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In hillbilly heaven with those Legendary Shack Shakers




(This is the seventh entry in Soundcheck's summer concert series, The 50-50 Club. For previous entries, click here.)

You go see a band called Th' Legendary Shack Shakers, you expect your shack to get shaken.

Well, Friday night at the Garage Bar in St. Pete, those four Kentucky psychobillies shook, stirred and spat at my ass, all while a mass of more than 200 greasers, cowpunks and Betties danced and downed PBR tallboys beside me.

It was my first foray into Tampa Bay’s rockabilly scene. And I gotta say – it was absolutely boss, daddio.

Somehow I’d managed to avoid setting foot in the Garage, even though I knew it supposedly had an awesome stage. For whatever reason, I still expected the place to be a little on the scuzzy side. I guess it's the name name “Garage” that makes it sound unclean.

But clean is what it was, from the floors to the bar to the polished aluminum diamond plate trim around the walls. Even the stripper poles (!) flanking the stage looked clean enough to grind*.

This really shouldn’t have been a surprise. Rockabilly culture secretly thrives on clean-cut precision, from souped-up hot rods to haircuts you can set your watch to. And the Garage is a panorama of rockabilly iconography, from the glamour shots of pinups to the giant PBR mural near the sound booth. The walls are covered in rockabilly-inspired tattoo-style artwork, courtesy of Johnny Vitale of the Vitale Brothers, who custom-painted the spark plugs and girls on cars plastered all over the Garage.

All this hipster bait seems to have worked. The Garage is a bona fide magnet for young retrophiles, and thus Friday night’s crowd was full of comely rockabilly chicks with flowers in their Bettie Page hair, and greaser lads wearing pomade and Buddy Hollys. Everyone was drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon**.

As for the music? Admittedly, I knew nothing about Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers going in. But the folks I talked to before the show assured me I was in for a wild ride. They were right.

Intensely manic frontman Col. J.D. Wilkes is often described in the manner of a possessed Pentecostal minister. I’d liken him to that Oxycontin-addled cousin of yours who ain’t been quite right since a bag of feed dropped on his head at the co-op. Either way, there’s a reason the man has toured Europe with Robert Plant and been called one of rock’s last great showmen: The guy will do anything onstage.

Wilkes spat at the crowd. He pulled a fan’s hornrims off his face and wore them around for a bit. He stripped to his suspenders and did a hillbilly stomp that would shame Jed Clampett. He Riverdanced, Russian-danced and chicken-danced. The man mimed eating head lice, for god’s sake.

All of this darn near incited a riot among the corn-fed cowpunks up front, with their Hank III tees and Mose Schrute beards. They formed a mosh pit in front of the stage, which I think scared off a few of the daintier rockabillies. Shirts and sweat were flying left and right.

I didn’t get in the pit, but I still thought Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers were unbelievable. And come to find out, I actually had heard one of their songs before: Ichabod!, a furious fit of Baltic-tinged punk. Here’s a taste:

But the truth is, I was sold on the show before Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers even got onstage. The two local openers were nearly as good.

In their second stint opening for the Shack Shakers (they also did it in 2007 at the Orpheum), Tailgunner Joe and the Earls of Slander rocked a tight opening set. Travis Moore sang like he was playing to an arena, while guitarists Zakk Bosserman and Kyle Pierce wailed on their axes with perfect power-pop precision (even when Bosserman played his with a drumstick).


And then came Tampa’s Nervous Turkey … and lord, if you’ve never seen Nervous Turkey perform – and I hadn’t – I’d recommend you do it as soon as possible.

“I feel like a big, fat fish,” frontman Ernie Locke growled before the set, “’bout ready to be splayed open.” From there, Nervous Turkey burned through a ballistic set of guttural, heavy-breathing blues-punk, rife with mic-melting distorted harmonicas and wicked drums and keys.

The band was a portrait of badassedness. Locke’s cross-eyed glare and Tom Waits growl stirred the crowd to inch closer, then start dancing, then finally smother the stage as he stripped off his shirt, mouth-effed the harmonica and dry-humped the stage with a mic down the front of his pants. You really had to see it to believe it.


So consider my shack shaken, stirred, spat at and smiling. Slick back your pompadour and hit the Garage sometime for a little psychobilly revival, and yours will be, too.

Next up in The 50-50 Club: tbt*'s Ultimate Music Showcase, May 2, Skipper's Smokehouse.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

* I somehow resisted the urge.

** Which is delicious, if you like warm ginger ale mixed with stamp glue.

[Last modified: Saturday, April 25, 2009 11:17am]


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