Creepy Intensity from Thee Shambels at Zirzamin
Most bands open a show with a bright, catchy song. Friday night at Zirzamin, Thee Shambels did just the opposite, with a LONG, morose, Irish-flavored ballad about the death of a relationship…or maybe a dead girlfriend. It could have been both. Frontman/guitarist Neville Elder sang it uneasily with a break in his voice over the rich, amber washes of Melissa Elledge’s accordion, Sarah Mischner’s harmony vocals adding another level of bitterness over the slinky, subtle groove of Scott Kitchen’s bass and JJ Murphy’s drums. Elder has a theatrical side and a knack for dramatic imagery, sometimes completely in your face, sometimes much less so. “We lie together like fish on a dock, gasping for breath,” he sang as the song wound up: it was a typical moment for this dark, frequently morbid “folk noir” band, ending in an unexpected blaze of chord-chopping.
This band loves slow 6/8 time, and they work it for all the suspense they can pull out of it. Awash in more lush, chocolatey accordion, Baby’s Bones told the tale of a guy who goes crazy after his girlfriend dies and and stashes his her body in the barn “way up high, where the rats won’t get her;” on the next song, Caroline, Elder pondered how to cut an absolutely crazy girlfriend loose, evoking a young, hungover but pre-delirium tremens Shane MacGowan taking a pensive take on Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan. When Will We Be Lovers, an understatedly creepy narrative told from the point of view of a frustrated stalker, opened with a suspenseful Chris Isaak-esque sway and then went into mournful Pogues ballad territory before hitting a big, clanging crescendo midway through.
“If I have to be this lonely, I might as well be alone,” Elder wailed on a briskly shuffling new song that blended Celtic and gypsy motifs. The big hit of the evening was Jenny Come Back, a completely twisted noir cabaret waltz set in an imaginary San Francisco “suicide bar.” Much as the story was obviously fiction, Elder sold it. “Lemme tell you about Jenny…she had long red dirty dreadlocks hanging down her back… not the sort of tidy little salon dreadlocks, you know the little type of cornrows that are sort of a bit fluffy, and that pretty little girls at parties at SVA…FIT…NYU wear..no, these were homeless dreadlocks, like a big fucking fist. And that was just one of them. They were supporting whole ecosystems.” He went on to paint a scenario as grotesquely entertaining as anything MacGowan, or Nick Cave for that matter, has ever written. That song, along with a bunch of other intriguing stuff, is up at the band’s Soundcloud page. They went back to Irish balladry for their new single Lost Gun (a free download at the band’s site) channeling misery and abandonment over a steady shuffling beat and aching torrents of accordion, closing the set with a surprising detour into Buddy Holly-style Americana.
Ferociously entertaining gypsy punks Amour Obscur were scheduled to play afterward; much as the idea of seeing such a high-voltage act in such an intimate space was intriguing, when it’s the dead of August, the subway card runs out at midnight and the air conditioner is waiting patiently to be turned on again, there’s only one place to go and that’s home. Catch you next time around, guys.