For the latest installment of the Phoenix/Tucson music-exchange program called The Big Merge, aka Hands Across the Gila, Club Congress showcased four of Arizona's best and brightest rock bands.
First up was Phoenix's Source Victoria, whose Catherine Wheel-meets-Snow Patrol melodramatic numbers eventually lured the Congress patio smokers out of their nicotine cocoons. Raspy-but-soothing-voiced lead singer Brendan Murphy appeared to be having a good time, but during a distorted rock-star solo finale, he mistakenly smashed his guitar into his amp's casing, cracking off the neck. "It's like losing a loved one," he later lamented.
Local power-pop trio The Deludes followed with a tight set. Their fairly new drummer, Jake Bergeron, formerly of The Beta Sweat, has breathed new life into old 'Ludes favorites; the anti-corporate "Company Line" got a semi-disco treatment, and "Ratty Ol' Dress," off the new release Sedation Nation, was almost double-timed, giving lead singer Larry Wawro extra excuses to shake his curly mop. Two new untitled songs were introduced: one an indie-rock combo of Molly Hatchet and Cheap Trick, another more White Stripes vs. Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead." Seriously!
The much-anticipated Old Pueblo debut of Tempe's What Laura Says Thinks and Feels was perplexing, as the tunes on their MySpace page only gave a small window into the depth of the band. Though songs like "Illustrated Manual" show off their Beach Boys-like harmonizing and Smiley Smile tinkering, while also drawing comparisons to the piano-based songs of Ben Folds Five and Queen, WLSTAF on this night played with a grittier, Bakersfield country-rock sound à la Gram Parsons.
Our own '80s retro New Romantics in The Year of Acceleration closed the night with yet another, "Hey what city is this band from?" set. With the help of inner-ear monitors, the Year can play pretty much any size venue and sound like an arena-rock outfit, worthy of U2 and Oasis comparisons. The band will be releasing multiple EPs come fall, which will only reinforce the question I kept thinking through each group's set tonight: Why the hell aren't these guys huge?