Henry Wagons Brings His Melbourne Menace to Joe’s Pub
Noir songwriter/bandleader Henry Wagons plays Joe’s Pub this Saturday night, March 2 at 9:30 PM. With his brooding baritone, Wagons’ fellow Australian Nick Cave is an obvious influence, but where Cave goes off into art-rock and Irish balladry, Wagons goes into vicious noir rock, like a more vengeful Mark Steiner. Wagons’ latest album Expecting Company? also has a similarly surreal, sardonic, irreverent gallows humor. As you might expect of a guy with a rakish persona, he likes to surround himself with women, in this case Patience Hodgson of the Grates and Sophia Brous representing for his musical hotbed of Melbourne along with Haligonian songstress Jenn Grant and the Dead Weather’s Alison Mosshart serving as sparring partner on several of these songs.
The opening track, Unwelcome Company sets the stage, a savage tango that explodes in a burst of drums and minor key guitar. Mosshart comes in for the uneasy mantra, “Everywhere I go they follow me;” as the song ends, there’s a nasty guitar solo half-buried in the mix that looks all the way back to Aussie garage-punk legends Radio Birdman.
The second cut, I’m In Love with Mary Magdalene begins as a ghostly faux madrigal over funeral organ and blends creepy vocal harmonies with macabre guitar twang while Wagons and Mosshart lament their unrequited lust. Give Me a Chance to Mend reminds of the country side of Jerry Teel, mixing warm pedal steel with wry honkytonk piano, while the rustically twisted family tale I Still Can’t Find Her evokes Tom Warnick & World’s Fair at their most surreal.
Wagons goes for an only slightly restrained Cramps-y menace on the ghoulabilly stomp A Hangman’s Work Is Never Done. He follows that with Give Me a Kiss, a country waltz so bizarre it’s irresistible, with its pinging Omnichord synth and coy, chirpy backing vocals. The album winds up with Marylou Two, Wagons reaching for a Willie Nelson ballad vibe and surprisingly hitting the target pretty head-on. But even in the quietest moments here, there’s a lingering unease: Wagons sounds like someone who’s always got a blunt instrument up his sleeve. The sedate confines of Joe’s Pub may be in for a rude shock when this guy hits the stage.