Saturday night at Che's Lounge is fun, with a fun band playing fun songs about fun things. But every now and again, you get the wrong band in the wrong bar. The kind of band whose triumphs are tribulations in a party atmosphere. The kind of band that you lose your mind in as opposed to offering an involuntary leap onto the dance floor. Sometimes the band can have it both ways, when its own giddiness gets in the way of pints and pick-up lines and everybody walks away happy.
La Cerca have been playing around Tucson for more than a decade in various incarnations, all led by singer/guitarist Andrew Gardner. So when they unassumingly turned on the amplifiers at Che's, they didn't explode with visceral force, they gently invited us in to a world far away from standard bar rock. Presently, La Cerca's revolving door of members has solidified into one of their finest lineups to date and they began with several shoegazing mood pieces, evoking the strangled beauty of Television and the sleepy suffocation of Slowdive. A few songs in, bassist Christopher Pierce's excitement got the better of him, and it seemed the rest of the band were energized by their own sound: a hazy noise where Gardner's guitar solos and voice reached the same register, intertwined and indistinguishable from each other.
And then a funny thing happened: La Cerca started performing songs that were recognizable as something approaching traditional rock music. While Gardner was still mumbling incomprehensibly into the microphone, the backbeat came to the forefront, and the mood lifted from somber to present, immediate and accessible. La Cerca became the fun band at the bar, with extroverted pop melodies overtaking the earlier guitar gloom.
The barrier preventing the standard band-gives/audience-takes relationship had been broken. With that obstacle both vanished and banished, La Cerca reconciled the rollicking guitar noise with rock 'n' roll, sometimes in the same song, sometimes not. By the middle of the band's second set, they broke out with a rendition of Pink Floyd's "Fearless" and more of the exceptional originals that serve as their stock-in-trade.
It's easier to be only rock 'n' roll at the bar than it is to let it bleed, but La Cerca combined the two, and played an exceptional show.