Sunday, May 21, 2006

Th' Legendary Shack Shakers

As I previously mentioned, I have a few concerts reviews that I'd like to get out of my system. I started the whole shebang off with a review of Nada Surf, way back in March. So why don't we leave off where we started, with the next show I saw: Th' Legendary Shack Shackers at the High Noon Saloon on March 16th.

Th' Legendary Shack Shakers put on what can arguably be described as the Craziest Show Ever. I first stumbled into this band right out of college, when I heard "Pinetree Boogie" off their Cockadoodledon't album on an internet radio station that I listed to religiously back then (in those sephia-toned pre-iPod days). I fortuitously came across this CD while browsing the racks at B-Side and took a chance - I have a rule that I don't buy albums unless there are at least two songs I like on it. I burned a copy for E Eugene, and we both enjoyed their fringe alt country sound. He and I then proceeded to miss two shows before finally making it to the High Noon back in early '05. It was a life-changing experience. Following the show I picked up their then-new album, Believe. E also had an encounter with the local constabulary that night for excessive velocity, and I gallantly offered to pay half the fine. I'm a swell guy like that!

Fast forward to this year: the month of March was crazy busy for me. I saw the Shack Shakers were playing the High Noon on a Thursday. If memory serves, the night of the show we went out for to dine at the Old Fashioned, a delicious restaurant on the Square and the perfect way to start any evening. We made it to the High Noon just before the first opening band, Goat Radio, came on. They are a Madison band that I don't believe I have previously seen. E and I got some sweet seats up in the little balcony area and had a few delicious pints. Although I can't say much for their name, I really enjoyed Goat Radio's sound. They played a guitar-driven roots-rock that is perfect for a place like the High Noon. In their duties as the opening band, they succeeded most admirably, since everyone seemed to be up and about, ready for more, when they wrapped up their set.

The second opening act was The .357 String Band, an group out of Milwaukee that plays self-described "Street-Grass." They opened for the Shack Shakers last year, but neither E or I remembered them as being as good as they were this night. We left the balcony for the front row and watched them tear through their set. It was great. As the name implies, they've only got strings, namely a stand-up bass, a mandolin, a six-string guitar and a banjo. One of the many highlights of their set was when the mandolin player stood on top of the bass while the bassist played it. They must build those things to last. I attempted to get a CD from the mandolin player after the show, but he didn't have any. I wasn't too heartbroken since he told me their studio album isn't due until this summer, and the CD they do have is a compilation of live tracks that they threw together to help pay for the studio time.

Next up: the main event. The Shack Shakers have a guitarist, David Lee, stand-up bassist, Mark Robertson, and drummer - all of whom you will not notice during a show. This is because your eyes will be transfixed on the frontman, Colonel J.D. Wilkes. He "sings" and plays the harmonica, but his presence along is entertainment alone. He came out on stage wearing a black leather mask, green lederhosen, a brown jacket with "The Colonel" stitched on the back, and carrying a walking cane. Momentarily he was wearing nothing but the lederhosen. Now, this is important: you WILL NOT understand the lyrics or make out much semblance of music at one of these shows. Many times it would take me half the song to figure out what song it actually was. This is not a drawback, however, because as good as their songs sound on the albums, hearing them live is on a completely different plane of reality. There have been precious few shows that I have been to that have had anywhere close to the frenzy of a Shack Shakers' show.

The show didn't last all that long, because nothing of that intensity could safely be carried out that long. The band blew through what had to be twenty or so songs in less than an hours time, and toward the end of the show the Colonel lost his singing microphone after hurling it to the ground. He finished out the show using an "old-timey" mike with a ton of distortion, which you can see in this picture here. I came away thoroughly sated, a little woozy, with a nagging voice at the back of my head telling me that nothing that fun can be legal. I picked up their newest, Pandelirium, at the merch table. E and I gave it a listen on our way home, and E came up with close to the best description of the Shack Shakers' sound that I have heard: Carnie Punk.

So there you have it. The next show that I went to was the Lawrence Arms.


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