All you really need to know about Phil Spector is in his 1960 demo of "Spanish Harlem." It was that spirit that lifted Kiss and the Tells out of the realm of a wedding band Saturday night.
Precisely raw, expert musicianship, with just enough instrumentation to suggest a hundred more layers, buoyed a selection of material that gave wide berth to the obvious, and delivered '60s girl groups into the present, with their eternally young, unquenchable longing intact. The hot red dresses, Spanish roses in the hair, and the respectful flirtation with hand choreography were merely window dressing.
Lonna Kelley followed with backup singers of her own. Their tight, ethereal harmonies added welcome texture to Kelley's whispery, indie-girl musings and almost incidental guitar playing. Her songs, dreamily lovely, have catches that match the natural breaks in her vocalizations—like metaphorical snags in the silk, or the humble gaps left in a tapestry to prove the humanity in its workmanship.
For all of Howe Gelb's legendary spontaneity, he seems to thrive most within structure: He needs players who will maintain it for him no matter how far he strays. Saturday night, Tucson was privileged to hear him perform within all four walls of Giant Sand's Danish configuration. Gelb joked that for the first time in 10 years he was trying to perform songs from a new album, in order—then asked if we could tell him which song was next. The next song from Blurry Blue Mountain was "The Last One," but many more remained. Kelley joined him onstage for "Lucky Star Love," their duet on Mountain, and at the end of the set, Danish pop star Marie Frank sang "Wonder," from Giant Sand's Ramp, and Gelb's "Leather," from her album Where the Wind Turns the Skin to Leather.
It's hard to say how all this played to what looked like a gem-show-dominated crowd (locals were glued to the Wildcats' cliffhanger elsewhere), but there's reason to hope they left with a good feeling about Tucson's defining music of the moment, and, if they lit one of the candles in the lobby shrine, perhaps even a sense of kinship with their desert hosts.