Hotel Congress' summer concert series began Sunday night with locals Calexico, New York rap-poet Beans, and Chicago's Tortoise, performing at the hotel's sweltering outdoor parking lot.
Beans, a solo rapper accompanied by preprogrammed beats, took the stage without any warning, and most of his quickly-delivered rhymes were jumbled by the time they traveled to the eardrums of those of us of legal drinking age who were penned in by a chain link fence. A few choice couplets did manage to rise above the din: "Violence is to peace like piece is to cake," he said at one point, followed quickly by a story about picking up two girls from the bar "so they could double team me," but alas, he "woke up and they were tryin' to steal my TV."
Calexico's set began with just drummer John Covertino and guitarist/singer Joey Burns on stage, and as they gradually added more and more musicians, the songs began to swell. By the time Burns called Marianne Dissard on stage to sing backup on Serge Gainsbourg's "Bonnie and Clyde," the stage was fairly crowded: Nick Luca was playing keyboards; Chris Giambelluca, from the Nick Luca Trio, was on bass; Jacob Valenzuela and his brother Joseph were on trumpet and trombone, respectively (although Jacob switched to vibraphone at times); and Naim Amor was on guitar. Although this is more stripped down than most Calexico shows, the songs, mostly from their most recent full length, Feast of Wire, were still teeming with the full-blooded Mexican-influenced sound that is Calexico. The show was only hindered by a man with a very large sombrero (whom we dubbed El Sombrero) standing in the front of the drinking section. However, when asked politely to remove his sombrero so that others may see, he first shook his head and then removed the hat.
Tortoise's set was accented by lots of shapes in varying value groups cascading across a large screen behind them. Tortoise is a strictly instrumental band, playing the kind of music that defies any kind of verbal description; it walks that fine line between jazz, rock and experimental forms of each. Through a myriad of instruments, Tortoise manages to melt those distinctions and categorizations into a clear liquid. The band played some songs off their new record on Thrill Jockey, It's All Around You, as well as older material.