It turns out Billy Sedlmayr's solo shows over the last couple of years offered mere sketches, albeit intense and sometimes wrenching ones, of his poetry and orchestration aesthetic. Set in full arrangements, his songs, sometimes overwhelming in their anger and regret, found a context in the kind of awe and hope that sustains us mortals in this scary/gorgeous desert village. "Tucson Kills" in particular, reflecting the harrowing personal circumstances that inspired it, benefits from this tempering treatment; the music sets a mood in which you hear the words more as astute commentary than an assault.
Sedlmayr and collaborator Gabriel Sullivan, of Taraf de Tucson and Chicha Dust, led an all-star line-up they called "Kid Bad": guitarist Connor Gallagher; multi-instrumentalist Jason Urman, whom Selmayr calls his "linch pin"; bassist Thøger Lund of Giant Sand; and Winston Watson, of too many national and local bands to mention.
For a nearly last-minute show on a weeknight, the Club Congress crowd was sizable, rapt and noisily appreciative. Post-show sales were brisk for an EP that leaks a preview of a forthcoming CD. It contains the full band performance of "Black Grenadine" and three different versions of "Tucson Kills."
Full release of the CD, which was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, awaits affiliation with a label to print and distribute it. But music fans who carry Tucson in their DNA should take advantage of any opportunity to see and hear these song performed live.
Listen especially for the '50s soul-influenced "Hardbound 6/8," co-written with Van Christian; the subtle psychedelia of "The Desert Is No Lady"; the sonic storm behind the spoken word prison experience in "Monsoon"; Sullivan's pretty, pretty acoustic guitar lead on "Two Angels"; and always the hint of a Neil Young tremolo in Sedlmayr's sustains, and the unique nonverbal punctuation he casts for emphasis.