BLUE SUNDAY

Thank God for Deepak Chopra. If it wasn't for that Svengali of self-help, I'd have the mental acuity of an ether addict right now.

My tally for the weekend: 12 bands, one rave, and a nerve-jangling run-in with the cops. It's a few hours 'til twilight on Monday morning, and the last sleep I had was four hours Friday night. I'm burnt to a cinder.

So I say again, thank God for Deepak Chopra, M.D., for if he hadn't mailed advance cassettes of his soon-to-be-released three-disc set The Magic of Healing Music, I'd probably wake up an hour past deadline with a keyboard imprint on my forehead. I'm playing the Kapha disc, chosen for its "fast melodies ideal for invigorating," as opposed to "medium melodies ideal for calming" (Pitta) or "slow melodies ideal for relaxing (Vata)." I'm confused about whether to play section one ("morning") or two ("evening"). Best just to loop the CD and hope for the best. Chopra's letter said Kapha music would enable me to "join in the cosmic dance." While I don't feel quite that pert, with these synthesizer storms crashing around me, I think I can ride this one out.

A few weekend highlights:
Started off Friday night at Chez Nous, where I caught a 40-minute set by the soulful, good-time R&B cover act of Richard Lee and Paul Stubblefield. Followed that up with a short cruise down Indian School to the Mason Jar, where Trunk Federation closed down the place. The Federation served a potent, savory brew--frothing and violently catchy.

(Quick aside: In just a few weeks, I've become a Fred Astaire at the song-and-dance ritual between bouncers and patrons at closing time. When I first got here, I'd obediently surrender my drink the first time anyone told me to leave. How foolish. I've since learned that you can stonewall most bouncers into asking you four, five, sometimes even six times to split before they even change the tone of their voice. The true party strategists, however, slam their last drink at 12:50 and rush to the nearest drive-through liquor window to score a sixer for the after-hours party. A newcomer's take: This 1 a.m. closing thing is rank.)

Saturday found me wishing I could replicate myself like that blue nuclear mutant Dr. Manhattan from The Watchmen--there were simply too many shows and too few music editors.

Punched in to the Teen Lifeline multiband benefit at Boston's around 9:15, just in time for Ginger, one of the more lustrous fragments of the long-splintered Sidewinders. Ginger's a good lull and storm band with a nice sense of when to lay back and when to explode. They gave a fine set, especially considering most of their gear got ripped off the night before and they were using borrowed instruments and amps.

According to Ginger front man David Slutes, someone broke into their Tucson rehearsal space last Friday night and "pretty much wiped us out." A PA system, several amps and guitars, "thousands of dollars' worth of gear," he says. Two of the more distinct stolen instruments are a '57 Les Paul Jr. reissue, yellow with a black pickguard, and a lefty sunburst Fender Strat. Award one "kick 'em while they're down" cold prickly to the sticky-fingered swine who made off with a blue canvas bag full of Ginger's remaining cords and effect pedals after the Boston's show. "Some nice icing on the cake," says Slutes, sighing.

Six full loops and I'm sick of Kapha music. Ministry will have to do--jack it up to a volume just shy of fatal and forge ahead.

Saturday . . . Saturday. I know I had fun that night, but where and how?
Ah, the Ramones. That was my next stop. I arrived late to the sold-out show, and the only parking left was in the far, back corner of a desolate field about a half-mile from the Party Gardens. Picture hundreds of cars not designed to go off-road doing so. Now picture many of them driven by stoned people.

I honed in on the distant neon palm tree and covered the distance in five minutes flat. Waiting for me inside was the meanest mosh pit I've ever seen, a lot of longhairs and shaved-heads with their fists in the air, and the Ramones' usual relentless blitzkrieg. The show's "final tour" cachet kept the crowd manic, but the band seemed mechanical and flat. Oh, it was still a Ramones show--a loud, seething concert--it's just that the band exhibited a subtle lethargy that made it tough to ignore how simple-minded their music is. The beauty of the Ramones was that they came out with a stripped-down sound in a time when rock was leaning heavily toward polish and gratuitous intricacy. The Ramones pulled rock back from the brink with three-chord shout-along anthems, and they deserve major respect for doing so. Judging by Saturday's show, though, they're hanging it up a little too late.

After languishing in a traffic snarl for half an hour, trying to get my car out of left field, I made my way down University to a side road near McClintock that led to a small rave in an industrial area. By small I mean around 200 people, as opposed to the bench-mark San Francisco gatherings of thousands.

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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