Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers
with The Psycho Devilles
Copper Rocket Pub, Winter Park, FL • 11/20/04
Jen CrayTh’ Legendary Shack Shakers put on the kind of show that makes you take a few steps back. Not just because of the intensity of their live performance, but because if you stand too close to the stage you will become part of the act. If you so much as walk past the stage — which is virtually unavoidable in a venue as tiny as the Copper Rocket Pub, where the front door is located right next to it — there are a number of penalties you could encounter. You may be yelled at, groped, kissed, spit on, ridiculed, or become covered in body hair freshly yanked and tossed from frontman Colonel J.D. Wilkes’ wiry frame. Unless you enjoy being on display, you should just back up and try not to make any sudden movements. Like a tent revival evangelist, J.D. can smell the weak, and will pounce upon you if he smells fear.
Before the crowd is ready for such a demonstration of Vaudevillian theatre, opening band the Psycho Devilles take the stage. These three guys from Sarasota, Florida are nothing special. They aren’t bad musicians, but they aren’t memorable. Maybe the whole rockabilly trip is just a bit played out. Seems like everywhere you look there’s another band with an upright bass, dressing like the Fonz from Happy Days, and covering Elvis and Johnny Cash. It’s been done, let’s move on.
But don’t Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers have an upright bass, and play rockabilly, you ask. Yes they do; however, they add a load of Southern Gothic flavor to the mix and churn out some of the most unique-sounding music this side of the Mississippi. Thirty seconds into their show you realize that you’re seeing something new. Colonel J.D. first steps up to the mic’ dressed like a quiet country boy. He’s got suspenders holding up his cut-off brown pants, black and white striped socks reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz, and black framed glasses. He seems polite, and a bit shy even — until the music begins, and slowly a wild animal peers out from behind his eyes. For your viewing pleasure, Dr. Jeckyl becomes Mr. Hyde.Without warning — the glasses come off, then the shirt. His pants are almost off before the set is halfway through. They hang precariously low, held on only by one suspender. Threatening to reveal himself, much to the amusement of a particular fan in the front who tugs at his waistline, he satisfies himself with mooning the crowd instead. Throughout the set he’s climbing speakers, hanging from spotlights, doing back bends, and flailing his body all over the stage and into the crowd. Whether he’s playing the role of Preacher — “How Many of you are going to hell?” he asks the crowd — or acting out a mock orgasm, you can’t take your eyes off of him for fear you might miss something.
Iggy Pop, Lux Interior, and Jello Biafra (whom, by the way, is a fan) have all been called amazing frontmen. They’ve also been called insane, repugnant, and frightening. Good or bad, however people remember their performances the fact remains that they do remember them. If ever you attend a Shack Shakers show, you will not forget the hillbilly-gone-awry theatrics of one Colonel J.D. Wilkes.Guitarist David Lee matches J.D.’s movements with his aggressive playing, adding the punk rock element to the band’s mix of hillbilly, blues, polka, and country. Every bit as energetic and fit to burst as the Colonel, the guitar strap is a leash barely holding Lee back from attack.
After an hour of unforgiving intensity the music builds to its climax. And as the music gets faster and harder, the Colonel hurls a cup of water into the crowd, climbs a speaker, and slams his fist into the spotlight which has bathed him in red all night. Hot glass shatters and clings to his skin as he and the band run off the stage. A fitting, blood-spilled end to a memorable night.
Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers: www.cockadoodledont.com