Revisiting the A-List
Sometimes a plan B isn’t enough: you also need a plan C. Rachelle Garniez at Joe’s Pub was the unanimous choice tonight. But the show was sold out. By that time, plan B, Hazmat Modine, were probably already halfway through their set at Drom. After some discussion, a decision was made to head out to Hank’s in Brooklyn, where a couple of favorites, Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. and Ninth House were on the bill. The former are a trio that might be mistaken for rockabilly by a lot of people, but what they play sounds actually straight out of 1953, not 1958 (decades in dog years and maybe the equivalent of a century in terms of what happened musically over that time).
Frontman/lead guitarist Michael McMahon didn’t joke with the crowd as much as he usually does, maybe because he didn’t have any new stage patter ready. In addition to the trio’s matching brown pinstriped suits, matching bolo ties, and delightfully authentic stage props, posters, flyers and beer coasters, McMahon makes very clever, period-perfect repartee with the audience. For example, tonight he introduced an instrumental about hot dogs as something you might hear at Forbes Field, where his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates played in the 50s.
Otherwise, they were as boisterous and reliably funny as always. It’s amazing how tight these guys are, especially since they don’t have a drummer. Among their best songs: the snide Mr. Romance and the understatedly hilarious country gospel parody Read It in a Book, whose punchline depends equally on lyrics and music (the joke’s so good it wouldn’t be fair to give away). They also did their biggest crowd-pleaser, a genuine classic, the uncharacteristically snarling I Hate You. The lyrics may all be wickedly literate double entendres, but there’s no hiding from the message. Great stuff, especially with Ninth House next on the bill.
Who didn’t have their keyboardist with them, so violinist Susan Mitchell, their not-so-secret weapon, stepped in and in addition to her usual slashing gypsy melodies, she also played evil sheets of ambience to compensate for the lack of the organ and string synth. From the first screaming chords of their usual opener, Long Stray Whim, a song about ditching everything and getting the hell out of town, they were on a roll. The band that used to be sort of the American Joy Division continue to jam out their catchy Nashville gothic stuff, great songs like Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me and Mistaken for Love, versions of which appear on both the most recent Ninth House album as well as frontman Mark Sinnis’ debut cd, Into an Unhidden Future. As with the opener, they went with their usual closer, a blistering cover of Ghost Riders which in the hands of a less angry, bitter band could easily have turned into camp, but with Mitchell screeching up a tornado and guitarist the Anti-Dave blasting the crowd with his big Fender Twin amp, it was pure punk rock, straight out of the early Social Distortion catalog. People were dancing. The price of draft Schaefer may have gone up a dollar here (four bucks for a Schaefer, can you believe), but it didn’t matter, plan C turned out just fine. Ninth House play Lucky Cheng’s on May 9 at 10 PM. That’s not a joke.
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