha remains unclear-he's not in the current line-up and his name doesn't appear in the liner notes of the band's latest, Population 02-but it's always refreshing to hear that Watsonville Patio is coming back to town.

If you've never heard Watsonville Patio, frequent comparisons to the likes of Mazzy Star, Cowboy Junkies and 10,000 Maniacs should let you know what kind of magic carpet they're riding in on-total pop. The Lone Justice comparisons aren't too off the mark, either-with singer Janice Grube staking out the middle ground between Maria McKee's earthy twang and Hope Sandoval's waif thing, borrowing a bit from both schools with equal panache. Great lyrics, too, and that Van Morrison cover? Yah!

The band's home page even goes so far as to list the influences of each of its members-notes of which ring loud and clear at first listen. Janet lists Juice Newton, which immediately makes her A-OK in my book; I was holding out for a cover of "The Sweetest Thing" secreted away on some unlisted track, but what are you gonna do? Janis Ian and Stevie Nicks have also made their mark on her Grube's bittersweet vocals.

Guitarist Dylan Brock lists a bunch of guitarists, and his conservative playing reprises the Edge and Johnny Marr from the Smiths more than Jimi Hendrix, who nonetheless gets a mention and shows up on "Into the Mystic" to dissolve the song into a sheet of blissful crybaby fuzz. There are also traces of American Music Club and-holy smokes-the Silencers, whose "Razor Blades of Love" was an inspiring slab of shimmering guitar rock if ever there was one.

But what a drag to have to live with a bunch of sweaty-palmed comparisons. Watsonville Patio tackle their tunes with a kind of vigor that usually gets slicked-out of this kind of pop in the trials of production and mastering; they're grand on CD, but you just know the proof is in the live pudding. Burgeoning legions of Missoula fans will attest to this, so when Watsonville Patio rolls into Missoula again next week, you'd better just go see for yourself.

Watsonville Patio play the Ritz on Thursday, Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. Tickets $7.

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