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DRUNKEN COUNTRY: One of the aesthetic pleasures of getting a new CD or record is tearing that pesky shrinkwrap off the package, finally and absolutely gaining access to the fleshy content, gazing at its inherent flawlessness--no visible scratches yet (give it a few weeks of heavy rotation), just pure musical surface. Virgin vinyl--or plastic--if you will.

The Hillwilliams' self-titled debut EP is the first package I've ever opened in which the CD had remnants of random mysterious contraband already attached to the playing side of the disc.

My best guess is that it's a combo platter of cigarette ash, dried stale beer, a drop or two of lighter fluid, a smidge of sodium pentothal, and a gob of jizz (though I won't know for sure for six to eight weeks, until the lab tests come back). Still, my CD drive persevered, allowed me to listen, even though it was far more sober than me at the time.

How could a mere CD convey the drunken ebullience of a typical Hillwilliams show, anyway? The whole endeavor seems sorta futile.

The best part of the performances is, after all, the songs (sure the drunken heckling/call-and-response between band and audience is a fine, fine time, especially when you're drunk)--y'know, the original ones, which range from a drunken Willie & Waylon cover to a drunken Fourkiller Flats number. Oh yeah, I was talking about the originals, wasn't I?

Well, that could be anything from a lost Beggars Banquet-era Stones tune--performed sloppy drunk, natch, but self-penned--to a drunk band's attempt at a spaghetti Western soundtrack set to lyrics, which are nearly always in the black. Par example: "When I was an orphan, they called me Billy/Billy the Orphan was my name -- I fell off a five-day wagon/to a six day bender-- When I was one year old, I started walkin'/When I was two I learned to run/When I was three, I found corn liquor/Four years later I had a gun." From there, "Billy Orphan" gets really serious.

I'd love to print the rest of the words, but they get rather grisly, perhaps a bit too grisly for a "family paper," even though this isn't one. Suffice that someone gets her neck broken, is dumped in a river, and will be sent "home when she's small enough to fit in a box." Drunk.

Drummer Jimmy Tortuga plays a kit comprised of a tom, a cymbal and a kick drum, placed beside him instead of on the ground like "normal" drummers--in other words, not a kick drum at all. He plays banjo every once in a while, too. Like, when he's really drunk.

Nikki Ridgeway plays bass, sings and drinks. When he's not on the wagon, that is. Whatever you do, don't ask him about his butterfly collection.

Trust me: If you don't heed my advice, you're beggin' for a slide show.

Three Chord Monty plays guitar--please, please don't ask him to attempt to play a lead--and sings. In his spare time, he's a debilitated alcoholic who loves roasting "whatever I done kill't" over a fire of glossy fashion magazines.

The best thing about this stuff is that anyone with a smart brain and a rudimentary knowledge of their instrument, plus two of his friends and a space to "jam," could easily do this. In other words it's self-destructive, but not so dangerous, smart people getting really drunk and playing stripped-down country-rock tunes, as much for their own enjoyment as yours, maybe more so. Did I mention Yee-frickin'-haw? 'Cause I meant to.

Oh, by the way, the CD's pretty good, too. "Swingin' Over Hell on a Rotten Rope" offers up a Chicago blues stomp, as much as The Band ever attempted, anyway. The aforementioned and excellent "Ballad of Billy Orphan" is on there, but so is a fair-to-middlin' cover of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," a song so time-tested that no one could screw it up.

I recommend instead that you go see 'em play live this weekend. And be sure to heckle 'em. They love abuse they do.

The Hillwilliams perform around 9 p.m. on Saturday, August 31, at Che's Lounge, 350 N. Fourth Ave. For you, my friend, admission is free. Questions? Call 623-2088. Drunk.


IT'S PAT! In addition to your guilty pleasure for pre-"Love is a Battlefield" Pat Benatar ("Heartbreaker," her take on Johnny Cougar's "I Need a Lover," and her version of the Young Rascals' "You Better Run," the rare cover that's trumps the original), know this: A friend who lives in Los Angeles, and used to be a "driver to the stars," recently dished some dirt on the rising/fading/faded celebs she had to schlep around the City of Angels while on the clock.

After a while, it got really depressing (Sheila E., of all people, was a huge pain in her ass, but here's a pretty good one: Frankie Nunez was "a really nice kid" who just had to go to a chain rib joint in hopes of spotting Mr. T).

Eventually, someone tried to steer the conversation toward the positive. Who was the coolest semi-famous person she had ever had in her car?

Without hesitation, her answer was Pat Benatar. She was sooo cool and nice, and the two of them bonded, and all that Hollywood stuff.

That's all. I just wanted you to know that when you buy your ticket for her show at Old Tucson, 201 S. Kinney Road, on Friday, August 30, your money is going to a really nice person. A "super-sweet" one, in fact. Sure, it'll still cost ya $21.95 to buy a ticket online at www.oldtucson.com, but they're also available at all Zia locations and at Old Tucson for a couple bucks cheaper. Gates open at 5 p.m. Call 883-0100 for more info.


THREE FOR THE MONEY: What the hell can I say about Chango Malo that isn't already known? That they'll kick your ass so hard you might find yourself in Kitimat, B.C., in a local meeting hall never really designed for punk rock shows, watching a pack of hungry kids taking the world by a brisk mist, one room at a time?

Nope, I suppose everyone knows that by now. I wrote several months back, in these pages, that Chango Malo was one of those bands that you could stick in front of a crowd, any crowd, and said crowd would be enthralled, won over by the sheer energy of it all, regardless of their musical tastes.

Judging from the posts left on the band's website (www.changomalo.com) it's happening to point of sheer fanaticism, following a six-week tour of the long version of the West Coast--10, 000 miles logged, hundred of CDs and shirts sold, thousands of fans made, one Dodge Ram van destroyed.

The fact is this: Chango Malo, with its genre-scattered take on the last 30 years of American music, kicks ass. On top of it all, they're the nicest, most humble guys you could ever hope to meet. And both facts come through on the stage.

Meanwhile, aside from the I-call-it-punk-but-they-call-it-rock-'n'-roll catharsis of The Knockout Pills, scratchingthesurface (yes, they told me to print it that way, but only after I asked) is quickly emerging as the best new straight-up-punk band in Tucson in eons (or, at least since the Weird Lovemakers split up).

When Al Perry played them on the air recently, on his recently revived Al Perry 's Clambake show (on 91.3-FM KXCI, Tuesday nights from midnight 'til 2 a.m.--tune in, foo!), a pack of friends assembled at my garbage-strewn apartment for the occasion and humbly offered up attempts at "Guess the Artist." Mr. X offered up the Big Boys, but I thought it sounded closer to Stiff Little Fingers. But in the end, Al back-announced the song as a new one by scratchingthesurface.

And then we all cried, "Way to go, Ed!" in a completely heartfelt manner.

Get to know Ed. Love Ed.

Great American Tragedy keep threatening me with the promise of an actual CD of their material. Until I get it, I'll just say that it's not the stompin' gearhead jive you'd expect from a coupla dudes who used to be in Helldriver.

Instead, prepare to have your knotty brains pummeled into the wall of an arts and crafts booth at the swap meet.

But angry-like, know wha'm sayin'? Grab those earplugs while you're at it.

Chango Malo, scratchingthesurface, and Great American Tragedy perform at 9 p.m. on Friday, August 30, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is $5 Call 622-8848 for details.

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