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The Wooden Ball

Club Congress, Friday, Jan. 4, and Saturday, Jan. 5

In what looks to be the last in a string of recent multi-artist benefit shows, the annual Wooden Ball last weekend took place at Club Congress, showcasing more than a dozen acts that checked their Flying Vs at the door for a series of acoustic-based sets. This year's two-night event benefited both community radio station KXCI FM 91.3 and TAMHA, the Tucson Artists and Musicians Healthcare Alliance.

The Ball's opening night balanced artists both established and new, featuring surf-cow-punk legend Al Perry, indie-rockers Luca, and Wooden Ball founder and desert-rock pioneer Chris Holiman and his Downtown Saints. Others were no strangers to mostly acoustic performances, including Ball-virgin folk-rockers Redlands, and multi-instrumentalists Michael P. Nordberg and Namoli Brennet.

Night two began with enthusiastic responses for the singer-songwriters on the bill, including the tongue-in-cheek Traffic Violator (featuring Brian Field and Courtney Robbins); 20-nothing, legend-in-waiting, Lennonesque Andrew Collberg; and relative newcomer Tracy Shedd, poised for a breakthrough 2008.

Wooden Ball vets Joe Peña and David Slutes commandeered their respective bands through some of their best performances in recent memory. Slutes' Little Sisters of the Poor offered up a loungy, dance-inspiring (a Sisters first!) version of "Our Day Will Come." "Sleep" improved with a country tempo and lap-steel twang, while "Second Hand Smoke" brought Aerosmith's "Dream On" to mind. Greyhound Soul's Peña delivered heaping, raspy portions of Tom Waits and Dylan, while reaffirming GS as one of the few local bands with the conjones to deliberately write melodramatic epics.

Ball-newbies The Deludes took the Nirvana Unplugged approach, turning the power-pop-rock tracks "Ratty Ol' Dress" and "The Wolf" into hypnotic, sinister grinds. It was no surprise, though, that The Jons' Wooden Ball debut was the event's climax, featuring pinch-hitters on horns, congas, timbales and an upright bass. Looking and sounding like the Old Pueblo's version of the Buena Vista Social Club--10 on stage in all--The Jons reverse-engineered their classic-rock originals as amorous Latin dance numbers.

Original member Sergio Mendoza has rejoined The Jons, and Saturday debuted a newly penned tune of his, "Got 2 Get Used to," which harks back to earlier McCartney-inspired Jons love songs. The addition of Mendoza, who has also been spending time on keys with Calexico, is one of many reasons to keep an eye on The Jons--as well as the rest of this exciting music scene.

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