Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers are one of the best bands ever to see live. Let me repeat that: TH’ LEGENDARY SHACK SHAKERS ARE ONE OF THE BEST BANDS EVER TO SEE LIVE! If you go see them and don’t walk out with your head on fire, I’ll let a lizard eat my gizzard, and personally reimburse you the door out of my own pocket.
And if you don’t think those bold statements don’t leave me much wiggle room, here’s another: Col. JD Wilkes, front man of said Shack Shakers, is the best front man in music right now.
I’ve been a pretty loyal fan of my pile of Shack Shakers albums for some time, but live is a whole other story. Just like the band Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, there’s a lot of religious-esque motion and imagery used in their live performance. But where Slim Cessna takes a dark, gothic approach, the Shack Shakers take a much more comical, Vaudevillian approach to their self branded “Agridustrial” music–a blend of industrial, country, roots, and punk styles.
I’m sure someone sideways with JD Wilkes would say that his stage antics can be broken down to a series of cheap bar tricks. That may be true, but the sheer speed at which he pulls them off and the fluidity of how they roll out one after another is outright magical.
What tricks you’re asking? Oh I’m sure I only saw half of what he’s capable of, and I might have seen a hundred; things like making his eyeballs move autonomously from each other, to Russian Cossack leg kicks, to standing on the bass drum and sticking his hands down the back of his pants to make a puppet with his fingers that mouths the lyrics of the song he’s singing. Yes, weird stuff, and the energy level never dips below 10 from downbeat to encore.
And don’t forget he has to sing and play harmonica at the same time. He might be six rows deep in the crowd with one foot behind his head while balancing the harmonica on his nose, but when it’s time for his harp solo, he’s on it like a duck on a June bug. Aside from all the antics, JD Wilkes, usually bare chested after a few songs, makes you feel the music through his unbridled energy. He grabs the crowd by the gullet and shoves his fist down their throat so far even a dead man would tap his foot.
But there’s more than one Shack Shaker, and the band matches (or at least compliments) their frontman’s energy and prowess. Drummer Brett Whitacre is a madman on drums, and has figured how to tastefully work in the double bass drum technique into what for all intents is roots music. Bass player Mark Robertson feels kind of like the soul of the outfit, as he’s been in the band the longest and keeps the pulse right on time even when the rest of band is descending into chaos around him. I’m sure some will whine that Duane Dennison (formerly of The Jesus Lizard & Hank III) is not punk rock enough for the band, but I thought the man did a great job, and I am interested to see him mature in this tough slot to fill.
All superlatives aside, simply put, if you miss Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers when they roll through your town, it is a sin. Can I get an Amen?
I saw Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers at 604 E. 6th St in Austin, TX during South by Southwest, 2010.
Recent Legendary Shack Shakers video