Live Review: Heavy Trash, Tiger! Tiger! @ The EARL, November 19

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

By Jennifer Gibson

I don’t know how old Jon Spencer is, but I do know he started
heading up the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion when I was in middle school, which
means he’s got to be early- to mid-40s, at least. So it’s no small feat that
he’s still able to rake in the crowds, take the stage and rock out like a
teenager, but he can and he did November 19 at The EARL with his new outfit, the
trashy rockabilly quartet aptly named Heavy Trash. Spencer, no undesirable
piece himself, co-fronts the band with the fantastic and delectable Matt
Verta-Ray (formerly of Madder Rose and Speedball Baby), who challenged Spencer
stomp for sweaty, seamy stomp in this dirty honkytonk game. He may have emerged
the victor, but he also most definitely emerged as part of one of the more vivid and
entertaining shows to hit The EARL this year. Chances are good if you’re
reading this, you’ve heard of Jon Spencer. But if you’re not familiar with Matt
Verta-Ray, do yourself a favor and make it so.

Despite the starry-eyed accolades and what may sound like
the opening lines of a love letter to a certain musician, the evening was not
devoted solely to a bunch of good-looking rockabilly boys sacking the joint. Atlanta’s own Tiger!
opened with a mishmash of retro/garage/psych/punk rock that was pleasant
enough, but for all the pin-up glory spouted on the band’s website, these sure
weren’t the expected hot rod tunes one might think would be an appropriately
raucous opener for someone with a rep like Jon Spencer. The set wasn’t bad, but
disappointing in that there wasn’t much to it. Lackluster is the word. It was
an odd beginning for a crowd that seemed ready for insane, Velvet Elvis,
hillbilly rock, and it left the room in need of a serious order of Red Bull and
crack, stat.

Enter Heavy Trash, featuring Jon Spencer as Red Bull and
Matt Verta-Ray as crack (we’ll get to that), along with Sam Baker on percussion
and Simon Chardiet on bass and occasional vocals. The four together create a
potent group, one that’s smarter and more in sync with each other than the most
stylized super group, even if they are clearly the boys your mama warned you

With slick, wild black hair and a howl that could wake the
dead, Spencer would make one hell of a televangelist if he weren’t such an
entertaining musician. He’s been called an impersonator of an Elvis
impersonator, and this performance didn’t dispel that. But he’s no clown.
There’s a seriousness to even his silliest moments, like the snarling, spasmatic
gem, “Gee, I Really Love You.” Spencer delivered this sweet sentiment with all
the innocence of a truck stop hooker, but it’s not a joke. Even as he smashed
his way through Heavy Trash’s three-record catalog with nothing but an acoustic
guitar and the apparent energy level of a room full of Kool-aid-fueled kindergartners, it was no joke. His overstated
lecherous-preacher-man-on-a-mission stage presence had the women swooning and
the men eating it up. He may not have the same young greaser pin-up boy face he
did in his heyday, but he’s got the same attitude and the same desire to have
fun and give people a good show. Finding a musician with that mindset is
sometimes half the battle.

But the stage wasn’t completely his. It wasn’t even mostly
his, at least not from this vantage point, because Matt Verta-Ray’s conversely
understated performance was a jaw-dropping joy to watch. He may have honed his
skills in other bands and on other stages, but this night he let loose a dirty
torrent of surf- and rockabilly-infused guitar solos, filthy, grimy trash can
sounds that gave me the hot rod fix I was looking for. He may appear
unassuming, but this man, by all rights, should be making women pass out at
every hook and men envy his every skill. He’s that good, and those twangy licks
were only part of it – he actually seemed to lose himself in his stage
performance. His body twisted and turned with each note, like he was accessing some
higher cosmic plane.

And where Spencer is an outright wolf, Verta-Ray is
definitely the unassuming man in the corner to look out for. His soft, quiet
lead vocals on “Good Man” were an oddly attractive mix of sexy and creepy,
crush-worthy and menacing. That slightly-disturbing quality coupled with the
killer guitar chops make it pretty hard to tear your eyes away from him.
Honestly, you could write a teenage girl’s diary entry about this guy’s
performance, which shows just how dangerous he might really be. Not that
Spencer doesn’t offer an element of danger, but something about watching
Verta-Ray’s quiet man demeanor morph into this subdued monster was even more
charming and far more satisfying.

Prior to this night, I had never listened to Heavy Trash.
I’d listened to plenty of Jon Spencer, and, unbeknownst to me, plenty of Matt
Verta-Ray, as well. But Heavy Trash was not a band I’d heard of, and I went to
the show solely for the chance to witness the tent revival antics of a man who
rocked my teenage world. Suffice it to say, the show was all it promised to be,
with the energy almost eclipsing the sound. Almost. And I came away with the
air of a giddy school girl sighing while watching the bad boys smoke cigarettes
out behind the gym. These men must all be in their 40s, yet they’re as badass
now as they probably were at 16. That’s the way all true rock n’ rollers should

Category: Live Reviews

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