Concert review: The Trashcan Sinatras, Legendary Scottish Band

Forgive the decision to use first person for this one, but the editorial ‘we’ just doesn’t apply here.

I am not one for acoustic shows. Whenever I see a guy with an acoustic guitar anymore, I want to pull a Bluto and smash it to bits. This from a guy who did an acoustic gig with his brother the weekend of his wedding. I blame Jack Johnson, really. That whole surfer/hippie scratcha scratcha scratcha thing just bores me. Long story short, when I saw that my beloved Trashcan Sinatras were coming to Dayton to play the Canal Street Tavern, I was in. When I saw it was an acoustic show, I was slightly less in.

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Boy, did they show me. Breaking the evening into two sets, and playing requests submitted in advance online by their fans, the Trashcans positively soared. The harmony vocals by the Douglas brothers (Jon on guitar, Stephen on drums) stood out much better in the acoustic setting, and the band shrewdly mixed in a few electric instruments to give the overall sound a little more thump. Smart move, that.

The set list was divine, showcasing each of the band’s five albums relatively equally. From what my friends who saw them in Cleveland said, though, they’re shaking up the set list drastically each night, so you might hear six of the songs they played here. The main focus, of course, was on In the Music, the band’s newest album, from which they played six of the album’s 10 tracks. Guitarist Paul Livingston sat in the back on a chair, staring at his (electric) guitar as if there wasn’t anyone else in the room (think Johnny Greenwood, without the floppy hair), while drummer Stephen Douglas had the coolest “acoustic” drum setup you’ve ever seen. The kick drum was digital, just a pedal with a pre-amp that gave extra impact to the various shakers, bongos, triangles and snare hits (brushes, of course) that he mixed in. Also, he had a tambourine on his left foot. Very cute.

The star of the show, though, was lead singer Frank Reader, whose voice sounds just as pure as it did when the band dropped their debut Cake in 1990. And speaking of Cake, what a nice surprise to hear the band break out not just “Obscurity Knocks” and “Only Tongue Can Tell,” the album’s two singles, but also “Drunken Chorus,” A B-side from the Cake years. The most pleasant surprise, however, was the inclusion of three songs from the band’s rare 1996 album A Happy Pocket (which goes for upwards of 50 bucks on Amazon), finishing the evening with a rousing version of “The Therapist.”

You have to hand it to bands like the Trashcans. The new album isn’t selling because no one buys records anymore (though I saw them sell a few copies at the show), and the tickets were cheap ($12, holler), so they’re probably not making much on those. I hope they’re shifting a lot of merchandise – they were selling flash drives containing the evening’s performance shortly after the show – because it would be a shame to see a band like this pack it in due to financial constraints, especially when they have proven time and again that they still have so much to offer. There are only a few dates left on the tour, so if you live in any of the following cities, go. You shannae regret it.

March 24 St. Louis, Mo Firebird (acoustic)
March 26 Minneapolis, Mn Cedar Cultural Center
March 27 Kansas City, Mo Knuckleheads (acoustic)
March 28 Denver, Co The Walnut Room (acoustic)
March 29 Salt Lake City, Ut The State Room (acoustic)
March 31 Los Angeles, Ca The Bootleg Theater (acoustic)

  

The Trashcan Sinatras: In the Music


RIYL: Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout, Magnetic Fields

By all rights, the Trashcan Sinatras should have broken up years ago. Only one of their five albums was met with good timing, and that was their 1990 debut Cake. From there, they have suffered a relentless tide of apathy, both from the public (their album I’ve Seen Everything landed while grunge was in full swing) and even label bosses (Go! Discs didn’t bother releasing 1996’s A Happy Pocket in the States). But Kilmarnock’s finest have soldiered on, staring down bankruptcy and the inevitable pressures of family life to do what they love. And for that, they have attracted one of the most loyal fan bases any band has ever known. As our Popdose colleague John Hughes once wryly observed, there is no such thing as a casual fan of the Trashcan Sinatras.

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Even their most recent album, In the Music, has its share of melodrama. The album was originally supposed to come out last fall, but the distribution deal fell through just as they were embarking on their first US tour in five years. But the album is finally out, and in fact its release snuck up on us, which doesn’t bode well for the promotional efforts being done on its behalf. (Seriously, we get close to 50 music press releases a day, but no one’s working the Trashcan Sinatras?) Looks like, as guitarist Paul Livingston pointed out in an interview last summer, that they’ll be selling their records to the same people once again.

Pity, because they’ve just made another gem. In the Music is similar in tone to the band’s 2004 album Weightlifting, in that both are quite mannered in comparison to their earlier work (which in itself was not exactly raucous to begin with). Fans of the “How Can I Apply…” mode of the band’s work will find much to love here, particularly “Easy on the Eye” and “Oranges & Apples,” the band’s tribute to Syd Barrett and their first song to top the seven-minute mark. They even got Carly Simon to sing on the ballad “Should I Pray.” The most rocking moment here is “Prisons,” which is chock full of the vintage Trashcans jangly guitar riffs, and “Morning Star” sports the most widescreen chorus the band’s written in years.

If the album is missing anything – besides promotional support, that is – it’s a few shifts in tempo. Yes, it’s all gorgeous, but anyone longing for a “Bloodrush” or “Welcome Back,” or even another “Hayfever,” will be left wanting. In other words, as much as the band wants people outside of their existing fan base to buy their albums, In the Music is probably not going to do the trick. It’s perfectly lovely, but it’s also preaching to the converted. Still, better that than not preaching at all. (Lo-Five Records 2010)

Trashcan Sinatras MySpace page
Click to buy In the Music from Amazon