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Artist Spotlight: Slim Cessna’s Auto Club of Denver, CO

Slim Cessna's Auto Club at The Shakedown (Photo by Christine Mitchell)

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club at The Shakedown (Photo by Christine Mitchell)

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club of Denver, Colorado has been headlining shows in Seattle for over ten years. The Tractor Tavern is where it began and where SCAC returned earlier this month. And, after a decade and change of playing in the PNW, it appears that Seattle has finally truly caught on, as The Tractor was fully loaded with enthusiastic fans. This fanbase has slowly grown over the years as Slim and co. have passed through, on average, every six months or so. Each time the band hits Seattle, new fans are born and accrue slowly through word of mouth, and first-timers inevitably get hooked. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club plays music that you will never hear on the radio (not even KEXP). Their songs are difficult in the greatest of ways, from their subject matter (ranging from sucking up to/scolding Jesus for never returning, accounts of compulsory vaccinations and creepy cults and curses) to their unique musicality (mainly country flavored with heavy doses of punk attitude and tent revival). It’s a mix of Kool-Aid that is too strong for the masses who prefer things to be watered down and simplistic. But the fact is, that if you decide to enter the room in which SCAC is to play, and the show begins, you will be sucking down the Kool-Aid by the end of the show. There is a third facet to Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, and it’s the one that is most shiny and alluring: the performance. Once you catch a glimpse of it, you can’t look away.

NIGHT ONE: The Tractor Tavern in Ballard, WA

Opener Cabana had some interesting rock moments musically, but the vocals were lacking. They were pretty danceable, though, and the crowd ran with that. Lead guitarist Nick Arthur played six and twelve strings with talent and intensity. After their set, the open spaces slowly but surely filled in.

Slim Cessna is a tall man with a bushy, well-groomed beard and a gold tooth, topped with a cowboy hat. Munly has a dour look about him and dresses all in black and Freemason’s gear. When this duo takes the stage as frontmen, the venue is irrevocably theirs. Slim repeatedly rests upon the stage monitors, cupping chins in the crowd, looking concert-goers in the eyes and then gesticulating to the ceiling and letting loose beautifully eerie strings of warbled yodels. Munly transforms into a jerkily re-animated human being, chopping the air with blunt palms and reaching into his shirt as if he could get into his own intestines. His face strains with conviction, moving from a deep-seated bass to his own brand of yodeling, which seems to pierce through from the afterlife.

The two went out into the crowd four or five times, trailing their microphones as they sang to the “good people.” At one point, Munly crouched down on the floor, and like a ripple from a stone in the water, everyone around him crouched as well.  In another instance, during the song “Jesus is in My Body, But My Body Has Let Me Down,”  Munly prostrated himself on the stage and jerked around like a fish out of water. There were no rock jumps. This was something completely different and arresting.

Musically, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club was in great form. Lead guitarist Reverend Dwight Pentacost cut his usual dashing figure with his waxed mustache and one-of-a-kind velvet double-necked Jesus and Mary sportsflick guitar. He wielded it like an angry madman and sang his backup vocals in the same way. Rebecca Vera is the newest member of the Auto Club, and she played keyboards and steel guitar with serious intensity, glancing up often to take cues from the rest of the band. Danny Pants and Vera anchored the band, Pants playing the stand up bass confidently, an amused expression on his face as Slim and Munly’s antics unfolded. And drummer Todd Moore (better known as The Peeler) behaved like a freaking ray of sunshine, a huge smile beaming out that belied his expertise on the toms. His arms were everywhere, yet they were right on time.

The whole venue ate it up. No one was rude (except for an annoying “Sorry about the Broncos” comment), there was no pushing or shoving. It was a shared time, a communion taken with great enthusiasm. Munly brought out a seat and an auto harp for the encore and the band performed a new song, “Ain’t My Problem, Baby,” whetting appetites in anticipation of a new album. The Tractor emptied slowly and reluctantly, fans stopping to thank a cigarette-smoking Slim outside. He was, as always, gracious.

NIGHT TWO: The Shakedown in Bellingham, WA

With all this talk of apocalypse and the afterlife it bears saying that there is a humorous, tongue-in-cheek aspect to Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, from their lyrics (sung to Jesus – “It would help our careers if we could warm up your show”), to their live show (the dark Munly persona abates palpably as he stands stiff as a poker. . . popping his mouth open and closed like a fish), or their social media feeds (videos of Benny Hill-esque air guitar and drums from The Peeler and Slim, or photos of The Peeler supposedly eating a chili dog). Indeed, although the band has cycled through enough members for there to be a song about it (“SCAC 101”), those no longer in SCAC still retain connections: by being the photographer that creates the iconic images of the band, by producing their albums, showing up for a hometown performance, etc. As Slim has stated before, they’re family.

If you had walked into The Shakedown on that night, you’d have seen Munly and Rebecca sitting together in an overstuffed booth, and Slim and The Peeler sitting off to the side of the stage on some folding chairs; Slim slipping in and out for a smoke at times, and Dwight and Danny circulating around, sitting at the bar. As Black Beast Revival took the stage, the band respectfully listened along with the rest of the crowd, also the norm.

Black Beast Revival was loud and sweaty and sounded very local, anchored by Brice Ervin’s deep bass hooks and taking off on a dirty rock romp on Gage Bayrid’s guitar and vocalist Erin James’ ragged, low growl of a vocal. Songs like “I Smell Murder” sounded hot and swampy, and a great cover of Puscifer’s “REV 22:20” made them an exceptional opening act.

SCAC put on another emphatic show even though The Shakedown wasn’t nearly as full as The Tractor had been the night before. Those that were there, though, were transfixed as Munly and Slim demanded their attention, sometimes dancing in perfect sync and other times seemingly performing each other’s exorcisms. One moment Munly seems enthralled by fiery end-time fury, the next he hides behind the curtain in the corner, goofily creating his own backstage moment before reappearing for the encore.

One can only hope that Slim Cessna’s Auto Club keeps going on until the world’s end. For one thing, they have the perfect soundtrack for it, and for another, it warms the heart to imagine this camaraderie continuing into the foreseeable future. Not to mention, they put on the best live show you  will ever see in a small venue. Go see Slim & Co. You’ll be glad you did.

Christine Mitchell has been poring over album liner notes pretty much since she acquired the skill of reading, and figured out the basic structure of rock songs at an early age. Whether it’s the needle popping into the first groove of the record, the beeps that signal the beginning (or end) of a cassette tape, or digital numbers ticking off the seconds from zero, music brings Christine happiness, ponderous thought, opportunities for almost scientific study, and sometimes a few tears. When she started attending live shows two decades ago, a whole new piece of the puzzle clicked in and she has been hooked ever since.