Club Congress-Tucson, AZ-December 29, 2005

TUCSON, AZ - December 29--The fellow managing the reception desk at Tucson’s historic Hotel Congress gave me the thrice stare over. Something was obviously wrong with the human picture I was presenting. He resembled the late actor Steve McQueen but could just as easily be mistaken for Glen Campbell—at least in Campbell’s healthier years. The immediate problem, I suspect, was my “luggage,” or better yet the lack of it. I was carrying my temporary life belongings in a tattered carry bag that in its halcyon days may have passed for a low budget laptop computer container but now looked more like a type of transient’s attaché case. Ergo, the reception desk manager proceeded to very closely scrutinize my credit card, requested that I sign several check-in documents (a test to matching the card’s signature, no doubt), and in a matter-of-fact manner recited the rules and regulations governing proper guest behavior. I was even asked to leave my room key with the hotel if I planned to wander off too far. The reception desk manager wasn’t leaving anything to chance; he gave the impression of having dealt with these potential types of people many times before and he certainly seemed a seasoned and worldly enough individual who would be near-impossible to con.

I took an immediate liking to this reception desk manager. He is the kind of person I appreciate most. He’s not going to look at you the way you want or tell you what you really want to hear, but then again I’d wager he’d never steer you in the wrong direction, either! (For any youthful readers, there’s an invaluable life lesson here.) It turns out that this fellow was none other than Al Perry—a Tucson musical legend. More on him later…

I regret to report that this time I failed—dismally—in my never-ending quest to concoct clever titles for my various reports. The headline or banner, as it were, would have suggested a two-year journey from the heart of New England to the heart of Tucson. The best (and only) things I could conjure were “Northeast by Southwest”—an insult to Alfred Hitchcock—and “From MTA Subway to Kino Parkway,” and who else but Boston or Tucson area residents would know what on earth these things are anyway?

Ryanhood Reader guest reporter Conroy Jett covered Ryanhood’s March 11 Club Congress appearance (with The Dares as openers), and in his article he began by painting a brilliant landscape in words describing the mystical qualities of the Tucson region, elevating it to spirituality itself. He felt that the area was a “magically mysterious place.”

I’ll concentrate on the area’s human spirit instead. The people there, in so many ways, personify the special and distinctive natural environment around them. It’s an indigenous thing, to be sure. Ryanhood’s long-time devoted Tucson followers are quite exceptional indeed. As a veritable outsider I could only sense, but not directly participate in, the spirit. You had to be there to fully comprehend this.

Ryan and Cameron, from the outset, have always proudly proclaimed their Tucson heritage. Having seen them in venues varying from street performing festivals to clubs to amphitheaters, and everything in between, there has never been one performance, or set, where they didn’t announce to those in attendance that they are from Tucson, Arizona. Where they often explain (at least in New England) how they’re presently based in Boston, the fact that they are from Tucson is always established beforehand. Ryanhood pronounces it proudly. It seems to be a pivotal part of who—and what—they are.

It is readily apparent that Tucson possesses an ardent appreciation for Ryanhood. I witnessed a never-ending line of people waiting to get into Club Congress that snaked from the long hotel lobby area to well outside and up Congress Street. Many national, major label acts can’t garner that kind of crowd in comparably-sized Boston venues—and this was the second night of Ryanhood’s “homecoming” series.

The audience was treated to a fantastic performance, complete with a full band for much of the set. I want to take the opportunity here to discuss the band—an excellent one at that—and not so much the specific songs themselves. Someone has graciously supplied viewers of these pages with precise details regarding the plethora of brand new material Ryanhood performed this evening. See Review. All that I’ll say about these new songs is that they all sounded fantastic, and I’m looking forward to hearing them again soon.

The set commenced with just the duo, starting with their old signature opener “Oh No” and proceeding with Ryanhood staples (perhaps standards?) like “Happiness,” “Something That She Saw,” “Stopless,” and “Photographs,” among others. Ryan and Cameron were in fine voice and played flawlessly as usual. Blake, the Music Director of Tucson’s 92.9 FM The Mountain radio station accompanied the duo (on percussion) on a brand new song.

Then the band joined Ryan and Cameron; namely, Brock Lange on bass and Josh Harrison on drums. In a word, they were terrific!

Brock and Josh had the unenviable and challenging task of filling the shoes of some of the finest young bassists and drummers from Boston. I’m referring to players such as Ryan Alfred and Ben Das (bass) and Aynsley Powell, Adam Sturtevant, and Jordan Lipp (drums) who Ryanhood fans are familiar with through their contributions to the Forward CD. I’ve seen each of these players apart from Ryanhood (Iluminada, Infinite Frequencies, Color and Talea) and you’d be challenged to find more skillful and innovative players on their respective instruments—anywhere! The rhythm section of Brock Lange and Josh Harrison were every bit their equivalent and I’ll suggest here that their combined admirable restraint (they provided just the right blend of necessary accompaniment and nothing more) made this a more eloquent sounding Ryanhood full band.

Perhaps Brock’s history of playing alongside Cameron (in the band Easyco) may account for how seamlessly he fit into this musical ethos; whatever one can attribute it to, he certainly blends in perfectly here. Josh Harrison is a remarkable drummer, and managed to kick the songs into gear when appropriate, and yet lay back otherwise, much like the most well-versed, seasoned jazz or orchestral drummer. He has an extraordinary sense of dynamics, and one could really hear it on “Gardens and the Graves” where he at once pumped up the energy in the song’s verses and retreated to a wind-whisper in the choruses. It was an incredible rendition of that song. I was also personally mesmerized by how well this band played “You Used To” from the Forward CD.

Collectively, the band took “Welcome Into My Head” into arena-style rock territory, especially at the end, and took the heretofore already brilliant “Alright” to new heights. I am so impressed with this band that I’ll share a private notion with you here; to wit, that I think Ryanhood should take some time out (two or three months, perhaps) and perform an extended series of shows throughout the greater Tucson region, on to the Phoenix area and beyond with this band because it would establish Ryanhood as a genuine acoustic rock force.

Oh, that’s not going to happen, for sure—so all you Ryanhood fans throughout the rest of the country have nothing in the least to be concerned about. Ryan and Cameron are not about to begin seeking career advice from a hackneyed layabout such as yours truly himself. It’s just my Ryanhood Rock and Roll Fantasy, but I can assure you to both a metaphysical and moral certitude that with this band it would have a major impact.

At one point the Ryanhood band numbered six members. Blake sat in again on extra percussion on one of the brand new songs and Cameron’s guitar role was assumed by his personal and musical colleague Sergio. Sergio was very good. This freed Cameron to wander charismatically about the stage, microphone in hand, eventually offering said mic directly to the audience.

And then there’s the fanatical Tucson audience. They are intimate with Ryanhood’s music like no other Ryanhood crowd I’ve seen—including even Boston’s. Ryanhood were able to engage in genuine and effective audience sing-along participation. The audience, and not Ryan and Cameron, sang the last two not-so-easy choruses to “Gardens and the Graves;” you know, the ones that go “I gotta leave, I gotta go Where I don’t know, Can I make it on my own? Oh but if I don’t, it’s just another day spent at home Where even though my garden grows It’s empty without you And the weeds outnumber the roses ten to two?” The Tucson audience sang them and didn’t miss a word or beat. I hope you don’t think I remembered them. The lyrics in the Forward CD booklet assisted me greatly in reproducing them accurately here. Another impressive sing-along occurred during “Welcome You Into My Head,” where they hummed the word “Home” that immediately precedes the two following lines that both begin with “Maybe…” It is a harbinger of things to come—soon Ryanhood fans elsewhere will do the same in large theaters and arenas throughout the U.S. As goes Tucson, so goes the rest of North America.

The prevailing murmur (or “buzz,” if you must) post-show was that none other than Tucson’s legendary Al Perry, purported to have played with the likes of Calexico and just about everybody else who ever passed through the area, checked out the show and approved. And approved! It’s also alleged that this is not a very easy thing to attain from Mr. Perry—it was suggested that he is VERY critical of most musicians and musical acts. Don’t take my word about Al Perry; explore his short but concise bio at Tucson Underground Legends for yourselves.

Opening act Music Video presented a unique soundscape. Paul Jenkins and his coterie of keyboards, electronics, and sequencers made for an Orchestralli Electronica. He was excellent.

Jenkins proclaims on Music Video’s 2004 CD Fireproof Your TV that “all sounds on this recording are artificial.” Well, the SOUNDS may be artificial but the SONGS themselves are as real (and good) as they get. And when it comes right down to it, only the songs really matter. Other instrumentation can only enhance a song, but not improve it in and by itself. Paul Jenkins is a great songwriter and performer and possesses a terrific and unique voice. He uses technology to enhance his songs with extra sounds and textures and not as a pervading factor. I’ll wager that his songs would still sound good with minimal acoustic instrumental backing; the electronica factor serves to make them that more interesting and adventurous. Music Video was a great start to an even greater end.

Be sure to check out Music Video at

David D[ionne]

David D & Cameron--Outside Club Congress