Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 10, 2008

Here’s where the cowboys have gone

In this age of meaningless pop (which alas nowadays includes pretty much all mainstream hip-hop, as far as I’m concerned), of well-coiffed personas, of hyper-marketed hooks and presentations, we now experience with rare joy an music and/or musical acts that break from this pre-fab mold.  I humbly draw your attention to Denver-based Slim Cessna’s Auto Club.

I would like to say that although I do like their music, I’m not crazy about it.  However I love that it/they exist.  When pressed on their musical style, they insist on calling it “American music” or in some cases “country-western,” which is of course the main thrust of it.  However we’re not talking about fucking Kenny Chesney here, I mean real country-western:  a bit of Honky Tonk, some bluegrass, drips and drabs cobbled together from old cowpoke songs of the Old West, with its cattle drives on the prairie and ranches among the canyonlands, mesas and dusty pueblos.  However, it’s not just this, either, because while Slim Cessna’s Auto Club utilizes banjos and steel guitars, there is also clearly a bit of punk infusing their sound — a driving energy and caterwauling of rage and despair at the world’s failings, nonetheless wrapped in a kind of optimism of God’s embrace.  This last aspect is crucial, of course:  because tucked inside this punk-country blend of dive bar verve are apocalyptic gospel lyrics, singing Jesus’ praises, lamenting sin, and ever striving to rise above the crapulence brought about by too much whiskey and women.  It’s not “God rock” with its light, empty praises of God stuff:  it’s lamentations and celebrations, talking about God because He’s fucking needed.*

This mix has lead some to call the sound “gothic country” and other such monikers, which are ultimately fruitless attempts to capture the sort of music that’s more than good enough to be playing on repeat in a bar, but is in fact pretty much ideal for cruising across austere Western landscapes in the middle of the night, fleeing from some apocalyptic event, sweaty, maybe a bit bloody, but safe for the moment and reflective.  It’s a bit dark but also occasionally joyous and definitely raucous — and you need it to keep you going while you load your shotgun, before finding a safe place to catch some shut-eye.  It’s driving music you can dance to, while also vaguely unsettling.

This energy is taken up a notch or ten at Slim Cessna live shows, which is really the only way to experience this band (this doesn’t quite capture it, but it gives you some inkling).  Adding to the energy of the sound, the band simply explodes from the stage, a beer-swilling, smoke-addled cacophony of feverish strumming and yodeling.  They are incredibly energetic, but also just a helluva sight.  The rhythm guitarist looks like a cross between a hobbit and a crack baby, with the Virgin Mary airbrushed onto his double guitar.  The eponymous Slim himself, with his spasmic 6′ 5″ frame and light bulb head, is among the few people around who can make a ten gallon hat seem like a beanie, and he is all the more alarmingly charismatic for dancing about the stage, screaming and thrusting his arms in the air as if he’s just about to go into rapture.  Munly, Slim’s second, with his low, warbling voice, looks as if he should actually be a gargoyle or perhaps a shaman — at any rate someone who gives you the creeps, and yet paradoxically seems dependable in dark times.  And so on:  a sight to behold.

Going to one of their live shows is like seeing a pentecostal revival in a honky tonk bar surrounded by hoodie-toting hipsters who’ve channeled the spirits of long-gone punks.  It’s a rip-snortin’ good time, and appropriate for the band’s Denver roots:  firmly in the West, heavily tinged with evangelism, virulently independent-minded, and comfortably moving back and forth between western traditions and yuppie-hipster bourgeois disaffectedness that isn’t emo malaise, but rather a celebration of what life is, yet a howl of rage at what it isn’t but should be.

They end their nation-wide tour this season at the Gothic (appropriately enough) to celebrate the release of their new album.  I can’t recommend to you highly enough to check them out.

* For the record, I obviously don’t share Slim’s evangelical beliefs, but given the rawness with which they are articulated, I don’t particularly mind them, either, and it sorta adds to the spice of the thing.



  1. Ames and I are going to the SSAC show tonight at the Gothic!

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