Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers
with Pine Hill Haints
The Social, Orlando, FL • November 8, 2008
I’ve seen him stick his tongue into a floor fan. I’ve seen him sprinkle audiences with pubic hair pulled from his body — and dodged it. I’ve seen him finish a set after cutting his legs on a speaker, blood gathering in his socks. Colonel J.D. Wilkes, the weird and wiry frontman for Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, is anything but timid onstage.
Though the band’s recent performance in Orlando didn’t offer any strange, unsanitary, or dangerous antics on the part of its singer, their show was no less remarkable.
In keeping with the hillbilly/honky tonk feel of the night, Alabama’s Pine Hill Haints open up with a long, celebrated set. Before beginning to absorb the strangely moving countrified rockabilly that the band has to offer, their unusual instruments are captivating enough to comment on. The bassist plays a washtub bass, which is essentially a homemade string instrument that is strung into a metal basin that serves as a resonator. If that isn’t eye-popping enough, the drummer plays a lone snare drum that he straddles wildly, and the group’s sole woman alternates between a washboard and a saw covered in a protective black tape. Thrown into the mix is a banjo, and some lead vocal swapping between guitarist Jamie Barrier and bassist Matt Bakula. Their sound is eerie and warm, with influences that jump from Bob Dylan to Celtic traditional music to backwoods blues, and on into a little post-Clash Joe Strummer.
The down-home band’s set turned into a big party, complete with dancing couples, that brought surprised smiles onto the band members’ faces. The Shack Shakers would be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate opening band for their swamp blood sound… maybe World/Inferno Friendship Society could fit the bill, but few other bands could possibly compare.
There are three other men that make up Nashville, Tennessee’s Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, and they easily fall into the backdrop behind the larger-than-life personality of Wilkes. On the upright bass is Mark Robertson, Brett Whitacre holds up the beat on drums, and a brand new guitarist rounds out the mix-adding a brand new level of musicianship to the band — Duane Denison, formerly of The Jesus Lizard. These are the guys who keep the rockabilly mixing neatly with the southern gothic blues flavor, while Wilkes contributes a healthy helping of savage punk rock.
Song titles aren’t as important as the overall experience of a Shack Shakers event. It’s all about the strange trip you take. It’s the beer that sprays from Wilkes’ lips onto your face, it’s the mad looks of adulation that fans wear in their eyes as they gaze up at the skinny, red headed good ol’ boy with the crazed energy. There’s an unpredictable vibe of chaos that hangs in the air at one of their gigs, and that’s the element that reels people in, as much as the music itself.
The set began cooly enough, with Wilkes fully clothed in a jacket and pork pie hat. The music felt inviting and as comforting as grandma’s apple pie, but very quickly the hat came off, then the jacket, then the shirt. With each stripped layer of cloth, the music got a little sludgier, a little more swampy. Soon the air was thick with a sweaty funk, and the music somehow sounded louder as it bounced up against your woozy brain. Even if you hadn’t been partaking in the goodies the bar has to offer, you would be feeling a little buzzed at this point of the night. Maybe it’s the distorted CB radio sound of Wilkes’ voice when he sings through an old bluesy broadcast microphone, or the unyielding harmonica yelps that follow close behind the occasional banjo plucking. Something is off-kilter just enough to sink its teeth into your brain, and you find yourself enjoying it.
The band has five albums to choose from, any one will prep your brain for their sound (I recommend 2003’s Cockadoodledon’t), but for the true experience this is a band to see live.
To see more photos of this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.
Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers: www.myspace.com/legendaryshackshakers