Slim Cessna’s Auto Club @Whelan’s, Dublin - 21st Sept 2017

This was the sound of a band firing on all cylinders (to use the auto analogy). Slim Cessna’s Auto Club were making their Irish debut to a less than desireable attendance number. This was a show that should have been packed and no-one who was there will forget the exhilaration of the evening. Despite the small numbers there they gave a show that was worthy of a much bigger audience. Entering the venue and seeing the banjo’s, upright and pedal steel onstage one might expect something very different than what was actually about to occur. If you put country, country blues, blues, gospel, punk, folk, rockabilly and Radiohead into a blender you might get something like this coming from the PA.

Slim Cessna, Munly Munly, Lord Dwight Pentacost, Rebecca Vera, Ian O’Dougherty, Andrew Warner are the current line-up and they are a tight focused set of musicians who deliver a show that is part revival, part tent-show-but full on entertainment. The first three have been consistent members of the band for nearly twenty years and work together as a well oiled machine. Slim is tall and acts as master of ceremonies. Ceremonies that are equally focused on Munly Munly skeletal thin all black, fedora hatted look. His voice ranges from a whisper to a keen falsetto to a gave deep growl. Don’t mistake this for something contrived rather this is the development of some deeply rooted vision of redemption and temptation. 

Throughout the show there are lyrical references to Satan and to Jesus as well as to a way of life that is partly influenced by living in Denver, Colorado  and its environs. Munly Munly is the chief writer in the band and his words give the band their defining outlook on life (and death). While Cessna and Munly share the lead vocal they are joined by Pentecost and Vera on the choruses. Vera plays the pedal steel guitar in a way that makes it something far more sonic than is usual. At different times she uses both a drum stick and violin bow to draw different atmospherics from the strings. She also plays a keyboard to further add to the band’s arsenal of sound. In this she is joined by Pentacost on his trade mark Madonna-imaged twin neck guitar as well as coaxing discordant feedback from his 5 string banjo. However it is, naturally, the two lead singers whose voices and moves that are an essential element to their uniqueness. Their voices assuming a sense of harmony that relates to traditional church shape note singing - even if in a very different context. They also ventured into the audience to shake hands with it’s members and to get us all down on our knees along with them in beer and supplication.

Much of the material is taken from the most recent album The Commandments According to SCAC but some older favourites such as This Is What We Do In The Country and Jesus Is In My Body - My Body Has Let Me Down. In many ways the titles don’t matter this was a complete show from start to finish. And what a finish. After leaving the stage the band returned for a much deserved encore which saw all the band members onstage in a row singing and clapping along to a prerecorded rhythm track. Then then began to pack up their instruments as Slim Cessna sang a karaoke version of For The Good Times. He then thanked us for being there on the night. Slim, the thanks were all ours as this was a night that will rank with the best that live music has to offer.

Review by Steve Rapid  Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea