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THE SAND RUBIES' 25TH ANNIVERSARY, VAN CHRISTIAN, SILVERBELL

PLUSH

Friday, April 30

Had the Sidewinders' star-bound trajectory never been interrupted, they might be pulling in big bucks on the geezer circuit today. Then we might not have been privileged to see them in a cozy hometown club, surrounded by friends they've known nearly all their lives.

Friday's two opening bands were new projects of fellow Tucson music legends. Silverbell is Gene Ruley's new band with singer/songwriter Betsy Scarinzi and members of Greyhound Soul and Creosote. Ruley played with the River Roses, and in two side projects of Sidewinders/Sand Rubies singer/lyricist David Slutes: the Zsa Zsas and Little Sisters of the Poor.

Van Christian, from Friends of Dean Martinez and Naked Prey, led his new project with Jason Steed of Creosote, who also played bass with Silverbell. Greyhound Soul's Joe Peña played drums, and Kevin Pakulis contributed guitar. Pakulis' country fireworks blazed through the band's otherwise midtempo rockers in a mash-up of sounds that might only arise from Baja Arizona.

If the openers brought us up to the minute in Tucson music history, the Sand Rubies, nee Sidewinders, took us backward. After opening with what Slutes said was the most recent song he wrote with Sidewinders co-founder and guitarist Rich Hopkins—the Beach Boys-y sing-along "Satellite Radio"—Slutes explained that the set would work back to the first song they wrote, with a song from each of their albums. They followed up with another from their 2007 Mas Cuacha, "Flotsam and Jetsam," featuring a duet with Hopkins' current songwriting partner, Lisa Novak.

A drummers' duel between Winston Watson and Bruce Halper was a mid-set highlight. "What Am I Supposed to Do?" from Witchdoctor got the crowd singing along with perhaps the most memorable chorus in the band's catalog. "We were much better songwriters when we were kids," Slutes quipped.

Although Slutes' voice has been stronger, and probably more rehearsed, the years have done nothing to diminish the aggression of Hopkins' guitar attack, or his eagerness to wield it. It's his searing imagination, restrained only slightly from outright wanking, that has always set this band apart. That tension still gives their music a unique edge. Even if they have no national prominence to show for it, it's made them hometown favorites for 25 years.

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