Okay, I've got a new favorite bar band: The Blasters.
These guyses come from LA, but have friends in Tucson and play here whenever they can get a gig. I saw them Saturday night at Club Congress, which is a hip little joint in downtown Tucson.
We arrived well after the announced 9 pm start of the triple bill, but we listened to the opening acts from our little table ten feet from the stage. The two rockabilly acts were fairly unique, eschewed covering the Stray Cats and early Elvis. Telecasterman Al Perry performed with a competent percussionist on snare, and a fine standup bassist. Al looked the part with sideburns, sweat, and grease, and his smooth voice was... sweet as Tupelo honey. Lookswise, I thought he could have passed for the little brother of late, great, Texas-born artist Jim Pomeroy. It was the night of the Al's, for the badass and pared down Al trio was followed by a larger band that brought in a larger repertoire of Freddie King intstrumentals, ballads, and bluesified country tunes. But this frontman didn't really connect with the audience, and the crowd thinned out a bit to gossip in the hotel lobby and get beer in the pump room. Best of Al's lost sheep was the inventive harp player, an innocuous-looking guy who looked like his day job was librarian or tax accountant. Forgive me, but Al Foul looked eerily like Willem Dafoe!
And when the Blasters hit the stage, wouldn't you know lead guitarist Keith Wyatt was a dead ringer for Geoffrey Rush!
But who cares what these guys looked like. It was an evening all about the SOUND! Wyatt has the kind of creative energy and musical genius which I haven't enjoyed since Chai Soo Heng's never-the-same-twice solos in Hong Kong's original Blue Wail blues band. It was a mind-blowing evening of mostly original music played with passion. Yeah, these guys may have their roots in rockabilly, but they pretty much defied that narrow categorization. It was all guitar-driven Americana, true blue rock and roll that ranged from blistering surf instrumental Boneyard to redneck Johnny Paycheck ballad I'm the Only Hell my Mama Ever Raised.
Frontman Phil Alvin sweated and wailed nonstop through just under two hours of songs about troubled romance, hot cars, and they were tight, tough, and thoroughly INTO the music. Supreme entertainers, Alvin grabbed our hearts in the way that inspires fan behavior ranging from cool respect to slobbering stalkation. Viz: one drunken, past-her-prime groupie yelled out "you're a babe," and Alvin lost his cool composure. Not that he showed annoyance; to his credit, the man blushed and stammered with ingenuous charm. When you can meld innocence and rock n roll, you've pulled off the coup de grace.
Jerry Angel, drummer with finesse, brought in the surf cred as a bona fide surf instructor, but in true Americanarama, the band hails from Downey, LA's white bread lower class suburb, not some spoiled-brat velvet ghetto like Redondo Beach or Orange County's Newport.
While we're on the topic of working class integrity, I've got to heap a little praise on the noble settlement of Tucson, Arizona. Its current boom phase has blasted the population just over the 1 million mark, but that doesn't mean it ain't a small town. And the economy is depressed juuuust enough, to be a kind of annex to the developing world. Judging from prices, it almost doesn't belong in America, but it is totally American in every other way.
Dig, it's $5.25 for a Glenlivet at the Congress and $10 cover charge to see a semi major rock act with two openers.
But gas was at near-Texas prices (207 a gal), and Freixenet (low budget cava) hovers reasonably at 7 bucks (inflated for the holidays in California at 10). A Safeway iPod giveaway was enough to pack the store at 11 at night. Cheap tacos abound, and you can bring a date to the movies with a twenty dollar bill and still have money left over for popcorn.
The cute part of Tucson is that the girls are a little bit behind in the fashion realm. Checking out the 'competition', I was kicking myself for not bringing my leftovers of trendy 2001, a year when you could still get away with wearing chunky black platform boots. Evidently, it's not at all passé to wear these relics in a size-each-other-up venue like the Congress. I went for "intellectual backpacker" in my Keen walking shoes and wool beret, but every other gal there was clearly "too young to be a punk rocker" retro... black on black with silver stud accents. Not one exposed belly button in the joint, so that means they haven't discovered 2005 yet. Take a wardrobe like mine (please), and it's loaded with whatever was daring three years ago, fleece wear, and my fetish collection of scarves and handbags. From San Francisco to Soho, I'm a joke. But I can be riding the crest of fashism in the Sonora Desert.
Three cheers for Tucson!