HEAVY TRASH with D. RANGERS at the Horseshoe, May 6. Tickets: $15. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Jon Spencer owns the word "baby." He exhales it, punctuating his lyrics with visceral "baby" exclamation points or hooking choruses together with smooth "baby" commas on almost every song.
With a lesser singer, this would be too much, but in Spencer's case every "baby" serves to reinforce the next, making you believe in its power the way he does until you feel compelled to shout it out along with him.
That was the case Monday night when Spencer and his brother in rockabilly arms, Matt Verta-Ray , rocked the Horseshoe as Heavy Trash , backed up by redoubtable death country chameleons the Sadies .
Most know Spencer from his previous incarnation as leader of the Blues Explosion, and some know Verta-Ray from Speedball Baby, but HT is a relatively new formation even if they look and sound like a couple of trash rock troubadours who've been playing together since 55.
Brylcreemed and suited in Memphis mafia duds, Spencer and Montreal-born Verta-Ray led the Sadies through most of the tracks from their self-titled debut with reverb knobs twisted fully clockwise. At certain points, with four trebly guitars going at once, there was so much reverb drench it sounded like the band was playing from the bottom of a well, where, unfortunately, squeaky feedback demons like to dwell.
The sound kinks never fazed Spencer, though, who emphatically clutched the mic in one hand and pointed to the heavens with the other, belting songs like rockabilly strutter Lovers Street and the revved up Americana stomp Justine Alright.
The short-echo vocal effect Spencer uses gives his warble a kind of aged crackle that sounds like you're tuning him in on the AM dial of an old car radio. It's an effective trick that furthered the show's enjoyably nostalgic vibe.
Openers, the bluegrass-smoking four-piece D. Rangers had already made retro allusions as bass player Tom Fodey did his plucking on a contraption he calls the "muck bucket," a wash basin with a rod nailed to its base and single string fastened along the rod. It looks ridiculously hillbilly, but superceding its comedic value was the fact the dude was ripping on it.
Barnburners like Kandahar, Saskat-chewan and a fiddle-heavy cover of Donovan's Runaway, both from their newest, We Stay High And Lonesome, blazed by with scorching banjo and mandolin solos. Singer/banjoist Jaxon Haldane 's vocals were a little underwhelming, but it's nothing a few more "baby"s couldn't fix.