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Club Congress celebrates its 25th anniversary with Tucson's most beloved bands, past and present

From time to time, we ask two of our senior music scribes to chat about a significant occasion in Tucson music. This is one of those times: Club Congress' 25th Anniversary shindig this weekend. Here's what they had to say.

Stephen Seigel: Well, Gene, once again we find ourselves having a little sit-down to discuss local music—specifically, in this case, Club Congress' annual birthday party. We should probably start by explaining that this event is not the same as the Hoco Fest, which is what they've been calling the anniversary events for the past couple years. They used to do just one event this time of year, but this year they've split it into two different events.

Gene Armstrong: It seems as if for the last few years it's been: "It's Labor Day weekend so it's time to cut loose at Club Congress." You make an important point, though—this year the Hoco Fest has been moved to Sept. 24-26. This weekend's event, however, is officially being billed as Club Congress' 25th Anniversary, and it will include many reunions of much-loved bands from Tucson's past.

SS: Exactly. Whereas the Hoco Fests of the last few years were a great mix of local and national acts, the national acts were sort of the focus. And that's how this year's Hoco Fest will be. But, with a few exceptions like Crooked Fingers, Bad Manners, and the Mynabirds, this weekend is really all about Tucson. Basically, this 25th anniversary weekend is something of a sequel to Congress' 20th anniversary bash in 2005, which was like a big Tucson music high-school reunion, or something—like you said, a lot of bands from the past are re-forming for it.

GA: Since 1985, Club Congress often has been something of a hub for Tucson-oriented music and the people who like it. I mean, when people return to Tucson from faraway places, they usually try to hit Congress and see who's around. Personally, I have more memories of excellent live music there than I can count.

SS: Me, too—in fact, literally more than I can remember for various reasons. But I like what they're doing this year by paying homage to the clubs that supported live music of all types, even before Club Congress existed. It's a nice salute, I think, and it also allows them to be able to play host to the bands that played in those clubs. I mean, you've been in Tucson longer than I have, but I'd imagine even you never saw the Dusty Chaps play at the Poco Loco.

GA: It's a rare and delightful occasion when I get to say I am too young in any context. But I was, in fact, a bit too young to see the Dusty Chaps (although I still own one of that band's LPs with all the members' signatures) in any bar or to get into the Poco Loco, which I believe was somewhere midtown on Speedway.

SS: See, even that's more than I could tell you. But the fact is, these events are special because we get not only the nostalgia of watching the local bands we used to see every weekend all those years ago, but we'll get to see a lot of bands we never even got to see perform in the first place. I know some of the guys in Gentlemen Afterdark, for example, but, unlike you, I never got to see them play live.

GA: Ah, Gentleman Afterdark have reunited for this event once before, during the first big bash in 2005. It was actually the Gentleman melded with their previous incarnation, The Pills. It was a terrific performance. And this is my chance to go on the record that I take back my review of Gentlemen Afterdark's first album (circa 1983), which I severely panned when I was a young and obnoxious rock critic.

SS: Some might say you still are. I kid, I kid. But you make a good point: Even these Congress anniversary parties have already become part of Tucson legend. I was at the Doo Rag show in the women's bathroom at the Rialto five years ago, and since then it seems like twice as many people claim to have been there than would actually fit into that room. Similarly, I'm sure things are going to happen this weekend that people will be talking about for years.

GA: I suspect that some people will feel that way about witnessing 1980s-vintage bands Naked Prey, River Roses and Phantom Limbs. The booking of that last one is something of a coup, considering that lead singer and guitarist Jefferson Keenan has been reticent to play a reunion gig for many years. And Naked Prey, whom we haven't seen in a long, long time, will boast not only lead singer Van Christian but smoking guitarist David Seger.

SS: Those bands were playing around town right about when I got here, and I can't wait to see each one of them again. I imagine the one guy we all wish we could see again, but obviously can't, is Rainer, who passed away in 1997. So I'm glad they're doing a tribute barbecue for him on Sunday, with a lot of people he played with over the years, like Stefan George, Nick Augustine (who's organizing the bulk of the tribute), Howe Gelb, of course; and even Rainer's son Rudy is playing. Wouldn't it be great if Rudy played "Rudy With a Flashlight?"

GA: I remember Rudy was just a toddler when I first met Rainer, and it's awfully nice to see him carrying on the tradition. It's really going to be a sweet all-star bill. Also part of that tribute will be Billy Sedlmayr, Bruce Halper, Ned Sutton and Van Christian, all of whom were close to Rainer and who represent important parts of the Tucson music community over the years.

SS: Other than the national acts, I think pretty much everyone playing could be considered important parts of what we generally refer to as "the scene." There's the sort of arty acts like Clif Taylor, who's reviving his alter ego, Chick Cashman, for the occasion; Bebe and Serge, who were sort of like a Satanic Sonny and Cher; the snarky satirist Fish Karma and his new band, the Love Generation; and whatever the hell Borts Minorts were. There are a few contemporary acts, like Tracy Shedd, Young Mothers, and Los Nawdy Dawgs. There's stuff from all genres, from all eras. Come to think of it, other than, say, Gila Bend, Naked Prey, and the Sidewinders/Sand Rubies, there's surprisingly very little so-called desert rock.

GA: Speaking of the Sand Rubies, who are using their original name (Sidewinders) this weekend, their lead singer, David Slutes, also happens to be one of the masterminds behind this event. And, on a personal note, he's been my best buddy since we were like 12 years old, and I am very proud of what he has done over there at Congress.

SS: And let's not forget Congress staff member Dan Hernandez, who I'm sure is behind a lot of this, too. Speaking of stuff we shouldn't forget, I'm looking forward to the record fair on Saturday. I always have to walk in there with a limited amount of cash and no debit card, because otherwise I'd be broke when I walk out. I seem to find a ton of great old vinyl every year.

GA: Yay for that; I love vinyl and certainly will be at the record fair. That reminds me how recorded music played by DJs has become part of the Club Congress mythos. And this year, it won't be ignored. In addition to appearances during the weekend by DJs Spyder Rhodes and the Vinyl Baron, the very popular dance experience known as Bang! Bang! will occur Saturday night. But it will also feature a special appearance by the band and "art/performance collective" MEN, which features JD Samson of Le Tigre.

SS: As we said earlier, suffice it to say that there really will be something for everyone this weekend. And the more we talk about it all, the more excited I'm getting. I'll see you there, Gene.

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