Seeing Denver’s Slim Cessna’s Auto Club live is a religious experience. And if you’ve ever seen them, you know that calling it “religious” is less of a descriptive tool, and more of a pun.
This is one of those bands that I’d heard for years how I must see live, and without question, they lived up to the hype. They reside on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label, and Jello has said about them “This is the country band that plays the bar at the end of the world.” That’s a pretty accurate description. Call it gothic country, call it gothic psychobilly, it is all in all one of the most original music performances you will ever see, and you will leave a believer.
The band employs the very rare double frontman lineup of Slim Cessna and Jay Munly (an accomplished solo artist himself), with a solid four piece band behind them. Munly will also pick up a banjo and guitar at times, and is the first person I’ve ever seen to use an Autoharp as a rock instrument. The overall instrumentation is pretty varied: Double neck guitar, Munly’s autoharp, banjo, keyboards, and pedal steel sometimes played with a bow.
People on the front rows of a Slim Cessna concert are fair game. Think of it like Shamu’s splash zone at Sea World. Slim and Munly like to get people feeling a little uncomfortable, to invade personal space, to shake people out of their comfort zones, and of course, engage the crowd to participate in the performance. They might come and stand right in front of you, waving their hands in your face, bow in front of you, touch you.
Slim and Munly aren’t just singers, they are performance artists. They dance, like skeletons just brought back to life. They shake and emphasize the music with their hands. Many non-instrument playing frontmen never know what to do with their hands. Slim and Munly have mastered this art, second only to JD Wilkes of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. During a contemplative line in a song, they may sit on the monitors and talk quietly, staring at their shoes. And during the raging moments, be convulsing with arms stretched in the air, like a revival preacher overwhelmed by the spirit.
The revivalist preacher/faith healer mannerisms are all over the place. And Slim and Munley not only confront and touch the crowd, they might touch and confront each other. Oh yes. At times Slim would cradle Munly’s head, just like a faith healer would a sick believer, again, to unnerve the crowd. I know what your next question is: is this something sexual in nature? I want to say no, that this is more to mock the absurdity of faith healing and the submissive nature of that craft, but someone might walk out of a show with a different opinion. I think the point is to unnerve people, to bring people to an unusual state of mind to get them more receptive to what is in many ways is unusual music.
I would fully expect some people to walk out of a Slim Cessna thinking “what a bunch of nuts,” and some might even walk out offended. And if you don’t want some creepy guy with a microphone confronting you, you might want to hang out back by the sound guy. But I’m telling you, this is one live show you don’t want to miss when it rolls through your town.
I saw Slim Cessna’s Auto Club at 604 E. 6th St in Austin, TX during South by Southwest, 2010.
Some Slim Cessna Videos: