Luca, Little Sisters of the Poor, and Loveland

Club Congress, Friday, March 9

A sign at the door offered "free admission" to anyone stopping by after the Richard Thompson/Patty Griffin bill at the Rialto. It seemed odd for a charity concert--the Congress show was benefiting the Community Food Bank--but the policy nevertheless generated a big crowd for the main event: the live recording of a knockout Luca set.

The crowd was thin for openers Loveland, whose increasingly stylish sound makes "Onto Something" crisper and more danceable all the time. But after a long break--worth waiting out for the great, if anomalous, reggae tracks on the PA--more people ambled in throughout an uneven Little Sisters of the Poor set. Several new songs, more ambitious than we're used to from this ad hoc project, were reminders of what a remarkable voice Dave Slutes has, which is easy to forget among his many other contributions to the music scene. The arrangements need work, but their direction was clear and clearly worth waiting for. "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" was a particular standout.

With Robin Johnson on guitar and a visiting Winston Watson on drums, the band also turned in a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown" that almost made me want to reconsider the man's catalogue, and romped through their familiar Bauhaus-to-Madonna medley, closing with a Tucson favorite, "Secondhand Smoke."

By the time Luca took the stage, the club was nearly packed around the big video cameras and a recording setup that cut into a quarter of the floorspace. Luca was polished as agate from a tumbler, and with as many shades of color. Lee Gutowski was the dancing backup vocalist on the crowd-pleasing Lou Reed cover "Walk on the Wild Side." Calexico's Jacob Valenzuela sat in on "Christmas Gets Me Down" and on Rainer's "Loosin' Ground," which devolved from an Ennio Morricone opening through a Herb Alpert middle part to close on darker, smokier and less recognizable terrain.

Predictably, "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar" got the crowd moving, as did the three-song punk mini-set featuring the reductive "Not From L.A." (Either you are or you aren't; that's the whole song.) Fun as it was, it seemed like a waste of Luca's crystalline taste and encyclopedic range on both guitar and keyboards. These were abundantly present elsewhere in the set, though, and it's all documented for posterity and for the benefit of the Food Bank.

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