Hailing from Hoboken, Harlem, Brooklyn and other parts east of Erie, The Defibulators specialize in a particular kind of folk-rock. A la Gogol Bordello, Flogging Molly, and The Last Bison, the group’s many players mix electrified guitar and drums with traditional string and percussion instruments in a sonic stew they can truly call their own. They’re a little bit country, a pinch of punk, a whole lot of Americana—and irrepressibly rambunctious.
This is Hee-Haw on crack, people, and you can witness it live, up close and in person when the band plays Beachland Tavern on Tuesday, October 1st.
The Defibulators’ new album, The Debt’ll Get ‘Em, showcases its truck stop anthems and trailer park sound-poems across a dozen tracks whose central theme is curiously serious, given the band’s wry approach. Beneath the din of banjos, fiddles, and washboards is a series of vignettes chronicling the plight of today’s blue collar demographic. Vocalists Bug Jennings and Erin Bru put factory workers and farmhands on pedestals but lambast our nation’s boneheaded consumerism. Instant gratification and entitlement are satirized and vilified (hence the album title), with thesis song “Working Class” dissecting the fractured American dream.
Psycho-billy opener “Holy Roller” melds chicken pickin’ banjos, twangy Telecaster guitar, fiddle fills and harmonica huffing with Mike Riddleberger’s hayride shuffle. It’s the portrait of a Bible-thumping huckster hawking “solution all across the nation” straight out of the bleak pages of Southern fiction Flannery O’Conner, Cormac McCarthy, or Willie Vlautin.
“Everybody’s Got a Banjo” does for the four-string what Todd Rundgren’s “Bang On the Drum” did for percussion instruments. The anthem builds slowly, its cat-gut jug band groove coalescing like a countrified “Kashmir” (Led Zeppelin) until Jennings and Bru unleash a hip-to-be-square sermon via megaphone, encouraging listeners to “strut around town with a gunny sack” or take to subways and runways with one’s own claw-hammer plucked melodies.
The mid-tempo, pedal steel powered “Pay for that Money” scrutinizes America’s over-reliance on credit in the wake of the 2008 economic downturn. Times are tough, suggests the fiddle-flickered verses, but when “you burn through your plastic stack” you come out “hogtied and tan-hided.” Wall Street’s mega-banks are amalgamated into a Man in Black villain who preys upon folks who are vulnerable—even desperate—but who should know better. Spun from the perspective of a trucker who “learned shit” in college, the aforementioned “Working Class” bemoans the potential fate of an entire generation of students taking out loans for educations they don’t use. To keep things light, however, the band couches its message in the trucker’s party-time ethic:
“I’m gonna punch a clock till my neck turns blue,” he says, echoing a sentiment shared by millions. “I didn’t see the point of earning more than I could drink.”
The Defibulators keep bucking the system on “Get Your Papers,” a rollicking, diesel-driven number decrying the necessary evil of the bureaucracies proliferating background checks, drug tests, and credit reports.
The band lets its guard down on other numbers that’d sound right at home blaring over P.A. systems at tractor-pulls and county fairs. The warbled, rim-shot syncopated “Real Slow” is a lush’s unconvincing plea to prevent him from driving home drunk. One almost imagines the patron stumbling out of the bar and careening off vehicles out in the parking lot as honky-tonk piano goes tinkling into the night. “Cackalacky” chronicles an Appalachian musician’s quest for fame, set to Jennings’ giddy-up banjo and some boisterous bowing courtesy Smitty the Giant Fiddler. David Dawda’s sinewy bass anoints the middle eight, augmented by Riddleberg’s brush-and-stick flourishes. “Hee-Haw in Heaven” envisions an afterlife where Junior Sample and Buck Owens entertain with jokes and song, and Minnie Pearl tucks residents in at night among the clouds.
Fans of fleet-fingered rock guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Steve Morse will drool over the speed-freak instrumental boogie “Rumble Strip,” whose frantic, driving-on-a-deadline pulse pits Chris “Roadblock” Hartway’s guitar against a torrent of banjo and fiddle. Album-capper “Let Me See That Ponytail Run” is a warmhearted ballad recalling first loves in more innocent times.
Mountain punkers The Misery Jackals will open for The Defibs at 8:30pm.
The Defibulators with Misery Jackals. Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at Beachland Tavern (15711 Waterloo Road, Cleveland) at 8:30pm. Tickets $8.00 at this link: