For the handful of fans who didn't talk through most of it, this show was one for the rodeo weekend: vividly imaginative guitar picking; striking covers of antique and offbeat tunes; and the rarefied bliss that is the Kelly Hogan experience.
Following a set by the Nick Luca Trio, the Calexico duo performed a handful of songs highlighted by a free jazz interlude featuring trumpeter Jacob Valenzuela and a cover of Jackson Browne's lovely "These Days." Then Jon Rauhouse and Tommy Connell launched the Steel Guitar Rodeo with, of all things, a hula. Rauhouse wrote it about, of all places, an island in Washington State. You expect that sort of thing from this genre-jumping string slinger who's been a staple in Chicago's Bloodshot Records stable since his Phoenix-based Grievous Angels ended their run. The Hawaiian theme continued as Rauhouse played a modified acoustic guitar on his lap. Connell joined him in a vocal duet of "Hula Moon" in the distinctive Hawaiian harmony heard these days only on scratchy 78s.
Rauhouse switched to banjo for a barn dance with Joey Burns on upright bass, followed by a new original that added Nick Luca on keyboard, John Convertino on drums and Valenzuela on trumpet. Stop-time melody breaks underscored the song's lyric: "Stop sleeping your life away / 24 hours a day."
The Divine Ms. Hogan rendered songs she's recorded on Rauhouse's two albums. She allowed that "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" was the "only non-ex-boyfriend song I've ever recorded. It's so refreshing!" Then she nailed the heartache in "Prisoner of Love." Working with the Rodeo band, she said, was "a dream come true," and she earned her spurs singing the "ah ah ah ah" part on "The Lonely Bull."
Neko Case joined Hogan on "All the World Is Waiting for the Sunrise." Then, in the set closer, Rauhouse stole his own show, all but shredding the strings of his steel guitar in a final rave up.
The song should've been dedicated to yammering crowd. Its name? "Drunkard's Blues."