Predictable yet suitably hypnotic and energizing house music was spun by one DJ Salvation, and the body-piercing room was a nice feature. The number of frat-boy dipshits that showed up, however, was not. Buzz-cut, big-pickup-drivin', faggot-joking, fight-starting, alpha-male wanna-be dipshits. Can't stand 'em. The lesson of their presence is not to pass out stacks of rave cards on Mill Avenue the first weekend of ASU's school year.

Left the rave at some point to walk to Circle K for some Gatorade and candy. Exited the store and went on a walkabout, dwelling on a sound bite from a Henry Rollins spoken-word piece: "7-Eleven is the pulse beat of America. I think that Bruce Springsteen should do a song about a 7-Eleven in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Hail the Boss! Hail 7-Eleven."

"Hail, indeed," I giggled to myself, shortly before I realized I was lost, which was shortly before I came face to face with a gargoyle. A leering, black, bat-winged gargoyle, squatting on a stone pillar. I quickly realized I wasn't hallucinating and looked over the fence. There was a giant pepper, a nude woman, a severed head on a chain and several twisted figures I couldn't readily identify. Statues. A statue garden in the middle of an industrial area. Obvious course of action? Hop the fence.

I had about ten blissful minutes of walking among the statues before I was down on the grass with two cops standing over me, shining their flashlights and asking questions like "Do you know you can go to jail for trespassing?" and "What are you doing here?"

I took the first one as rhetorical and answered the second as honestly as I could. "I just wanted to be closer to the statues."

The cops checked me out for a long second. I feared they were about to stamp "known psychedelic user" on my forehead and cart me off to one of Arpaio's tents. Instead, they just ran my ID and gave me a ride back to the rave.

Hey, man, that's only four bands. You said a dozen.
Relax, we're not through yet. Not with the finals of Phoenix Blues Society's annual Arizona Blues Showdown invading the Rhythm Room on Sunday afternoon.

Here's a fun experiment in pupil dilation: Spend a few minutes in the brutal August afternoon sun, then quickly enter a blues club. The combination of sudden blindness and the rush of a sweet, stompin' blues jam makes is a disorienting pleasure.

Twenty-three acts entered the preliminaries on August 20. That field was cut to eight for Sunday's final round. Each act got a 30-minute set and was judged on showmanship, actual blues content, originality and pure raw talent. The panel of seven jurists included Gaynel Hodge, a local musician and songwriter best known for penning "Earth Angel," Rocket 88s drummer Roger Rotoli, and Phoenix suns announcer Al McCoy.

The Chuck Hall Band from Scottsdale outscored the competition in the prelims, but fell to fourth place in the finals. Top honors on Sunday went to the Sam Taylor Band, featuring Heather Hardy on electric fiddle.

Taylor's Tucson crew damn near tore the house down, with Hardy's fiery fiddle solos spearheading the demolition effort. Suffice to say that if the devil ever comes down to Arizona, Hardy will smoke his ass.

Second place on Sunday went to the super-lunged Patti Williams and her band, Delirious. Williams had to switch sets with Taylor at the last minute when her drummer and guitarist were MIA at showtime, but she and her band pulled it together nicely to storm through a set of soul-diva classics. The Sam Taylor Band was a hard act to follow, but Williams and Delirious stepped up and put their hearts into it.

All eight bands in the blues competition finals were good, and several were excellent, including Cold Shot and the Hurricane Horns and third-place finisher Big Nick and the Gila Monsters (gotta love blues band names).

Aside from bragging rights, the Sam Taylor Band won $1,000 for travel expenses to represent Arizona in the Blues Foundation's International Blues Talent Competition in Memphis early in October.

Prior to this year, only amateur bands could compete in the Phoenix Blues Society's festival. Because of a change in the qualifying rules for the international contest, however, the 1995 competition was wide open. "Obviously, the quality was elevated to a higher level," said society president Bill Mitchell.

So was the competition. Going for that extra little psychological edge, Sam and band arrived Sunday in a white stretch limo. Rhythm Room owner Bob Corritore said they came similarly styled to the first round. "They showed up in the limo 15 minutes before they went on, strolled in, kicked ass and blew out of there to do two other gigs that night." Now that's blues attitude.

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