How do you fit nine people, a stand-up bass, and a galvanized washtub on the exiguous stage of Pete’s Candy Store?
You don’t. The Jug Addicts solve the problem by careful stacking and layering: First you fill in the back line, where the two basses flank the harmonica; then you position the front line –acoustic guitar, washboard, and washboard; and finally the forefront line goes into the audience, with the fiddles along the walls and the lap-slide guitar in the middle. A little nimbleness of foot and hip, and they even manage to switch position as needed, when the bass player mutates into a musical sawyer or when the harmonica player steps to the microphone to sing lead.
No jugs, as you may have noticed (not even moonshine), but plenty of old-time music plucked from the repertoires of string bands and jug bands of the past, jazz standards from swing-era big bands, and a nod to the Hawaiian craze of the ’20s.
The Jug Addicts played a non-stop, hour and a half set to a solidly packed room including both stalwarts and casual walk-ins, including –this is Williamsburg, after all– one lovey-dovey Orthodox couple of a certain age, he with white beard, white shirt, yarmulke and tzitzith, she with a floor-length, long-sleeved dress and a brown beret at a rakish angle, and they were hootin’ an’ hollerin’ with the black-sweatered hipsters and hipstresses.
The band started things off with Jimmie Rodgers’ He’s in the Jailhouse Now, the opening cut from their CD Cynthia’s Kitchen, and never let the spirit flag; that’s the advantage of jug bands, even the ballads are fast and rowdy! They romped through Crazy Arms, Sheik of Araby, Frankie and Johnny, Bei mir bist du schön, Sadie Green, Minnie The Moocher and many more, trading lead vocals between Bill Carney (washboard, kazoo), Brian Mulroney (washboard, bells), Ken Byrne (harmonica), and Dale Burleyson (acoustic guitar). Anna Goodman and Karl Meyer split the fiddle duties, Gil Shuster played his washtub bass like a lead instrument while Robert Charde kept the double bass in the background (but made his way to the front row for a couple of numbers on the musical saw at the end of the set); finally, Steve Cooney sat quietly, with his 3/4 Gibson on his lap and played slide with a regular flat pick.
The CD, Cynthia’s Kitchen, sounds almost as jaunty and bracing as the live performance, even through (or perhaps thanks to?) tiny computer speakers. It was produced by JP Bowersock, lately in the news for that little pop band called The Strokes and for the compilation CD New York City Rock N Roll, but better known to us cool New-York cognoscenti for his own, exceptional neo-surf band The Papaya Kings (Don’t Fear the Reverb) and Cynthia Lamb’s band Kivi (get it? Cynthia’s kitchen…) As far as I can tell, it is only available at the band’s shows or by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.