CRAWL CLUBBED: I know I warned you last week that the Club Crawl would be tough to navigate this year with over 100 bands playing on 25 stages in a relatively small area of town, but come Saturday evening it was clear that even I had underestimated the madness.

Sound Bites Roughly 10,000 people converged on the downtown/Fourth Avenue area for the festivities. While the lines were admittedly formidable, the constant flow of people helped create some semblance of permeability as the night wore on. The best deal by far were the outdoor stages, where crowd sizes could flex from 50 to 3,000.

The performances were definitely a mixed-bag. Such diversity, however, gratifyingly spilled over into the crawler demographics--seniors strolled alongside college students, 30-somethings and skate punks, especially on Fourth Avenue where the neighboring venues housed everything from acoustic sets to contemporary jazz and high-amp rock. Take the avenue's tail end, where the quiet, seasoned folk of John Coinman and Stephan George reportedly offered sanctuary in civilized Aroma Café, while simultaneously across the street female vocalist Amber Jade's Ani DiFranco-inspired pop spilled out of O'Malley's, and a long line of revelers queued up for the garage band barrage inside The Hut.

Early in the evening we strolled over to 7 Black Cats to catch Love Mound, who got us all hopped up on adrenaline with their impressive, wall-rattling brand of heavy, Midwestern-style rawk.

Attempting to catch Turpentine's set at The Hut, we found out firsthand why they call it the Crawl. The snail's pace of the masses got us to the venue just in time to witness the opening chords of How To Build A Rocketship, who's been on hiatus in recent months. With a new bassist who also contributes harmonies, the band was in fine form, switching occasionally from its usual dual-bass and single guitar lineup to two guitars and a bass to accommodate the complex arrangements of the songs. I challenge anyone to find a better pure vocalist in town than the Evil Knievel-garbed Jason Garthwait (though the mid-song babble, were it to suddenly disappear, would not be missed). And in true rock fashion, a snare drum was destroyed halfway through the set. Nice work, boys.

A few days ago, a friend and I were listening to the new KIXD (106.3 FM), which, like fellow Weekly writer Tom Danehy, I've recently become obsessed with. While enjoying Kool and the Gang's "Hollywood Swinging," my friend commented how sad it was that nobody plays that type of music anymore. As if they were there to prove us wrong, we got sucked into Nicklebag-O-Neckbones' set of old-school funk on the KLPX Blues Stage. With a horn section-n-all configuration, the Neckbones did a formidable job of reviving a genre we thought virtually dead in 1999.

After the set we had a few minutes to spare before the midnight hour, so we strolled over to the Performance Stage to catch the final set of the night by fire performance artists Flam Chen, backed by the gypsy orchestra Molehill. While the former was literally on fire, Molehill was equally fanning the flames of audience appreciation. And the enormous crowd responded in kind, fueling the band to another level.

For the final slot of the evening, we threw ourselves into the melee for a rare performance by the much-fabled pseudo-metal jokesters in Molten Leather, who were in rare form in spangled g-strings, sunglasses, and one member's full-hooded leather mask. The boys took advantage of the audience's confusion to whip them into a frenzy with a heavy metal supplement rich with irony.

After a quick breather in the Tap Room, we strolled back out to where we began our night, at the Club Congress Outdoor Stage, where the always-reliable Frenchmen of the Amor Belhom Duo played their first welcome-home show since their recent American tour. The set was dizzyingly good and (unlike the rest of the places we visited) sadly underattended.

One last Crawl-related note: Two of the bands mentioned above are playing this weekend, and I highly recommend both. How To Build A Rocketship takes the stage of the Plaza Pub, 20 E. Pennington St., on Friday, April 23. Phoenix's Honey Child opens at 9 p.m., and cover is $3. Call 882-0400 for details.

And the excellent Molehill plays one of their last shows before breaking for the summer at Nimbus Brewery, 3850 E. 44th St., also on Friday, April 23. Planet Jam will kick things off around 9 p.m. Cover is cheap, and as usual, pints are only two bucks. Call 745-9175 for information.

HELLBOUND: While the state of Colorado has become an established spawning ground for hippie jam bands, this week witnesses an appearance by a Colorado-based band of a different flavor. The Hillbilly Hellcats play modern rockabilly music. While that may seem like an oxymoron, one listen to last year's Our Brand (Rockin' Cat Records) reveals the truth in labeling.

Heavily influenced by good Rev. Horton Heat (whose former drummer, Taz Bentley, guests on both albums), the band cops elements of swing, bluegrass and punk to augment a heavy rockabilly sound. Add to that crafty, humorous lyrics on such lowbrow topics as white-trash car culture, mudflap girls and what it's like to be the only one drinkin' beer in a martini bar, and you pretty much get the shtick.

You won't uncover any truths about the universe at a Hellcats gig, but you're sure as hell gonna have a good time. Join us for worship on Wednesday, April 28, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. Local yokels James Dead start things off at 9 p.m. Call 670-9202 for further details.

BAND WAGON: In conjunction with the National Indian Gaming Association's Convention and Trade Show at the Tucson Convention Center, Tempe's Art-N-Soul Productions present the second annual Native Jams music festival, featuring three consecutive nights of some of the Southwest's top contemporary Native American bands.

The event kicks off with Tohono O'odham chicken scratch, or waila, at 8 p.m. Monday, April 26, at O'Malley's, 247 N. Fourth Ave. Headlining the show is Cisco, with Gila River bands Native Pride and Thee Band opening the show.

The action continues at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, when Phoenix reggae band Casper From Hopiland headline a triple bill featuring Albuquerque's Red Earth and Phoenix rockers The Cremains. Tuesday's show is also at O'Malley's.

Then on Wednesday, April 28, the festivities switch locale to The Rock, 136 N. Park Ave., where Clan/destine takes the top spot in an 8 p.m. show with The Ramblers (the latter includes Hoodoo Kings frontman Mario Moreno), and the Gila River Community's Eagleheart. All shows are 21-and-over, and cover is $6 at the door. For more info call 1-602-337-7196.

And finally, ska-swing combo and Slimstyle recording artists Hipster Daddy-O and the Handgrenades treat Tucson Sidewinders fans to a post-game performance on Saturday, April 24, at Tucson Electric Park, 2500 E. Ajo Way. Game time is 7:30 p.m., and show time should be at around 10 p.m. The concert is the first in a series of ballpark shows scheduled this season. (Next week, the Beach Boys--or what's left of 'em--visit the park on Friday, April 30.) For ticket info call the Tucson Electric Park's box office at 434-1000. TW

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