Sum of Their Parts

With a twisted vision, Reverend Glasseye and His Wooden Legs get a leg up on the competition.

In the widely anthologized short story "Good Country People," Flannery O'Conner tells the tale of an overeducated spinster with an artificial leg who tries to seduce a traveling Bible salesman. A self-declared atheist, she coaxes the seemingly innocent faith peddler up into a hayloft -- only to discover that his childlike fascination with her prosthetic limb exceeds any desire to get her into the missionary position. Then he steals her leg. Before descending the ladder, the slick charlatan proudly proclaims, "One time I got a woman's glass eye this way."

Christ on a crutch!

As antique collectors of the strange and grotesque, Reverend Glasseye and His Wooden Legs embody the O'Connor-esque essence of an American Gothic potboiler. Skillfully combining Southern gospel, German cabaret, Jewish klezmer, jump jazz, country music -- everything and the kitchen sink -- into a dark and violent carnival ride, the Boston-based septet conjures the bygone spirit of the circus midway. The sound is a somnambulist's nightmare populated by hermaphrodites, scorpion swallowers and unlicensed practitioners of bloodless surgery. Bandleader Reverend Ignatius Glasseye (who keeps his off-stage identity confidential) not only sees the value in theatrics but in spreading colorful -- and deliberate -- falsehoods.

There but for the grace of God go 'Eye: Boston's Reverend Glasseye and His Wooden Legs.
There but for the grace of God go 'Eye: Boston's Reverend Glasseye and His Wooden Legs.


8:30 p.m. Friday, May 24,
$6, 303-380-2333

Reverend Glasseye and His Wooden Legs
2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 25
Boulder Creek Festival, Boulder Bandshell, southeast corner of Broadway and Canyon
free, 303-449-3825

Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway

"Misinformation is a beautiful, beautiful thing," the 24-year-old huckster says. "There's something romantic about shamming people. There's also something very influential about corruption that generally makes the best music: the turn of the century with the great bamboozling salesmen; the franticness that came with the Great Depression. Time periods with the most social downfall usually lead to the best musical commentary. The trash days of London in the '70s brought about punk rock. I'm looking forward to what we're about to get into now. We're headed toward a period of some sort of change in music, I imagine."

For the time being, Glasseye and company plunder the past, turning an amalgamation of ethnic styles into a buzzing hive of American junkyard music. Black River Falls, the band's recent debut on Coo-Coo Bird Records, erupts with the unrestrained hysteria of no fewer than eighteen percussive devices manned by drummer Timothy Maher and the clatter-happy Richard Cuneo; bassist Dennis Maher and guitarist Deacon Piet Blaise Masone steer the melodic hurly-burly through a cartoonish landscape punctuated by trumpeter Jon O'than Wobesky's hard-charging brass. All of the members either simultaneously play more than one instrument, shout or yodel at any given moment; when not pounding the figurative pulpit and blustering like a loon, Glasseye strums an acoustic guitar, mandolin or banjo. Altogether, the players more than live up to Coo-Coo Bird's curious motto -- "The tree or the forest fire" -- which, according to Glasseye, simply means "roots music or the farthest thing from it."

"I call what we do vaudeville," he says. "I picked up a theremin to replace the saw, live, because the saw is excruciating to mike and have the audience hear it. But then I can't really play the theremin and sing at the same time. It's a quandary."

Glasseye, a Boulder native, has broadened the appeal of his band's sound by swapping spit with some of the most talented acts from across the Front Range. "I was impressed with the Denver Post, who called us the devil's spawn of 16 Horsepower and Slim Cessna," Glasseye says (though Post writer John Moore actually referred to the band as a "love child"). "I had to congratulate Slim on having a son," he adds, laughing.

Inducted earlier this month as a full-time pedal-steel player and thereminist for the Rhode Island-based Auto Club, Glasseye has tangled his bloodline even more with that of an already incestuous mountain clan: Clarinet player Paul Fonfera and violinist Tom Hagerman -- both once and future members of DeVotchKa who also occasionally moonlight as Denver Gentlemen -- can now call themselves Wooden Legs.

"I set up a show [in Boston] for the Denver Gentleman, and in return, Paul and Tom played on the album," Glasseye says. "Paul is actually a full-time member of the band now. He left DeVotchKa, went on tour with Woven Hand and is joining up with us."

Despite whatever form his band's lineup takes, Glasseye has crafted a world inside his songs that's consistent with their patchwork quilt of styles. Voices speak from beyond the grave in Black River Falls -- like those from Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology -- spanning time, place and common logic. In varying bits of revisionist history, Glasseye resurrects some of mankind's more notorious characters: George Custer, Jesse James, Ho Chi Minh, Cain, Abel and John Wilkes Booth, among others. Even Aliester Crowley drops by for a game of Pick Up sticks in the county jail ("Paddywagon Turban"). During the album's title cut, a nameless fisherman's daughter collapses in church while Glasseye spews the album's grimmest batch of lyrics: "The funeral was filled with grief/Her mother made not a sound/No one could hear her bite her fingers off/Buried alive underground." And the murder ballad "Seven Little Girls" borrows from one of Colorado's most horrific sagas to date -- that of a golden-haired child beauty queen and whatever monster took her from her loving parents: "Tell little Jon Benét/It's almost Christmas Day/And the chimney needs a sweeping/Before the dear can play."

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