September 24, 2009

Live Review: Joe Jack Talcum, The Bassturd, Samuel Locke Ward vs. Darren Brown and The Country Doctors

Joe Jack Talcum

The Middle East Upstairs
Boston, MA
Sept. 7, 2009

Joe Jack Talcum is the voice of the unrecognized generation within every generation, for those who see the hypocrisies of the world and find ways to smile within them; a minstrel for the young at heart. His career began with the creation of The Dead Milkmen and has spanned two and a half decades. He has made music that is at times irreverent and funny, at times slow and touching, and often a blend that leaves you smiling and feeling a bit lighter than you were several minutes before. His acoustic solo tours are a showcase of his songwriting, bringing to forefront his deceptively simple lyrics and a performance that draws you in and keeps you hidden from the world just long enough to see its colors a little clearer when you emerge.

Joining Joe on this tour were Samuel Lock Ward vs. Daren Brown and The Bassturd, two acts that battle the difficulties of having only one or two people on stage with audio/visual napalm.

Samuel Locke Ward vs. Daren Brown came on stage with the two aforementioned gentlemen: one with guitar and one with a table of electronics. Blasting through a set of garage rock fuzz, synthesizer processing and drum sample madness, they showed the crowd how noisy two men with gusto can be. Finding ways to mix guitar solos with backwards playing in a rock setting would seem hard if not for the intensity and focus the duo played with. Prolific in writing and recording, their merch table was covered with albums made within the past several years.

The Bassturd is Dan Butler, a homemade table of lights and electronics, and one hell of a show. He had the house turn all the lights off, then took the stage wearing copious amounts of plastic, LED-lighted jewelry. As he opened up his set with the comical, hip-hop party jam "Rhinestone your Nuts," his table lit up with multi-colored spinning balls, Christmas lights and lighted toys that he utilized creatively throughout the set. He controlled the Christmas lights with foot-switches, changing his lighting to any of the primary colors at will, as well as turning the lights off or into mesmerizing, sparkling patterns that he would put on and dance around. At one point he took a spinning light on top of a cordless mic and went trekking through the crowd. The rest of the set experimented with the possibilities of electronica: synthy bounce tunes, to droning pads, to some heavier, lower frequency jams. He sang, rapped and did a spot-on country twang jingle. Lyrically, he was funny and playful, with song topics ranging from dead rock stars to banks and beyond. For his ending number, he asked the crowd to choose between another party jam he had ready, or if he should make up a song on the spot using topics the crowd gave him. After a soulful tune about Senate roller derby, he turned off the lights.

After a quick removal of the lighted table, Joe Jack Talcum took the stage in front of a crowd of true believers. Gathered here were the people who connect with Talcum's obscure clarity and sense of humor, those who “get it.” His set began slowly, but picked up energy as it progressed, mixing his solo work with songs written with The Dead Milkmen, to the delight of the crowd. Familiar songs became much more intimate without a full band, guitar solos replaced by harmonica melodies, and back-up singing done by the audience. Ever personable, he talked casually with the crowd, playing a requested song and a special rendition of “Labor Day,” in observance of the holiday everyone not on tour got off. Highlights of his set included "Watching Scotty Die," "Jellyfish Heaven," and the ever-popular "Methodist Coloring Book." Informed that he only had time for one more song, he announced that he would do his “upbeat closing number” titled "Life is Shit." Ending the summer in a dark room singing along with Joe Jack Talcum, it was easy to forget how true those words can be.

-Review and photo by Garrett Frierson

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