with apologies to The Chicken and the Snowman…
December 5th, and it’s snowing as though it was February 5th. I’m going to hate this winter as much as I hated the last one. It’s 8:30 p.m. and Seth and I are on our way to the Knitting Factory. For those who haven’t met him yet, Seth is the third wheel on the Home Office Records tricycle, the one who hasn’t blogged so far, the one who has to get up early every morning and can’t go to late shows, but this time, with doors at 8 and the show at 9, we figure it will be OK to catch Those Legendary Shackshakers (yes, those — not the other, lesser ones…) and Los Straitjackets with The World Famous Pontani Sisters (yes, the world famous ones — the others aren’t famous enough yet…).
The doors aren’t open yet. “It’s because of the snow” the minions claim. Nine o’clock comes and goes. “Five more minutes” becomes, five minutes later, “another ten minutes”, then soon it’s “in twelve minutes, give or take”. We give, they take. We give more, they take more. Seth is falling asleep on his feet. J.D., the Shackshakers’ singer is setting up his merchandise table display, including rather incongruous bright-colored knit wool hats with bowties on the front.
We descend toward the Old Office, where bleeps and bloops emerge from a laptop over which a lone Daevid Allen-like figure looms in the darkness. We while away the minutes in the bowels of the Knit, until finally there’s some movement in the stairs. The Shackshakers are taking the stage.
Which came first, the chicken or the chicken mythos?
Colonel J.D. (he’s from Kentucky), right, looks and struts like an aggressive rooster, even tonight when he’s slowly losing a mighty battle with what I hope is not the dread flu (I shook his hand earlier in the evening…). As if that were not enough, he has to contend with the fact that half his band is missing in action somewhere behind the snow front, and Straitjackets Eddie and Jimmy are filling in on guitar and drums respectively, after one hasty rehearsal. No matter; the two bands have been touring together for a while, and swamp blues boogie is a valuable Southern common denominator. The heavy bass line booms like a Canned Heat road movie soundtrack, J.D.’s harmonica wails and ruts in answer to the guitar, when it’s not spending quality time up in the air, tossed and juggled with an increasingly shaky aim. Amid Shackshaker originals, they also cover Slim Harpo’s Hip Shake (“no, it’s not Radar Love“), Sonny Boy Williamson’s Help Me (variously described as the prototype or a copy of the better known Green Onions by Booker T. and the MG’s), Louis Jordan’s Caldonia and George Jones’s Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms.
J.D. does not like his vocal microphone; repeatedly, he pulls it aside, on occasion even slaps it down with a swift backhand, and sings into his hand-held harmonica mike to a weird, surely not coincidental, gallinaceous squawk. He puffs and strains his head forward … and plucks at the sinewy cords at the side of his scrawny neck. A feverish, rambling tale of wedding night pecking that would make Tammy Faye Starlite blush, and they’re done. Seth is still awake…
Los Straitjackets still indulge …una música festiva!… in cheesy, recorded pre-show announcement and cheesy comments in Spanish …y también…during the show, without ever cracking a smile while they churn out Christmas song after Christmas song, while their …con las hermanas famosas… new co-conspirators the Pontani Sisters go-go and can-can in a variety of Santa Clausy outfits. “Subtle” is not the word I’m looking for. This is a band who meld victoriously the sartorial splendor of (the original) Star Trek with the understatement of Mexican wrestling masks …la cancíon… and the delicate hues of silver plated DiPinto guitars into a winning surf instrumental band. They do the chicken song, they do the inevitable drum solo, they do Frosty, the Pontanis open their present packages …las maravillas enmascaradas… to display a variety of Straitjackets and Pontani merchandise, and they polish things …muchissima… off with Telstar.
It’s still snowing and Seth heads off to Brooklyn in a cab, while I make my way to the E train to Queens. ¡Arriba!