Review: Mercury Lounge, NYC Aug 9, 2006
by Sean Grogan
Get On the Bus with the Modern Day Partridge Family...
And with that single pleading word from the Trachtenburg Slideshow Players' young drummer, the 12-year-old daughter Rachel Trachtenburg, the bustling mass of people huddled in the back room of the Mercury Lounge is silenced.
First it's the drums, then the keyboard that goes offline. But after ten minutes of dealing with technical difficulties – solved by the joint effort of several volunteers from the crowd that "Dad" (guitarist/vocalist Jason Trachtenburg) solicited with the plea, "Is there a keyboard technician in the house?" – The show began. Sort of.
Instead of playing their own music, Jason's wife (and slide master) Tina Piña introduced the duo Ching Chang Music who treated the crowd to three wildly funny, theatrical songs that involved cracking voices, a saw, and more than a few off-key notes. Following their unique set, it was time for the Slideshow Players, or what Jason Trachtenberg calls, "an indie-vaudeville-conceptual-art-rock-slideshow band." And as odd a label as that may sound, they have created they have a look that somehow fits it. Dad dresses in clothes befitting the 70s and boasts a crazy mustache, mom is decked out in vibrant colors and wild ponytails, while daughter Rachel just looks prim and, like many typical kids her age, occasionally bored.
The trio's premise is simple, but strange. The family travels to yard sales, estate sales, and thrift stores and buys old slide collections of "anonymous dead strangers" – including a set they procured from the house of White Stripe Jack White – and transforms them into "pop-rock musical exposes." The offbeat stories they create give life to the images that they've collected, and they had us hooked by the middle of the first whimsical song. As we bopped with the beat and laughed aloud at some of the wacky images – including that of a giant blow-up chicken – we were transported back to the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It's no surprise they're the first unsigned band to perform on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
Their songwriting style has attracted a wide variety of fans (though most are of the indie ilk), including more than a few who tried to pass on their slide collections to the Players in the hope of getting a song written about them. So what is a traveling family of slideshow players to do with these uninspiring slides? Write a song about such people, of course. And the ensuing juxtaposition of these sounds and images was hilarious as Jason belts out lyrics about just how uninteresting and uninspiring the slides were.
After eight songs, Jason switched from electric guitar to keyboard and closed out the show with two piano-drive tunes. Their final song, "Mountain Trip to Japan, 1959," was the first song they had ever written in what has become their standard fashion and serves as an interesting way to end their set – by bringing us back to the beginning.