Christine Zahn is excited. Because of circumstances no one could foresee, this 47-year-old owner of Tempe Bowl and admitted musical neophyte has become a player in the local rock scene.
There's only one point that she's kind of sensitive about. After enduring my numerous references to her "bowling alley," she politely but firmly puts me in my place.
"If you could call it a center, not an alley," Zahn says. "It's really more than a place for bowling. We like to think of it as a recreation center."
In coming months, locals might begin to think of it as a place for moshing in big, clunky rental shoes. On October 11, Tempe Bowl hosted its first live rock performance, featuring the ear-splitting sounds of Freudian Slip, and Windigo. The show was originally booked at the nearby Electric Ballroom, but that venue's suspended liquor license forced a change only five days before the gig. Because Zahn is friendly with the Ballroom's Jim Torgeson, she accepted his suggestion that Tempe Bowl house the gig, with help from the Fender Showcase Room sound system at the Ballroom. Most of the bands on the bill--including Chindo Squad, Oil, and Bionic Jive--pulled out, but Windigo singer Matt Strangwyes talked to Freudian Slip singer/guitarist Christian Henry, and the two bands decided to take a sour situation and make sour cream.
"It was good," says Strangwyes, quickly adding, "It was among the strangest shows we've done." Windigo and Freudian Slip set up in front of the center's arcade, with the bowling lanes to their left. Where bowling spectators would normally be sitting, Windigo and Freudian Slip fans rocked mercilessly. Strangwyes says the center's lack of a stage lent the night "a punk-rock vibe," which he apparently tapped into halfway through the set.
All week he'd told friends that he would run through the bowling lanes sometime during the show. When he actually did, after egging on the 250 or so attendees a bit, he was followed by a platoon of kids who slid across the slick surface and narrowly escaped the fate of a flattened bowling pin.
"I guess one of the dudes really bit it," Strangwyes says of a lane racer whose tumble sent excited gasps through the nacho gallery. Zahn was a bit less pleased with Strangwyes' spree.
"If you don't know my sport, you don't know the surface is coated with an oily substance, and you can slide and hurt yourself," she says.
Despite such anxious moments, the success of the show has prompted Zahn to turn Tempe Bowl into a weekend spot for local rock. "I've jumped in with both feet," she says. "No brains, but both feet."
One of the last of the Valley mom-and-pop bowling centers, Tempe Bowl has been in Zahn's family since 1968. Music became part of the equation with the occasional "Rock 'n' Bowl" nights, featuring local DJs. Despite the success of those events, no one ever considered putting together the potentially incendiary combination of electrified guitars and 10-pound gutter balls.
Now, Zahn sees it as a marriage of convenience that may blossom into something more. Even if the Ballroom regains its liquor license and stays in business, she believes that Tempe Bowl can avoid conflicting with its neighbor by taking on smaller shows, in the 100-to-200-person range.
Zahn concedes that she's completely out of the modern-rock loop, but she sounds willing to learn. "I'm going to Boston's tonight to see some ska," she says enthusiastically. "'Cause I've heard it goes well with bowling."
Tempe Bowl kept the momentum going last weekend, with shows featuring bands like Diesel, Tolerance, and Peroxide. Zahn hopes that the aggro and ska crowds might come to bang their heads and decide to bowl a few frames while they're there. Strangwyes questions how far the concept can go, but considers the experience a useful rite of passage for any rock band.
"There's a real Americana about playing a bowling alley," Strangwyes says, obviously unaware of the preferred "recreation center" designation. "I think there should be a law that every band does it at least once."
In the Bins: Despite a slow start, with guitarist Andy Klein blowing the head on his guitar amp a few seconds into the first song, Yoko Love's October 11 CD-release show at Hollywood Alley in Mesa delivered a solid eight on funk seismographs. The long-delayed CD Who's Your Daddy?, with printed lyric sheet, should erase any lingering thoughts that the song "Ballsack" is a tribute to the French writer Honore de Balzac.
The night before, The Pistoleros ushered in their equally delayed CD Hang On to Nothing at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe. The band members swung through their entire album, including the radio-ready single "My Guardian Angel." They were followed by a set from the Low Watts, with singer-guitarist Jesse Valenzuela tipping the hat to band drummer Winston Watson for his contribution to the acclaimed new Bob Dylan album.
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This week, members of Jamie's Brother will toast the release of Down, their new CD. The alt-rock, hard-rock hybrid band can be seen at the Bash on Ash in Tempe on Saturday, October 25.
Sitting in Limbo: Van problems kept Beat Angels from playing at Portland's North by Northwest festival last week, but the band is now on the road with Gilby Clarke, for its first-ever national tour. The tour began October 22 in Lubbock, Texas, and winds up in Abilene, Texas, on November 25, with several stops along the way in the Midwest and Northeast.
Who's in town: In the past six years, the Artist Formerly Known As Prince has done much to infuriate those who still care about his music. His stupid name change, tiresome public war with his old record label and erratic glut of contract-obligation product nearly eroded any vestige of credibility. But, no matter how confused his spirituality or politics may be, no matter how evasive and self-obsessed this pintsize dictator can get, he's a musician to the core. And he's got a catalogue that few living souls can ever hope to compete with. So even though he was just here a few months ago, his Saturday, October 25, show at Desert Sky Pavilion deserves a shot.