Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Munly & the Lupercalians Thursday, December 31, 2009 Bluebird Theater Better Than: Any number of lame New Year's parties occurring around Denver.
A wooden pier constructed outside of the Bluebird Theatre seemed odd and out of place. It would prove to be a premonition setting the tone for a show filled with strange costumes, inexplicable themes and the dawning of a new decade. Twin light houses adorned both sides of the Bluebird's stage, each emitting a soft, blue glow. On stage, the nautical theme continued as wooden waves washed over several crudely constructed ramshackle huts. Over the chatter of the growing crowd, the sounds of waves crashing filled the venue's speakers.
The white noise of the water eventually gave way to Native American sounding flutes over African Drums as Munly & The Lupercalians marched through the crowd holding non-descript banners and banging drums at a comically off time pace. Walking up a set of stairs that had been built at the front of the stage, the group took their places, with Munly seated in the middle, bookended by two potato sack-mask wearing percussionists and two piano players, who wore robes that dangerously resembled something a Grand Wizard would wear, pointy hats and all. Munly, adorned in a sailor suit, sat gaunt and foreboding as the two masked percussionists began to pound out a jungle-esque rhythm.
The Lupercalians attack the usual themes that Munly is known for: Dark, menacing and mildly insane. Rather than the goth-Americana sound, the band relies more on the percussion, constructing an Afro-Cuban foundation, while organ, piano, banjo and Munly's trademark wail are sewn sparingly in. The site on stage was quite a spectacle. The percussionists bounced menacingly between beats, while the pointy hat wearing pianists remained eerily still and Munly shouted, "I am the King of Water." It was a post apocalyptic scene straight out of Mad Max, in which Toe Cutter is on the loose and everyone is freaked the fuck out. Although you'd be hard pressed to find a band as unique as this, the division between songs was too scarce, and the shtick wore a little thin by the time their half hour set concluded. Although the set relied heavily on visuals and theme, it was hardly nautical, so why the stage set up?
Before Slim Cessna's Auto Club took the stage the announcer answered this question. "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Sweet Haven" was heard over the PA, as the theme to the 1980 Popeye movie began to play. The band then took the stage in full costume, Munly, still wearing the sailor suit, was Popeye and Slim was horrifyingly dressed as Olive Oyl. It then became clear that stage set up was supposed to look like Popeye's hometown. Had it been Halloween, it would have been a perfectly executed stunt, but this was New Year's eve, and it left the crowd confused. Although it was creative and amusing, it was certainly puzzling especially for a band with as much integrity as Slim Cessna's Auto Club.
Awkward costumes aside, the outfit blistered through its set proving it is one of the best live bands this city has ever seen. Erica Brown, formerly of the Erica Brown Band, joined the band on stage for a few songs, and then counted the crowd down to midnight from ten, even though midnight had already passed. Erica then lead the crowd in a rendition of "Auld Lang Syne," putting a capper on great year, a great band and one weird ass show.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Paper Bird opened for Slim Cessna's Auto Club the previous night at the Bluebird. Would have love to see that show instead. Random Detail: Munly brought out a 1000 pound barbell and did several one armed curls without the aid of spinach. By the Way: Happy New Year!!!