Group Efforts

Make-ups, breakups and other local band gossip abound

Winding Back: Speaking of the Blossoms, one of the group's contemporaries, Tucson's Sand Rubies, return to the Valley this week for a gig at Nita's Hideaway. "Wait," you're surely wondering, "didn't the Sand Rubies call it quits a long time ago?" Well, yes and no. The popular Old Pueblo combo first disbanded in 1993, before getting back together for a series of shows starting in 1996. Over the course of the next few years, the band performed regularly, releasing a quartet of live and archival albums before breaking up, vowing never to play again, and then getting back together then breaking up and . . . well, you get the picture.

The love-hate relationship between Rubies co-leaders David Slutes and Rich Hopkins is responsible for much of the triumphant artistry of the group's late-'80s efforts (under the Sidewinders moniker) on LPs like ¡Cuacha!and Witchdoctor-- albums that cemented the band's reputation as architects of the "desert rock" sound.

The interceding years have seen Hopkins lead his own band, the Luminarios, on a series of critically praised albums and to some commercial success in Europe. Meanwhile, Slutes has had a hand in a number of projects -- including producing last year's comeback disc by fellow Tucsonans Phantom Limbs (an album released on Hopkins' own San Jacinto label).

The Sand Rubies: Rich Hopkins (left) and David Slutes' desert rock combo returns to the Valley this week.
The Sand Rubies: Rich Hopkins (left) and David Slutes' desert rock combo returns to the Valley this week.
Indie metal trio the Fucking Champs takes the stage at Modified on Saturday.
Indie metal trio the Fucking Champs takes the stage at Modified on Saturday.

This latest resumption of the band's activities started a few months back, after, Hopkins says, "Dave and I got together one night and played a bunch of Cure songs." The group has notched a handful of gigs, including a recent turn at Tucson's venerable Club Congress, but this week's show marks the first Rubies sighting in the Valley in close to three years.

Rounding out the band's current lineup are longtime drummer Bruce Halper and former Gentleman Afterdark guitar ace and sometime Ruby bassist Robin Johnson. Johnson -- who's back after a long vacation courtesy of the state -- and Slutes were regulars on Valley stages during the mid-'90s with their power-pop project Maryanne (formerly Ginger -- get it?). While Johnson was in stir, Slutes completed work on tracks the pair had laid down, resulting in 1999's Your First, Your Last, Your Everything. The disc, released on Minneapolis' Contingency Records, was one of the year's finest slices of ear candy. The pair are currently working on a new, as-yet-unnamed project, which is reportedly set to take a grander, orchestral-pop direction.

Meantime, Hopkins says there are no plans for any new Sand Rubies recordings to follow on the heels of the group's most recent offerings: 1996's concert set Live, '98's Sand Rubies: The Sidewinders Sessions(a compilation from the shelved RCA/Mammoth releases Witch Doctor and Auntie Ramos' Pool Hall), Return of the Living Dead,an odds-and-sods collection also released in '98, and the 1999 covers collection Release the Hounds.

But, the guitarist adds, the band has not ruled out continued live performances. The Sand Rubies take Nita's stage on Friday, April 20, with Sistrum set to open. Showtime is 9 p.m.

Metal Men: Heavy metal is primped boys in spandex delivering shrieking, operatic vocals, pseudo-classical electric-guitar wankery and 20-minute drum solos. It's VH1 rockumentaries, underage hesher groupies and 40,000-seat stadiums. It's big riffs, badass lyrics and boobs uncovered for the cameras. What heavy metal is not is three guys who look like gas station attendants playing instrumental songs in tiny indie rock clubs. That is, unless those three guys are the Fucking Champs.

This San Francisco band, consisting of two guitarists and one drummer, uses convoluted metal riffs to make bewildering guitar opuses. The trio labors over its songs and albums for years -- showcasing a dedication to sound that has propelled the combo to more than a dozen tours, five of them across the country, all in a dilapidated camper van that smells like dirty socks. Along the way, the band's undeniable sonic appeal has led to rave reviews from decidedly different camps: the lowbrow writers of 7-Eleven newsstand staple Metal Maniacs and the staff of Drag City, an indie label most often associated with lo-fi songwriter/experimentalists such as Will Oldham, Smog, and Flying Saucer Attack.

The group's most recent effort for the label, IV, was released this winter to further raves from mainstream mags like Rolling Stone. The Fucking Champs are scheduled to perform as part of the Undisputed Masters Tour this Saturday, April 21, at Modified, with the Rapture, and Drunk Horse. Showtime is 9 p.m. -- Glenn Donaldson

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