Wooden Ball – Club Congress (Tucson, AZ)
Music by normally electric artists in an acoustic setting is supposed to bring out subtle nuances and showcase the strengths of both the songs and the artist. That’s the motivation behind Wooden Ball, an series of occasional acoustic sets by several Tucson artists. (This show was the fourth in the series.)
Now based out of a club in the venerable Hotel Congress (where John Dillinger stayed before he was captured and presently the heart of Old Pueblo’s arts scene), the Wooden Ball brought together 15 bands from a variety of styles for 20-minute sets over the course of an evening. Kicking things off in semi-formal attire were local mainstays 35 Summers, whose singer-guitarist-songwriter Chris Holiman is the organizer of the ball. They zipped through their set of tightly wound pop early in the program so as to allow Chris to get to work on the rest of the show.
Some of the non-Desert Rock highlights included Black Moon Graffiti, turning from a talented hip-hop outfit into an excellent R&B ensemble who could be on to something; great songs and raps with haunting vocals above it all. Power-pop stylists The Drakes came out a completely changed band, with an accordion and new songs, which had eyebrows raised for the future. Joe Rush performed solo, which put him in the sensitive singer-songwriter mode, but the songs came across quite well.
One time girl-group-gal and Giant Sand co-conspirator Paula Jean Brown was mesmerizing with her soulful, ethereal alterna-pop backed by a cellist and Bob Dylan’s drummer, Winston Watson. Everything about Brown’s set was brilliant: As Tammy Allen of 35 Summers put it, “When watching her play, it’s as if I’m looking at what I really look like on the inside.”
On the Desert Rock front, Dog & Pony Show were joined by Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb and played a rambunctious set, with Howe taking over for a song, providing a glimpse before he took off to New York the next day. Maryanne — formerly known as Ginger, but they had to change the name; get it little buddy? — featured former Sidewinder/Sand Rubies frontman Dave Slutes on vocals, playing some seriously good tunes.
Al Perry, the granddaddy of the scene and the night clerk of the hotel, put together an incredible set of country classics you’ve never heard, including “Cold Hard Facts of Life” and “The Only Thing that Hurts Now is the Pain”. After bubbling under the surface for years and influencing bands such as Giant Sand and Green On Red, it looks Perry is finally poised to gain wider notoriety.
Van Christian put the rest of Naked Prey aside for the evening and went out as a serious Mojo Nixon type, pounding out a punchy “Feel No Pain” along with “Sit On My Neck, Chew On My Head”.
Billy Sed joined German steel guitar master and Giant Sand contributor Rainer Ptacek to begin the end of the night with a blistering rendition of the Faces’ “Ooh La La”, followed by “American Hi-way Blues”. Rainer’s slide work was excellent, as was the picking of most folks that night. Traveling on to the Dave Seeger songs “This Old Man” and “Farther On”, they provided a glorious end to an eye-opening night of music.