Last night, as a special treat for our wedding anniversary, we headed up to the Trinity Theatre in Tunbridge Wells to see the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, who played with support from Langhorne Slim.
Slim played some folksy bluegrass songs, mostly about lost love and failed relationships, with sprinklings of humour and wry observation and even a smattering of audience participation. Pretty good, although he failed to really get the Tunbridge Wells audience going. Mind you, it has to be said that it usually takes quite something to get the Tunbridge Wells audience going – free canapés and a glass of bubbly generally do the trick, both of which were lacking for this gig.
After the interval, the main attraction took the stage. Hels said afterwards that if you didn’t have your surreal head on, you weren’t going to get this outfit – and Tunbridge Wells doesn’t do surreal very well. I think about 10 people in the audience really got the hang of what was being achieved before them.
The Trachtenburgs are a three piece outfit, consisting of Jason on keyboards, guitar and lead vocals, his wife Tina Piña on slide projector and daughter Rachel (aged a somewhat precocious 11 years) on drums and backing vocals. Yes, you read that correctly – not slide guitar, but slide projector. The premise here is that the Trachtenburgs collect 35mm transparency collections from thrift stores, pawn shops, car boot fairs and so on. They then reinterpret them to music, on stage, whilst wearing the worst 1970s fashions (not overstated parody fashions, mind you, but those subtly bad items from that era).
The songs, of course, are just as awful as the photographs that they are played to. Crossing just about every genre under the sun, from prog rock to gospel, songs such as Look At Me and the five-part McDonald’s rock opera (incorporating the totemic What Will The Corporation Do?) amusingly take the mickey out of the innocents portrayed in the slides – though none could exactly be described as sing-along. But the awfulness is part of the act, coupled with the polished amateurness of the performers (complete with Rachel’s persistent gum chewing and Jason’s asides about how something always goes wrong with their shows) and an amusing mid-set Q&A session.
The set was rather let down by lacklustre sound quality in the Trinity, meaning that some of Jason’s lyrics were indistinct – rather important when the lyrics relate so closely to the content of the slides on show. The crazy distortion that resulted from projecting onto a full height screen from a projector sat on the floor actually added to the surreality of the performance, although I’m not sure if that was intentional.
If you get the chance, go and see them whilst they are on tour. But try to pick a venue where the audience might appreciate it.