The Borderline, London
We got the chance to pop up to The Borderline in London to see the only UK performance of their European tour of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club.
Now for this reviewer, I have only been listening to SCAC for about the last 12, maybe 18, months. However, in that short time I have managed to pick up most of their albums, as well as a fair amount of Jay Munlys work. So what? I hear you ask. SCAC have been described as the best live show in America, and also “This is the country band that plays the bar at the end of the world” by Jello Biafra.
They play alternative country music that falls into a category called the Denver Sound, blending country blues, Southern gospel. and many more, sometimes referred to as Gothic Americana. Their music has elements of country, gothic, humour, religion – but listing these elements is not enough. Having seen 16 Horsepower, and have listened to Woven Hand, Reverand Glasseye, and Tarantella, not to mention more mainstream [comparatively] elements of Country, these guys are in a league of their own. Literally.
Their last full album was “Unentitled” back 2011, with a release earlier this year called “SCAC102: An Introduction for young and old Europe”, a compilation, which is a great introduction to their work. Not to mention their a great live DVD that accompanies it.
So what would this evenings entertainment entail…
Kicking off processings at 20:00 are A. Tom Collins, also from Denver Colorado…and before you ask – the answer is “yes”. a. Tom Collins is the great-great-grandson of Tom Collins, creator of the eponymous gin cocktail.
Opening with what seems to be cross between a lounge act with funky beats, they certainly grab the attention of the partially full Borderline. As their first number gets going it is clear that these guys know what they are doing as the brass section kicks in, and the lead singer and pianist sings with a vocal that is somewhere between an early Tom Waits, and possibly a husky blues singer, or even an over exuberant cigar fan. With the stage bathed in red light, and the band in black, the curtains added to the effect of a lounge act – but one that appears to be living on the precipice. There was nothing cheesy or contrived about the performance, in fact it carried with it a dark weight, and a shadow.
Their mix of dark cabaret, punk, and jazz was well received by one and all, and as the venue slowly filled they received more and more applause. At the end of the night they had copies of their yet unreleased album, “Stick & Poke”, and so far it has been on constant play almost all week along with their EP “Oh No!”.
As they left the stage you felt you had just witnessed one of the darkest lounge acts out there! Not to mention the feeling of what had just happened.
After a brief interval, a glimpse of the elusive Munly Munly was seen on stage, and certain Slim Cessna was in the crowd, it then became apparent that the venue was rammed. Now, whenever I mention Slim Cessna’s Auto Club only one person I know knew who I was talking about. Here, we had a couple of hundred people here to witness their second UK show. In fact, one person I spoke to had seem them loads of times. Don’t you hate some people!
As the band kicked off the crowds attention was firmly fixed on the stage, and the audience exploded as soon as the first note was struck. With no setlists present (for either act), the set was based around the tracklisting for SCAC-102, the band confidently worked through their material.
“Cranston” saw Slim in the crowd who, whilst being swamped by fans, was in complete control, but then again his 6′ 4″ stance is quite imposing, as he looks out form under the brim of his cowboy hat. With The Borderlines diminutive size the place was completely packed, and yet space was made for them to interact directly with the audience.
“Jesus Is In My Body” saw Slim on his knees whilst Munly sings to the crowd. These roles get reversed by the end of the track. It is one of those tracks that shows how well these work together on stage, there is a certain synergy, not to mention intimacy, that they use to captivate the audience. Albeit not the easiest consumable track – needless to say the crowd loved it.
This was followed by “This Is How We Do Things In The Country”, a personal favourite for this reviewer, again the crowd erupted and the drums pounded out and duel banjos for the rhythm. Whilst Slim sings some of the darkest lyrics around. Followed by “That Fierce Cow Is Common-Sense In A Country Dress” (they have some great titles) keeps the audience moving and the energy levels high. Again, Slim is in the audience on his knees getting the audience to kneel with him, and as he gently sings “Get little higher higher” he slowly rises, and with repeat of the words he rises higher with audience following, and the music growing in volume and intensity.
“Jesus Christ” is a quieter number which had the audiences full attention with its dark lyrics. With Slim singing/asking the audience “as I cross that dark and cold black stream, did Jesus die for me?”. This slowed things down, but again the audience hung on every note as if they were receiving testament. This was followed by “Magalina Hagalina Boom Boom”, which is a far from slow track, and a complete turnaround, with stronger bass line, and almost chaotic ending.
After about 90 minutes, at 22:20, the band left the stage to tremendous applause, and if it was not for the sake of etiquette, no body would have been disappointed. There was smiling, clapping, and cheers for more…and then they returned.
Closing with 2 tracks “Pinebox” and “He, Roger Williams”. With “Pinebox” being a fast paced number seeing the whole band working tightly together. One thing to note that with the exception of Slim and Munly there is little interaction on stage between the other band members, yet they all work together as a tightly oiled machine, yet each performing their part flawlessly. “Pine Box” also has the humorous lyric that Slim states that he “Can’t understand a goddamn word that Munly tries to sing”, again showing how well these two work together.
“He, Roger Williams” tells the tale of founder of the first Baptist Church in the Northern America colonies. Now this track weighs in at about 7 minutes for the album version, but live they have it up to 10 minutes. The track is part history lesson, part tribute, and 100% energy. Not to mention a fitting end to the evening – leaving you exhausted and shell shocked.
With Munly having played a major part in what is described as The Denver Sound, and witnessing tonights amazing performances, I am sure everyone present cannot wait until the next time Slim and Munly hit the shores of UK, lets hope their European Tour becomes a regular event because old and young Europe are waiting.
If you have followed this review to the end then I wholly recommend checking out SCAC on YouTube, and buying SCAC102 (I am not on commission!), not forgetting a. Tom Collins.
Words, Pictures, Videos by Jon.