Proto-goth 45 Grave, the late-show headliner, was perhaps an obvious choice for the debut celebration of Daniel Martin Diaz' new, high-gothic stage design at Club Congress. The cut-patterned iron and heavy red drapes might've been an ideal setting for the California macabre-rockers who influenced a generation of death metal and then died themselves, twice: first in 1985, when Paul B. Cutler departed for the legendary Dream Syndicate; and second, with the tragic overdose death of namesake and bassist Rob Graves in 1991.
For the band's 25th anniversary, however, original member Dinah Cancer (Mary Sims) resurrected it with a new lineup for a three-month tour featuring the band's original material, including such early MTV favorites as "Party Time" and "Evil." Luck would have it that the timing of their Tucson stop permitted the cover outfit to help christen Diaz' spectacular contribution to the historic Congress and the Tucson club scene.
The stage is loaded with drama even when it's empty. No mere decoration, it surrounds the stage, floor to ceiling, with cutwork suggesting Byzantine and Moroccan influences brought to Mexico via Spain. Diaz' paintings are fraught with Catholic symbolism, and his signature symbol, a silhouette of El Sagrado Corazon with the number 13 in its center, is prominent on its panels.
All Diaz' work draws from his childhood images of death and religion, and a more recent fascination with Latin. Over the stage are the words "Musica Delinit ... Bestiam Feran," which roughly translates as "music soothes the savage beast." At the very top of the stage, and the top of the archway through which musicians pass, is a blessing: "Sanctus," for "consecrated" or "holy," an inference, perhaps, about the relationship between music and its inspiration.
Los Angeles singer-songwriter Marc Anthony Thompson, who performs as Chocolate Genius, was more surprisingly appropriate for the stage's early-show unveiling. Accompanied by Seal sideman Chris Bruce on guitar, Thompson opened with a unique treatment of the Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon," then followed up with a double-entendre fantasy about his love for Willie (or Willy) Nelson. Later, "My Mom" offered an aching rendering of the impact of Alzheimer's disease. Mid-set, though, among his literate, genre-bending love songs, blues and soul tunes, were two original gospel numbers from his album Godmusic. "The Eyes of the Lord" and "Infidel Blues" seemed to make it clear that Thompson's recollections of his own early religious influences might be as conflicted as Diaz's.