Amy Rude: Bringing it all back home
Downtown Tucson's music scene gets a re-up from local songwriter
It’s Monday night at the Red Room at Grill on Congress Street.
Despite a smallish turnout, Amy Rude is wailing an encore. Rude and her band have adapted the tragic traditional song “Katie Cruel” into a vicious stomp and howl.
Without fanfare or big advertisements, one might never think to venture out to Grill on a weeknight. But in this instance, any diehard music fan would be sorry to miss such a performance.
Monday nights downtown, despite all efforts at gentrification, recall the wistful desolation of Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles and the post-apocalyptic landscape of the recent adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s "The Road."
And tonight, a strong wind kicks up, highlighting the stillness of the closed storefronts abutting and surrounding the Red Room. One cannot help but conclude that Rude’s infusion of distorted guitar and vicious vocals into her version of the traditional “Katie Cruel” is a perfect soundtrack, a comment on, and echo of, the occasion of its performance, when compared to other interpretations, including that of Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes.
Such revision takes bravery and permission, and this is exactly Rude’s point.
As "Auntie Boots," Rude has assembled the usual suspects, including violinist/vocalist Vicki Brown, guitarist and local legend Naim Amor and Golden Boots’ Ryen Eggleston on bass for Auntie Boots’ Low Down Blues Revue. The Revue is, according to Rude, a means of bringing the improvisatory nature of the old Red Room scene of earlier years back to Congress Street.
A few years ago, one might stop in at Grill for some tater tots and be graced by Howe Gelb noodling away on the piano, or an impromptu set by international acts, such as Robyn Hitchcock and Francoiz Breut. More frequently, local musicians would play in various configurations, shouting chord changes, creating temporary arrangements on whatever song anyone felt like playing.
The Low Down Blues Revue renews efforts in that vein, Rude said. She calls the Boots alias a disguise, but acknowledges that what she will do beneath the mask of the moniker will be more raw and arguably more real than other performances. She is quick to call the night “home skillet-lickin’ good,” but knows that much more roils beneath such an endeavor; even as she pulls out an autoharp and plugs it into an electric amplifier, the past gets another coat of cultural paint.
Rude’s own 2008 recording, The Missing, features Rude’s perfect and rough-hewn vocals and stark lyrics. The sweet opener “Malvina,” a tribute to folk legend Malvina Reynolds, gradually gives way throughout the record to the speaker of “Heartbeast,” a woman reduced to monosyllables: “You. Beat. Up. My. Heart.” The obsessive guitar riff underscores the song’s prevailing desperation.
Tonight, the band closes with “Heartbeast.” Rude, having donned a big black felt hat, recalls so many antecedents with swagger and aplomb. Auntie Boots is proving all of us wrong, we the cynical, the tired, the complacent. For such a clarion call, even on a Monday night in a diner, we should all try to be listening.