West Memphis Three Awareness ShowClub Congress, Saturday, June 3
Phoenix is the metal capital of Arizona. Tucsonans prefer having their ears blasted to kingdom come with the blues, and maybe a side of moody roots rock. So it was that a near-capacity Club Congress crowd, forming a line to get in most of the night, seemed to dissipate by about half after sets by Bob Log III and Greyhound Soul, and before that of Tom Walbank, during a slot filled by Tucson's new, blistering speed-metal-punk band Hellride.
They missed a helluva ride.
Tighter than a biker chick's halter top, the band ripped through a 10-song set of short, hot, sharp and loud originals with the energy and speed of a Harley Screamin' Eagle Fat Boy. Tony Pick-Up and Paul Terrible, late of Whiskey Bitch, Chris Kallini of Molehill Orkestrah and stray punkers Mike Christie and Daniel Scalzo wear their influences on their T-shirts and black denim vests (Ironhead, AC/DC, Coors; they could've added Motorhead). Pick-Up also sports a pompadour hairdo and one of the best tat sleeves in town.
According to event co-organizer Patti Keating, Hellride was the only band that already knew about the West Memphis Three, the teenagers (now 30-somethings) who likely were wrongly convicted of murder (www.wm3.org). Her co-organizer, Tommy Larkins, drummer with Jonathan Richman and a dozen Tucson bands, visited one of the trio on death row last year. The experience moved him to enlist Keating to help call attention to their plight.
Although Larkins and Keating had hoped for a number of special guests, including Victoria Williams, locals carried the evening. Through a short, five-song set, Greyhound Soul's Joe Pena managed to stretch moods and sounds from Jim Morrison via Carlos Santana to a folkier Jon Dee Graham.
Tom Walbank and the Ambassadors sensibly ditched their suits for a summer-friendly T-shirt look, but turned in a snappy set all the same. When Walbank broke a string early in the set, guitarist Mike Bagesse covered with a long vamp on the theme from Jeopardy. The crowd loved it, but was even happier when Bagesse took over string-changing duty while Walbank held forth solo on harmonica, making like Sonny Terry sounding like a train. Larkins left off hosting for one song, taking his only turn on drums of the night. Walbank always gets folks dancing, even the ones who can't keep time with a Rolex, and more's the fun for watching.