Slim Cessna’s Auto Club/Tarantella – The Bluebird Theatre, Denver (30 December 2005)

NB: The pictures on this post are courtesy of Carole Kennedy. Hence them being better than my usual tosh.

So, what’s the furthest you’ve ever gone for a gig? Beginning to fear that I’d never see my beloved Slim Cessna’s Auto Club (SCAC from here on) anywhere near these shores, and having no life to speak of really (ok, and slightly buoyed by the takings from the Half Man Half Biscuit gig) I made a pilgrimage to their hometown of Denver, Colorado for their annual New Year’s bash.Tarantella, The Bluebird Theatre, Denver 30 December 2005

First night, and first up we get Tarantella. Like most of the groups around the city they seem to be comprised of a bunch of interchangeable musicians that all belong to the central pool that the city has. (It’s kinda like the Bellshill scene of the eighties, only writ larger – and a lot more country.) In fact, in addition to legendary local producer (and, guitarist, but I’m not so familiar with that area of his work) Bob Ferbrache, there are no less than three members of SCAC taking part here.

Initially it gets off to a very shaky start. Lead vocalist Kal Cahoone really looks uneasy. In fact, you can’t help think that she’d really rather be anywhere else at this moment in time. As the first song comes to a close, I’m more concerned for the poor lass’ welfare than I am disappointed in just how dull, how nothing, it was. The second track (no chat, not titles) picks up a slightly more sleazy groove. But, despite this – and, a particularly glorious swooping solo from violinist and Painted Saint Kelly O’Dea – still there’s something distinctly unconvincing and disengaged about what’s going on onstage.

Tarantella, The Bluebird Theatre, Denver 30 December 2005Then Kal straps on her squeezebox and things look like they could be taking a turn for the better (or at least more interesting). As they start playing, my heart sinks all the more: This is obviously meant to be the slow meaningful one. Kal starts mumbling away in spanish (I assume, could be portugese I’m not that hot on languages). And then, something happens and all the pieces just slip into place. The sound begins to gel and the band become, quite simply, mesmerising.

This is the kind of thing that gets called americana round these parts. Unlike many of the tedious wastes of space that embrace the term, it actually quite fits this lot. Melding together everything kinda bordertown and dusty (mariachi, porchsong, even dashes of western swing) they come up with something dark and brooding, but as majestically affecting as Ennio Morricone. (Every year or two, I’ll read something about some artist that you’ve never got – say Polly Harvey – and the journo manages to convince you that it might be worth checking them out again? Then you do and realise that they sill are a crap as you’d always imagined? Well, this is the kind of stuff they describe but it never is.)

I demand a recount! I want those first two songs all over again. Guess I’ll have to make do with the album…

Slim Cessna's Auto Club - damn fine rockin'And, so to the main event of the evening…

Tonight they – rather bravely, in my opinion – open with what I’ve always assumed is the ‘show-stopper Hold My Head. And, as a statement of intent it’s pretty damn fine. Especially if that intent is let’s paaaartty!!!!. I’d defy anyone not to just be lifted by the sheer electricity in the hall. Yes, it’s a special occasion and you can be fairly certain that at least about 99.9999% of the crowd are here for love of the band and a right good knees up. In fact, apparently that people have come from all over the country for this(!).

Munly Munly - The Anti-BezNow, I’d always had this lot down as Slim on vocals and guitar, and Munly on vocals, mandolins, banjos and guitars. Although this is strictly true, the fact that they seldom played any string instruments came as a bit of a surprise to me. However, the way they lead the band and play off each other is awesome. The performance is part spiritual revival with them summoning demons and call upon god (apparently in a non-ironic manner, too). Part old style variety; we get dance routines, we get burlesque mugging. I keep getting flashes of Eric Morecambe in Slim’s moves. This is, of course, makes him instantly endearing.

Oh, and they do that clever-clever thing that the Badseeds and their ilk do of actually being competent musicians and creating a unique sound – the sneaky beggars. We’ve already seen Rumley’s multi-instrumentalism with openers Tarantella, a trait he appears to share with the rest of the band (except the drummer, but aint that always the way – I always assume this is because no-one else can drum). Despite his double necked jesus-encrusted double-neck guitar, the Reverend (genuine) Dwight smashes another of my illusions about the band by playing more banjo than anything else; including through his distortion for a lot of the time. Awesome.

I couldn’t really choose any highlights. Each track recognised was met with a surge of ‘kinyesman!!! There’s more than fair sprinkling of new songs in there, all of which work. This bodes well for the next studio album, which unfortunately will be all too far off. In fact in this live forum, even Jesus Is In My Body, My Body Has Let Me Down from the live album makes a lot more sense. I really hope none of the shortcomings of the last studio album are repeated.

It might be because I haven’t slept in something like 28 hours, it might be the altitude, it might be the beer, but by the time the encores come round I’m definitely having a near religious experience. Eagerly anticipating just what they’re going to do to top everything that’s gone before for the encore (christ, what can they do to top it).

Slim Cessna's Auto Club & Jello Biafra - several heroes for the price of slightly lessThen they introduce special guest vocalist Jello Biafra and that near experience tips over to full-blown. He joins them for a rousing (if bizarrely chosen) version of Jesus Christ, which gives his trademark warble the chance for some full-blown yodelling. He fits rather nicely with the more ‘practiced’ frontmen’s two part take on it, too.

After about an hour’s adulation for the man himself, and expressions from the band that that has been a dream come true, the barrel through an insane version of Lethal Injection as it there’s no tomorrow. But, of course, the best thing is there is tomorrow.



Written by Tony Kiernan

03 January 2006 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Gigs

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