:: Slim Cessna’s Auto Club ::
:: December 30 & 31 ::
:: Bluebird Theater ::
By Bobbi Stark
Over the past few years I’ve overheard whisperings and hushed conversations about Slim Cessna’s Auto Club and their unforgettable two day New Years Eve performances. I heard legends of extravagant prop set ups, costumes, sold out tickets and gold teeth. Although the Bluebird doesn’t have much in the ways of bottle service, sparking hats or confetti, I decided it was my duty as a Denver local to unveil the mystery about this tradition running 11 years strong.
Friday night I was surprised to see the venue left undecorated, but my attention was immediately stolen back by the dynamic yodeling and raw energy in the first song of the night, “God Damn Blue Yodel #7”. The upbeat and bass heavy, “This is How We Do Things in the Country” and the story telling, banjo rich medley in “Cranston” followed seamlessly after.
Dressed in nothing but black and a cowboy hat, front men Slim and Munly sing, play, and swagger with some of the most genuine chemistry I’ve ever seen. The acoustic guitar, banjo, autoharp, and pedal steel give the songs a depth and sincerity of an old country record. The quick pulse of the upright bass adds a rockabilly/psychobilly twist and a driving energy that a lot of country music goes without. Tight drums keep things fluid, accentuating the dissonance between riffs. In the corner, the keyboard fills in behind the incredibly flexible, dark and harrowing vocals of the front men. The trembling and vibrato soaked lyrics highlight the subtle gloom growing in the underbelly of every song. Next to me, an audience member mentions, “I’ve been coming for ten years, I don’t know why I keep coming back exactly, maybe it’s just to see those two do their thing, I’m not sure. I just know that I wouldn’t miss it for anything else.”
The floorboards of the venue rumbled with stomping feet and dancing as audience members flailed and hollered along to the climactic number of “That Fierce Cow Is Common Sense in a Country Dress”. Crowd participation didn’t waver a bit during the old timey spiritual inspired favorites such as, “Jesus Christ” and “Children of the Lord”. During the four song encore, former Boulder-ite Jello Biafra made a stage appearance with his fingers as devil horns dancing around in the corner, and Slim dedicated “Last Song about Satan,” to his Mom in the audience. The two hour set came to a close with “Unto the Day.”
Saturday night’s show opened with one of Munly’s side projects, Munly and the Lupercalians. The fully masked members and three fully utilized drum sets got the audience primed and ready for the second serving of the Auto Club. Starting off with more songs from Always Say Please and Thank You from 2000, as well as 2008’s Cipher, several of Friday night’s hits were played again with the same robust energy as before. Despite his singing an extra hour as an opener, Munly never compromised his vocal delivery with the Auto Club, even in the complexly layered new material from the group’s latest 2011 album Entitled, including “My Last Black Scarf” and “No Doubt”.
The clock hands closed in on midnight as Biafra came on stage and began the countdown, wishing the audience a Happy a New Year, “because we all sure as hell could use one!” Denver’s very own beautifully talented blues singer Erica Brown came on stage, christening the New Year with a soulful version of “Auld Lang Syne.” Starting right back up with “Magalina Hagalina,” The Auto Club kept Jello Biafra and Erica Brown on stage for back-up vocals throughout this jumpy swingin’ number.
Taking a very short break off stage, Slim Cessna and the crew came back for their last encore, including “Brethren” and their final song “He, Roger Williams”, a song about the founder of the first Baptist church in America. Ending the two day set with a little dance by Slim and Munly, the audience finally began to filter and stumble out the door as the house lights went up. The band filed off stage, but Slim stayed a few extra minutes to softly sing along to the house music.
I can’t imagine why I hadn’t heard of this tradition sooner, but I will say that I plan on making the shows again next year. There is something about the indescribable magnetism between each member, the wild dance enthused audience, and the sparkling of gold teeth that I just won’t be able to pass up.