Dalton Deschain & the Traveling Show are one of the most individualistic and artistically ambitious bands in New York. They’re very high-concept: their catchy, anthemic songs mirror and elaborate on characters and events in an ongoing retro-futurist serial novel that could go in plenty of directions, from graphic series to feature film. Over the past couple of years, Deschain (not his real name) and the band have been beating a path with their catchy, anthemic songs between Bed-Stuy and the Lower East Side when they’re not on tour. They’ve got a new ep, Catherine, streaming at Bandcamp and an accompanying novelette. They’re playing at Sidewalk on August 18 at 10:40 PM (tnat’s 10:40, not 10:30, folks), opening for perennially popular folk noir denizen Lorrane Leckie, who’s playing a rare, intimate solo show.
Deschain weaves a hell of a yarn. Set in 1945, the plotline traces a postwar America reeling from a biological attack and an Axis victory. Deschain builds suspense to the breaking point, doesn’t telegraph the action and keeps you on the page. As with all steampunk scenarios, verisimilitude sometimes takes a backseat to action, and when that gets all wiz-bang, a suspension of disbelief can be required. Loaded down and encumbered as she was, the heroine somehow gets away from the bad guys with guns? Really??? That’s where the story unravels away from Philip K. Dick toward Quentin Tarantino.
The songs on the ep are artsy and eclectic, and the band is first-rate, with Deschain handling all the guitars, David Warpaint on bass and Phil Harris on drums. Deschain sings through a tidal, uneasy vintage chorus-box effect as Tin Laurels gets underway, an enigmatic ingenue-in-the-big-city anthem. Interstitial (Approximate Man) alludes icily and mechanically to one of many stories nested within the narrative, in this case a mysterious, gnomic avant-garde poet who may hold the key to something not yet revealed. Approximate Girl concludes the ep: “if you think I’m beautiful then you never watched a star die,” the narrator asserts early on. Deschain’s long, tremolo-icepicked guitar solo at the end is irresistibly delicious. There’s a watery 80s feel to much of this music and this is a prime example: Peter Gabriel from late in the decade comes to mind, as well as late-period Bowie. It’ll be fun to see where the next episode picks up.