Early Sunday evenings at Hotel Congress are normally sedate affairs, but this past weekend served as the exception, as all parts of the hotel bustled with activity.
Past the packed Cup Café, local musician Jimmy Carr rocked an accordion on the Tap Room patio, still draped in festive Halloween faux webs; buggy-wielding attendees of the robot-themed Baby Club Congress enjoyed well-deserved post-show cocktails in the lobby; and the hotel's banquet room was filled with a who's-who of the last 20-plus years of Tucson music, all celebrating the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. David Slutes (Congress entertainment director and member of the Sand Rubies). Congrats!
Outside on Congress Street, a line stretched around the building for an all-ages show headlined by New Jersey's Steel Train, a frequent Tucson visitor whose stock has risen in recent years due to lead singer Jack Antonoff's high-profile relationships with Scarlett Johansson and current squeeze Alia Shawkat (of Arrested Development).
Local pop-rock group Crossing Sarnoff earned the coveted opening slot with tight numbers like "Burnt Up," its harmonies and sugary hooks bringing to mind Phoenix's now-defunct The Format. The Format's influence can still be felt both in Tucson and up north, with bands like tonight's middle act, Dear and the Headlights.
Thomas Dutton, aka Forgive Durden (yes, a Fight Club reference), followed CS's short set with the surprise hit performance of the night, sampling the bulk of his new release, Razia's Shadow: A Musical, with a full band backing the canned musical score. Dutton is like a teen-heartthrob version of My Brightest Diamond or St. Vincent.
Quintet Dear and the Headlights are enjoying national praise from the likes of Spin for their sophomore release, Drunk Like Bible Times, which is full of bouncy, emotional (not quite emo), frustrated-teen anthems that played well to the younger crowd; quite a few made it painfully obvious they knew all the words to "Sweet Talk."
Steel Train closed with the intensity of the E Street Band (or even Bright Eyes) and the pop sensibility of Jellyfish--or, again, The Format. Crowd-pleasers included the emo-Sufjan-esque "I Feel Weird" and the "awww"-prompting, xylophone-and-tambourine unplugged version "Women I Belong To," answering the question, "How did that guy get those girls?"