Jon Rauhouse at Phoenix’s New Crescent Ballroom (Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012)
Jon Rauhouse has won fans worldwide via his stints as a multi-instrumentalist with Neko Case, and with Jon Langford and others in the Bloodshot Records stable before that.
But many Arizona fans have followed the long-time Phoenician since even earlier, from his decade playing bluegrass music and then his work in the 1990s with Phoenix’s Grievous Angels, the band that brought him to the attention of Bloodshot in the first place.
In recent years, between tours, he’s released four CDs under his own name and performed periodically in Arizona night clubs. Lately he’s held down a couple of week-night shows in the front lounge and café at Phoenix’s new Crescent Ballroom, a 500-capacity rock club opened in October 2011 by Charlie Levy of Stateside Productions.
Formerly an automotive shop, the Crescent’s sturdy brick structure is listed in the National Register of Historic places. One of just a handful of such buildings in downtown Phoenix, it was built in 1917. The café and lounge are open their full length to an outdoor patio, and live music is featured nightly with no cover. The food is excellent–creative enough for foodies but within a range simple enough — burritos, hamburgers, quesadillas– not to alarm the club crowd. Best of all, the food is available in the big music room on concert nights, as well.
The warm atmosphere of the lounge’s bare brick and wood provide an ideally intimate setting for a show like Jon Rauhouse’s, at which fans of technique and mastery are richly rewarded. Fans watched, rapt, from a half-dozen stylish benches brought in alongside the tables where folks were eating.
Accompanied by long-time collaborator and fellow 40s-era guitar-style afficionado Tommy Connell, violinist Megyn Neffand vocalist, pianist and guitar player Robin Vining, Rauhouse played guitar, pedal steel and a custom-built Hawaiian lap guitar. The latter’s wide, hollow neck gave up a sound like that of a resonator, but with a much warmer tone.
The violin and Hawaiian guitar gave the the thirties classic “Harbor Lights” a sweet poignancy. Members of the audience who remember this tune most likely heard Elvis Presley’s version. Rauhouse’s own ever-popular “Drinkin’ & Smokin’” brought the swing while name checking a couple of club goers’ favorite vices.
“I Can’t Stay Mad at You” delivered an “Ain’t Misbehavin” vibe, but “Desert Blue Out” gave the Hawaiian guitar another turn at exploring melancholy. “Widowmaker” is probably so named because if you spend enough time practicing to master its complexity, you might need an understanding wife.
Vining, another long-time Phoenix music-scene favorite, took the vocal lead on a couple of tunes in the sprawling set which also included some nods to country music and jazz, offering several opportunities for both Rauhouse and Connell to showcase guitar techniques that have sadly languished since the middle of the last century.
Like a bluegrass record, the set closed with what might pass for a common prayer in Arizona, “Wishin’”. It’s of course about wishin’ for rain.
More C. Elliott photos of the show are here.