Music » Critics' Picks

The Legendary Shack Shakers

Thursday, October 21; Off Broadway

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Psychobillies get no respect, but most haven't earned it. Playing up the tired affectations of punk and rockabilly -- we-so-crazy tattoos, cornball dialect, even cornier hail-the-hillbilly-Satan songs that wouldn't scare an American Graffiti extra -- they misunderstand their God, Jerry Lee Lewis, and his most important commandment: Thou shalt not pose. The Legendary Shack Shakers get that injunction -- and a few more, for good measure. The Nashville bandmates surf and shimmy and make a vaudevillian spectacle of themselves, but their best spins, their grotesque storytelling and gothified gospel, are powered by the same macabre undercurrents as Tom Waits or Screamin' Jay Hawkins. You'll forgive pretentiously dark opening lines like "What evil star burns bright my old flame/And wilted my Rose of Jericho," just as you'll gladly take a hit off their backsliding boogaloo wine: "Greasy ain't easy but I'm doing fine." Their twisted medicine-show style may be a perverse put-on, but what medicine show isn't? And isn't that the point?

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