Sitting here with a cd going on the stereo, trying to put myself back in the mindset of an overwhelming weekend, what I’m struck with most is the notion that recorded music is shit.
And that, friends, is how awesome the Club Congress 21st birthday festival was.
The wake of three days of live tunes – of hours and hours of watching and nodding and even some unlikely dancing – is infested with an inability to really grab onto these sounds coming out of the stereo, even from one of my favorite local albums.
In the wake of the past weekend, recorded music seems mild, sedate, lifeless, part of a damn little black box across the room instead of a living, breathing, sweaty, wrinkled, (likely drunk), dude or dudette.
You climb a mountain, you gotta come back down, and it’s the same with this. It’s just far too much to ask that all the music I listen to could come from a band or a performer 10 feet away, amps turned high, the singer’s face scrunched with pain or joy. The sound envelopes you in the live context, whereas it just kinda comes atcha recorded.
And what I was enveloped in was such a strange mix of styles and sounds, from aging punk legends taking the acoustic route to guitar torch mechanics to rock ‘n’ roll bands as full and broad and pounding as there ever were.
Club Congress commands much, and for its 21st the bar is set even higher. Last year was historic, but this year is when it got to come alive, bring along a few friends and settle into being a tradition.
I took a vacationer’s strategy for the weekend, leaving my apartment (just four miles away) about Friday and returning home just after on Monday. In between it was me and Congress, friends and music and downtown and three nights spent on my brother’s floor.
I hit into the
Friday closed with the Pork Torta and Weird Lovemakers both cramming sets into the final hour, but the energy was incredible. I jutted out to catch a bit of the Jons meld of
Waking up, there was no doubt that Saturday’s low-key time was going to be devoted to the new Bob Dylan. It was the only album I brought on vacation and Stu hadn’t heard it at all. So we chilled with that for a while before catching lunch and friends at Epic Café. I spent the afternoon with a girl and some dogs before reloading for Congress 21: Night Two.
Al Perry’s BBQ Extravaganza served up some old school guitar crunch in Gila Bend, train-whistle-blues-harp from the Hecklers (I swear the local legends at the helm made that band up, complete with back story), beautifully crafted neo-country from Lonna Kelly and the Broken-Hearted Lovers (or as I called them: Hot Chick and the Dudes), and beef brisket or pulled pork at $8 a pop.
The Tucsonan in me couldn’t stop running into the Tap Room (shout out Tokar!) to catch the Wildcats score, another world away even though the lights atop Arizona Stadium were just visible from outside the club.
The schedule threw a curveball and I missed the first song from the Drakes, who’d been moved inside. One of the highlights of last year’s festival put on probably an even better show this time around, with more of the two guitar attack and a violinist the whole way. Gene the Audiologist and Tom the Newsman turn it up and turn it down, jam on cue and drop a spare tune beautifully on a dime. Add in a brass section for a few numbers and just enjoy.
Following the Drakes inside was Richard Buckner, an honorary Tucsonan I’d seen close to a dozen times before. It’s been amazing to watch as he’s become an absolute expert in looping guitar parts on top of each other. The performances have become more nuanced and detailed as his distinctive strumming has evolved into a whole other instrument with the technique. The trouble is, it leaves little room for applause, but I reckon Bucker kinda set it up that way. He played more songs of Since than I’ve seen in ages, and from the buzz of his new record being more of a full rock band affair in the same lines of Since, I’m excited.
That was mostly it for the tunes Saturday, as Stu and I got to talkin’ a lot with Charlie and folks, riding high on the great sets of the festival so far.
Club Congress isn’t Lollapalooza, or Coachella, or SXSW – the scale just isn’t possible, but even more importantly it isn’t driven by the fly-by-night buzz of new acts. Every set there was earned by years and years of good records and Tucson-crowd-pleasing shows. And in that you have an audience so tailored to the music, performers so tailored to the fans, that it can’t fail, not for a second.
I seem to recall Sunday morning being a bit easier to digest than Saturday… Epic Café again was the lunch spot and again I couldn’t have had a better afternoon with a girl and her dogs…
Howe Gelb was BBQ Master for Sundays festivities, and my only regret is missing the Golden Boots set by just a few minutes. I’m told that band has great promise… but onto the main acts.
Vic Chesnutt blew me away, with a passionate voice and brilliantly crafted songs. Kristin Hersh was the perfect antidote to Chesnutt’s pained tales. John Doe covered Joni Mitchell… and for a moment I could imagine “A Case of You” as an X song, with Doe and Exene’s intertwined wail turning folk to punk – just as Doe has turned punk to folk.
Howe sang his “Ballad of the Tucson Two,” celebrating the reemergence of common sense, with felony charges against two activists dropped, a reaffirmation of human dignity.
Howe brought up the night’s supergroup – Vic, Kristin and Doe – to sing “Wayfaring Stranger” and then Dylan’s new “The Levee’s Gonna Break.” It’s just a shame they kept it to two songs.
Fourkiller Flats took the stage next and for a band that took a three-year hiatus, proved its return to the fold of
The manic Doo Rag closed out the festival with rapid-fire slide blues and trash can banging that probably would have never existed if not for them. Every Congress festival should close with Doo Rag, if for no other reason than to remind you you’re in