Pabst Blue Ribbon flowed with the steady stream of drunken humanity that moved through Tucson's Che’s Lounge last Saturday night. Others stood close to the band to watch and listen, and some danced. It was a birthday party for storied Tucson musician and treasure Joey Peña (his 50th!). Spirits were high.
The even more storied Naked Prey kicked things off. (The band, you’ll recall, formed in back in ’82 by former Green on Red trapsman Van Christian, earned a Euro fanbase and have seven albums to their credit.) Christian’s brand of “Hard Roots” was tonight backed by guitarist Loren Dirks, bassist Brian Green, multi-instrumentalist Bill Elm and Peña himself on drums.
The crack combo, which frontman Christian hilariously referred to as “boot camp” for local aspiring musicians, played tunes that spanned their history. But it was the song “Push Comes to Shove,” from Christian’s 2013 solo album Party of One
that stung most. The quieter studio version boiled over live into a booze-addled rock ’n’ roll frenzy. Local guitar-hero Clif Taylor sat in on the finale.
Afterwards, on the sidewalk outside of Che’s, Peña seemed ecstatic, pausing to catch his breath before gushing, “Dude, I fucking love playing the drums.”
The raspy-voiced Peña is proficient on several instruments and is a gifted singer-songwriter. He's earnest and self-deprecating, in person and in song. His Greyhound Soul songs (which he once called “bipolar blues and swamp ass") lift on universal themes like loss, self-loathing, and existential longing, and resonate with a faithful fanbase. Greyhound Soul fittingly lifted its name from wall graffiti at the old downtown bus station. They've released five albums, beginning with 1996’s Freaks
Peña says his Band of Angels—a project launched in the summer ’14 that features Christian on drums, bassist Liza Byrne and Bill Elm on keyboard and lap steel—is just finishing its debut album.
Greyhound Soul’s lineup at Che’s featured multi-instrumentalist Bill Elm, powerhouse rhythm section of longtime bassist Duane Hollis, drummer Alan Anderson and frontman/guitarist Peña.
The foursome played hard and loud for an appreciative audience, careening like some sonic muscle car on “Freaks” and “Drag Queen.” Hollis and Anderson hammered down a groove, jamming, extending songs for Elm’s embellishment and Peña’s solos. That’s their edge. They shared a visceral, unspoken communication (no setlists) and freely rearranged songs at will, playing as if their souls were held in the balance. That's why this band of vets continues to perform after 22 years of existence.