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Tag: jeremy harrell

The Sideshow Tragedy Bring Their Visionary Apocalyptic Blues to the Rockwood

The last time this blog caught up with the Sideshow Tragedy, it was a couple of years ago late on a Friday night in the red neon backroom at Zirzamin, and the Austin noir blues band was killing it. Really killing it. Guitarist Nathan Singleton was airing out his bottomless bag of jagged minor-key licks, drummer Jeremy Harrell had a murderous stomp going and there were some special guests, if memory serves right – it had been a crazy night up to that point. Fast forward to 2015: Zirzamin is sadly gone, but the Austin band has a new album, Capital, streaming at Continental Record Services‘ site, and a similar small-room, Friday night show, in this case at the Rockwood on May 22 at 11 PM. This usually sedate space is in for a serious jolt of adrenaline, tempered slightly by the fact that the new album is somewhat more spare and haunting than the band’s previous, often unhinged gutter blues attack. It’s a concept album, a sinister, brilliantly metaphorical portrait of a nation gone off the rails in an orgy of greed and mass desperation. Fans of Humanwine will love this.

“Summer’s here, and the tramps are on the move, ten to a trailerbed from Chicago to LA…you can taste the decay,” Singleton broods in Number One, a corrosively relevant, cynical portrait of haves versus have-nots over a riff-rock groove that other bands would have turned into metal, but these guys do as a shuffle. Likewise, Blacked Out Windows, with some harmonically offcenter multitracks, could be Sonic Youth, but instead Singleton runs the riff over and over for an ominously hypnotic vibe: “Smoke and mirrors closing in…his carnival calm is easy to believe,” Singleton warns. “The palms of the priest are easy to grease.”

Singleton more or less talks the apocalyptic lyrics to Keys to the Kingdom as Harrell beats a frantic, funereal pulse on his tom-toms. The Winning Side, a similarly frantic, scampering anthem, sounds like Dylan’s It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding at doublespeed: “It’s not the thought that counts,” Singleton muses grimly. The title track works a dusky midtempo slide guitar groove, a caustically aphoristic parable of the 21 st century going back into the dark ages in a hurry. “You listen to the police scanner as your write your report, better fill your quota while you got time…you can’t see the horizon ’cause it don’t matter right now, so rob the beggars blind,” Singleton taunts. It’s arguably the best and most relevant song anybody’s released this year.

Two Guns pairs Harrell’s shuffling, misty cymbals against Singleton’s uneasily precise slide guitar and menacing stream of metaphors: “The rockets’ eternal red glare, the shooting off of lights and flares, it’s getting dark out there.” So when Singleton finally reaches the point where he works a song around a major-key hook – with the only slightly less troubled Animal Song, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Marcellus Hall catalog – there’s a sense of relief, however temporary.

Let the Love Go Down returns to a death-obsessed theme with a series of fire-and-brimstone metaphors over a relentlessly rolling and tumbling drive.The album ends with Plow Song, a spiky resonator guitar-fueled trip through a postapocalyptic landscape where you’re bound to end up with “a gun for all seasons and a bit in your mouth.” Powerful words from a Texas band. Best album of the year? One of the top handful, no question.

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Eerie Jagged Noir Blues from Austin’s Sideshow Tragedy

Sometimes it boils down to cred. The presence of Dimestore Dance Band’s noir gypsy guitar mastermind Jack Martin on Austin band the Sideshow Tragedy‘s album Persona instantly makes it worth a listen – it’s up at their Bandcamp page. For anybody who likes the idea of the Black Keys but finds them impossibly tame, the Sideshow Tragedy will not disappoint: they are the real deal. They’re upstairs at Bowery Electric, guessing at around 10 PM on May 15 and then at Zirzamin at 10 on May 17. If dark twisted surreal country blues is your thing, this will hook you up for the duration. Frontman/guitarist Nathan Singleton took the entire blues dictionary, distilled it, lined it up down the bar and then did shots of it until he had the whole thing in his system. And then recorded this album, for the most part just with drummer Jeremy Harrell. It’s like the Gun Club, but more raw, or like Dylan at his most haphazard and interesting – and funny. Singleton’s wry sense of humor is a welcome change from all dese wotbo blueschillun who done take da blues so serious, uh huh – there’s none of that blackface BS here.

Another cool thing about this record is that aside from Martin’s jagged guitar on the haunting, Otis Rush-influenced fifth track, The Bet, the rest of the album is all Singleton. He’s a one-man blues army, sometimes wailing with a slide, sometimes fingerpicking, sometimes slashing and roaring as he builds a doomed, menacing ambience. The album’s opening track, AM in Chicago sets the tone, an evil, reverb-drenched roadhouse vamp over tumbling drums: “A structure fire in the tower of song, a prisoner’s wish before he’s gone.” That the Leonard Cohen reference isn’t absurdly out of place speaks for itself.

“If you won’t believe me, I’ll keep telling you lies,” Singleton smirks over tasty layers of steady, shuffling slide guitar on Gasoline, then adds a sly, funky edge that reminds of Jon Spencer on the pulsing Something to Do. If there’s anything here you could call a hit single, it’s the wickedly catchy Satellite, bringing in a rare, upbeat major-key vibe.

Vasseline is a swirling, Steve Wynn style desert rock stomp. The title track, a snide portrait of a status-grubbing groupie type, opens with bit of feedback, early 70s stoner metal throuth the prism of punk, and then goes scampering. The exasperated I’m Gonna Be Your Man has distant echoes of the early Yardbirds and cool reverb on the vocals and the drums. The album winds up with the menacingly swaying Long Way Down, a hypnotic Howlin’ Wolf style groove, resonator guitar carrying the brooding tune over a wash of eerie distortion.