Slim Cessna’s Auto Club / Duende! / Black Jake & the Carnies
Sun, Nov 20, 2016 @ 8:00 pm to 2:00amView event on Facebook
There comes a moment in every Slim Cessna’s Auto Club show when you realize you’re seeing something you’ll never see anywhere else. It’s Slim Cessna in a white cowboy hat and beard, the lights haloing his ungainly frame, horn-rimmed glasses flashing through the smoke. He’s trading lyrics and insults with Munly Munly, gaunt and strange, dressed in a shade of black particular to preachers and burnt down barns. Their voices rise and converge in the kind of exquisite harmony usually found in Sacred Harp congregations, and then the band cuts loose, the best live band in the world, and the two men are doing battle, playing out some cathartic war between good and evil on stage. Or trading dance steps. You can’t tell.
I said the best live band in the world, and I ain’t the only one. No Depression and Spin Magazine have said the same. This is a band that’s held its own onstage with everybody from Johnny Cash to the Dresden Dolls. But you listen to the recording of “That Fierce Cow is Common Sense in a Country Dress,” and it’ll take you just about four minutes before you realize you’re listening to the best band in the world, period. It’s Lord Dwight Pentacost leading the lunatic rapture on his Jesus and Mary double-necked guitar; Rebecca Vera playing pedal steel so sublimely that I swear to God you can see the ghost of Ralph Mooney circling the stage; and, holding down the rhythm section like they have with each other since seventh grade, The Peeler on drums and Danny Pants on the doghouse bass, driving the band, making you lose your damn mind.
They’ve been making music for over twenty years, and there is, quite simply, nothing else like it. It’s gospel music, is what I’ve decided. Gospel music for a blasted world. A world straining and bursting in constant pain, but one that can’t help but overspill with joy – even knowing better. And the songs, Jesus. Songs about Colorado Indian hater John Chivington, alien abductions, patricide, a man born without a spine. This is the wild, bloody and weird America of Harry Crews, the only America worth a damn. It’s what Flannery O’Connor was trying to say when she wrote of dark romances and the grotesque. If you’ve got a heart, these songs’ll break it, and if you’ve got any laughter left in you, they’ll beat it out of you until you cry.
I probably can’t improve on what Jello Biafra said about Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, that they’re “the country band that plays the bar at the end of the world.” But I like to think that as long as they’re around, they can still save us from that end. Or at least from what currently passes as country music.
– Benjamin Whitmer, author of Pike and Cry Father, and co-author with Charlie Louvin of Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers
Over its first six years, DUENDE steadily morphed into a band built for anything/everything and some kinda other thing. Sensibilities for stately, suited up country rock got splashed with the tie-dyed hallucinogens of psychedeliaʼs surreal glee, but thatʼs just a coating atop their penchants for Delta and juke-joint blues, theatrical murder-ballad inclined folk and grimy psychobilly.
With Duende, you’re at a different kind of Crossroads – playing ring-around-the-rosy with R.L. Burnside, The Cramps, Link Wray and maybe even Screaming Jay Hawkins. And the Devil might be there, too, keeping time with his hoof stomps. Zesty, no? Just wait, their next jam might be a classically clangorous ol’ garage rock anthem.
This Detroit-based band formed out of a sublime and stormy jam session between longtime players and temporarily servied as the flagship for a modest music collective before endearingly taking on the role of bridge-builder and clique-clipper by curating ongoing monthly music showcases featuring bands of myriad genres and from all corners of town, howling and rocking inside a Pool Hall just north of Detroit that’s since blossomed into the veritable nerve-center and go-to performing spot for the entire scene. They’ve seen a lot and played a lot, to be sure, and that sound, the sound of those who are indeed on a journey (…or, trip, if you will), shines through.
“The idea for Black Jake and the Carnies came to Jake in 1999, when he had an ecstatic vision of a band playing fast-paced music on traditional instruments, full of entertaining gimmicks, props, and crowd interaction,” says the band. “The original incarnation of the band started in 2002, and played one disastrous Halloween Show before breaking up. Jake kept the vision alive and kept writing songs over the next four years until one day in 2006 he decided to get a band back together. A few guys who knew some guys down the street eventually turned into a new Black Jake & the Carnies overnight.”
The band, comprised of Black Jake (banjo, vocals, songwriting), Gus Wallace (fiddle), Andy Benes (mandolin, backing vocals), Jumpin’ Joe Cooter (bass), Billy “the Kingpin” LaLonde (percussion, backing vocals), and J.C. Miller (accordion, backing vocals), are six hard-working men from Ypsi who wallow in the imagery of sideshows and carnivals. “When you grow up in a small town, you have hair down your back and everyone’s a redneck, you get called a freak a lot,” Jake told Detroit’s Metro Times in 2011. “So I get attracted to the outcasts, the freaks, being somebody who’s on display.”
He’s not wrong. When Black Jake & the Carnies played a prison show in Belgium as part of the Belgium/Netherlands/Germany tour in 2011, the touring company said that they were the only band they’d ever seen who got the prisoners to jump up out of their seats and dance. And everybody knows how hard convicts are to please.
Since the band’s formation, it has played with artists and groups as varied and prestigious as Split Lip Rayfield, Joe Buck, Tommy Ramone, Jayke Orvitz, Langhorn Slim, Greensky Bluegrass, Frontier Ruckus, the Real McKenzies, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, O’Death, and the Meatmen. In addition, the band has performed at respected festivals and events like Theatre Bizarre, the Beaver Island Music Fest (three times), Muddy Roots, and the Wheatland Music Fest (twice). The Theatre Bizarre appearance in 2010 also represents the biggest crowd that the band has played to, coming in at 2500. “Theatre Bizarre was closed down that year, so they moved it to the Fillmore on 36 hours-notice,” says the band. “We ended up closing out the night on the big stage, and finished up playing with a stage full of people (including the Detroit Party Marching Band, lots of side show folks and burlesque dancers).”
Allmusic said that, “While the band’s music, a combination of Jake’s smartly penned originals along with the odd ’80s pop cover, certainly stands on its own, Black Jake & the Carnies’ stage performances combine audience-participation carnival games, periodic spinning of a wheel of fortune/misfortune, some pretty outrageous costumes, and enough raw energy to jump-start a Volkswagen. Jake’s banjo is even adorned with colored blinking lights. Yes, this is a band that knows how to have a good time and has fun doing so.”
Greg Molitor of Music Marauders said, “The bluegrass/folk/insanity theme works really well for these Carnies! Black Jake and Carnies was hands down the most energetic, wild, and flat-out enjoyable set of the entire weekend. I was a skeptic at first, but as soon as I saw the first Carnie jump from a 10 ft. speaker to the stage WITH HIS INSTRUMENT, I was sold. Sign me up for the next circus please!?”
Jeff Milo of iSPY Magazine said, “All the Carnies cut rugs like pure bottled lightning, they don’t play so much as they gracefully pummel, they pinball, even, from song # 1 to song #13 ½ …or however long their sweaty sets go. Set aside their eclectic music, the Carnies’ blend spindly bluegrass and honky-tonk croons to some psychobilly-bent for punk-spat pirouetting; swampy yet sophisticated, old timey like a jukebox’s warble but warped and shoved and shunted with a rock n’ roll romp.”