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Tucson Thunder

Downtown Tucson, Saturday, May 5

It's too easy to snark about aging rock bands with middle-aged paunches touring street stages and county fairs. Cynical? What a drag it must be to pull out those No. 1 hits for the zillionth time!

I will tell you, though, that Bad Company, fronted in this incarnation by 1990s lead singer Brian Howe, offered the tightest musicianship of a host of bands I saw Saturday; he also turned in the strongest, most enthralling vocals. This, on a night that also featured Alejandro Escovedo and the Drive by Truckers' Patterson Hood, is saying something.

The most fun was had by the biggest crow--those gathered in the street to witness Molly Hatchet, in all its flagrant hair and bass. It was a pitch-perfect choice for a biker weekend, the first H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) rally held in Tucson.

Molly Hatchet's set was still going strong when Hood and the Truckers took the stage inside and gave the old-timers suitable, Southern-ly props. The Truckers, after all, simultaneously made their name and all but redeemed the genre with their stunning 2001 Southern Rock Opera. The band broke stride to give Tucson a full-on rock show. They are touring the country with a semi-acoustic set they call "The Dirt Underneath," featuring keyboard legend Spooner Oldham. At the Rialto, Oldham joined in on a raft of new material he'll perform with the band on their upcoming album. His subtle and often thrilling soul-fills also added texture and depth to such crowd-pleasing favorites as "Tales Facing Up" and "A World of Hurt."

Preceding the Truckers was a seemingly restored Escovedo. His 2003 collapse from complications of hepatitis C left his future, let alone that of his musical career, very much in doubt. His opening song, "Put You Down," and his popular cover of the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" drew upon his California punk roots and served notice that they were thriving. Much of the rest of his set came from the more thoughtful and abstract The Boxing Mirror, from 2006, and Escovedo introduced one of several songs he's written with Green on Red's Chuck Prophet for an upcoming album.

Apart from the Zsa Zsas' predictably goofy closing set at Hotel Congress, Escovedo's guitarist David Polkingham offered the evening's only nod to Cinco de Mayo with a borderland mini-riff in the middle of "I Was Drunk." The crowd went wild.

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