By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Delivering it’s mix of boozy gothic country and fervent gospel punk for the last quarter century, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club comes to the Bay Area for this Noise Pop showcase at the Bottom of the Hill Friday night.
Founded by lead singer and principle songwriter Slim Cessna in 1992 after his association with pioneering Colorado-based Americana group the Denver Gentlemen (members David Eugene Edwards and Jeffrey-Paul Norlander would start like-minded outfit 16 Horsepower), Slim Cessna’s Auto Club introduced religious themes and the intense frontman’s fire-and-brimstone Baptist delivery to the regional style of modern alt-country. Alongside his longtime vocal and songwriting foil Jay Munly and guitarist Dwight Pentacost, Slim and company would build a rabid local following.
The group self-released several recordings between the mid-1990s and the turn of the century, eventually coming to the attention of San Francisco punk icon Jello Biafra, who described the group as “the country band that plays the bar at the end of the world.” In 2000, Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label would issue the band’s third album, Always Say Please and Thank You, its first to receive global distribution.
The album featured Slim’s plaintive country balladry (“Cheyenne,” “In My Arms Once Again”) balanced against raucous odes like “Last Song About Satan,” “Pine Box” and the transcendent epic “Hold My Head” that approximated what Celtic punk band the Pogues might have sounded like if they’d hailed from the Appalachian Mountains instead of London. The release was met with widespread critical acclaim and the band’s kinetic live performances earned them equally ecstatic notices on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
SCAC would remain with Alternative Tentacles through the decade, putting out a reissue of their studio debut as well as four more celebrated albums. The band eventually started putting out it’s own music again in 2012, releasing a series of archival EPs that collected demo and live recordings to mark the 20th anniversary of the collective. While the members of the group are also involved with a slew of other projects (most notably Munly’s various solo and band recordings with the Lee Lewis Harlots and his own outfit, the Lupercalians), SCAC still regularly reconvenes to tour and record.
Last year, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club released the band’s sixth studio album — The Commandments According To SCAC — on its own SCACUNINCORPORATED imprint. The first recording to feature the new rhythm section of bassist Ian O’Dougherty and drummer Andrew Warner (keyboard/lap steel player Rebecca Vera rounds out the current line-up), it continues Cessna and Munly’s exploration of gothic country shot through with religious overtones. The new songs offer a more spare and minimalist take on the band’s sound while still leaning heavily on haunting vocal harmonies, keyboards and lap steel played by and Pentacost’s reverb-drenched guitar. The band returns to it’s stronghold of Bay Area fans this week for a special Noise Pop show at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco.
Local support act Sweet Chariot features Hot Lunch singer Eric Shea playing a mix of Gram Parsons’ cosmic country and Exile On Main Street-era Stones swagger that leans a bit closer to the rock end of the spectrum than his country-tinged late ’90s outfit Mover. This group teams Shea with his former Parchman Farm bandmate Chris Labreche on drums, bassist Doran Shelley (who has played with the Cramps, ex-Hawkwind mainstay Nik Turner and space rockers Farflung) and onetime Ride the Blinds guitarist Chris Guthridge. The show also features sets from Slim’s son George Cessna, whose 2014 solo effort Sincerely Yours melds country influences with a moody, Nick Cave inspired atmosphere, and Sacramento-based roots band Blue Oaks.
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
Friday, Feb. 23, 8 p.m. $15
The Bottom of the Hill