Show Review AND Interview!: Sasquatch & The Sick-a-billys with The Ten Foot Polecats @ Harpers Ferry 6/14
Holy shit. How on earth did you miss this show? What were you thinking? This was probably one of the best shows I’ve been to all year, and judging by the mediocre crowd at Harper’s Ferry on a Sunday night, I’m guessing YOU weren’t there! Honestly, don’t make that mistake again. A Sasquatch show is a veritable spectacle every time they take the stage, and on this night their openers were beyond impressive as well. Sure the show was booked last minute, sure it was on a Sunday night and you had to get up early for work the next day… but seriously, it would have been worth every last pang of your Monday morning hangover to catch this debauchery.
Oh yeah, and I caught up with Dave Sasquatch and got to talk to him about his current touring plans, the not-one-but-TWO albums he plans on releasing this year, the Holy Hellraisers, booze, and a whole lot of other stuff as we both nursed our hangovers from the night before.
Wicked Whiskey got the night started… and of course I walked in while they were on their second-to-last song. That’s unfortunate, these guys were rocking out with some insane punk-rock fueled psychobilly and I would have loved to catch the whole set. I’m a sucker for an upright bass, and the way the electric and acoustic guitars were playing off each other sounded amazing. Their next show is Upstairs at the Middle East on August 4th, and I heard enough to know I’m gonna be making it out to that one for sure.
The Ten Foot Polecats took the stage next – an interesting ensemble to say the least. They came out as a 3 piece – singer, guitarist, and drummer – no bass. At first I was a little apprehensive, thinking their sound would be empty and lacking without a complete rhythm section. I was wrong. Completely and entirely. Look, I’m as stubborn as it gets, so its not so easy to admit that, but I gotta give it to these guys – they were incredible.
Between guitarist Jim Chilson’s blindingly fast left hand flying up and down the fretboard and the blur of the fingers on his right hand finger-picking each string with impunity, he made the band’s lack of a bassist barely noticeable. Couple that with Dave Darling’s strong drumming chops steering the band’s sound, jumping between uptempo snare rolls and slow, seamlessly smooth thumping on the toms, as well as the neverending crash of constant cymbal destruction, and there was more than enough rhythm to go around. This jaw-dropping instrumentation was accentuated perfectly by Jay Scheffler’s raspy, guttural vocals, filled to the brim with raw emotion like only a good bluesman can do. For a number of songs he’d bust out a harmonica that was absolutely dripping with brilliantly sloppy distortion – ideal for the style of music they were playing. The highlight of their set was an extended-jam-version of a Robert Johnson tune, which got a little more frantic, a little more rockabilly than their other offerings – a song which made for a better fit with the rest of the bill. The faster pace got the crowd more engaged in their sound – Chilson as always was charring brains with his licks while Darling chipped in some incredible work on the toms, and at one point Scheffler cut loose with a long, blood-curdling wail that left the crowd screaming for more. These guys played a great set – and a long set… while they were playing Sasquatch approached the Harpers Ferry staff to ask if the Polecats could play a little longer so he and his boys could have a little more time to drink off their hangovers.
The Ten Foot Polecats are a blues band for sure, but them’s some punk fuckin’ rock blues, baby. Who knew a guitar, harp, and drums could slam out a wall of sound that engulfed the crowd and made the whole house roar after every solo? Who cares if they’re from Boston? Listening to these guys made me feel like I was hanging out at a campsite on the Mississippi River Delta, sitting and watching a crusty blues crew jam out. The Ten Foot Polecats don’t have any shows scheduled inside the city until the fall, but check their website for show dates, because they have gigs throughout the ‘burbs all summer long.
Dave Sasquatch is a veritable force on stage. He spits all over the stage, he spits all over his bandmates, he licks the microphone, he rolls his eyes way back into his head, he throws back countless shots of Jager, he tells crass stories, he insults the crowd, he slaps himself in the face, he dedicates songs to himself, he smokes weed on stage, he burps into the mic, he plays his guitar with his mic stand, he blows snot rockets onto the stage, he stops playing mid-song to comb his hair, he humps his guitar, he shakes his ass at the crowd, he… well, you get the idea. He’s nuts, he’s a complete asshole, he’s a drunk, he’s as lowbrow as it gets… and you can’t help but love every minute of it. Contrary to popular belief, however, this is all a stage act. People assume he’s as much of a jerk in person as he is while he plays, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth – after talking to him for a bit I realized he was actually a pretty nice guy. “I make sure to only be an asshole on stage, never in person, because people deserve a show, a spectacle, after working their asses off all week. It makes for a better show. I mean, thats what I want to see when I go to a show!” Based on his stage persona rumors abound that his attitude is the main reason for the frequent turnover of his rhythm section, but this is simply not true. His last bassist, for example (The Reverend Justin K, who was absolutely NASTY on the upright), didn’t leave due to any tension in the band as speculated, but rather because personal reasons necessitated a move back to his home state of Arizona.
Justin’s sudden departure was actually the primary catalyst for the early 2009 switch from Sasquatch and the Sick-a-billys to the brief stint of Sasquatch and the Holy Hellraisers. As Dave explains, “The Hellraisers were really just a side project, I wanted to get away from the ‘billy’ shit and play more metal, but it kind of blew up into a full-time thing once Justin left.” I actually caught a Hellraisers show over at the Lucky Dog in Worcester back in March – it was definitely good, definitely metal, but it really seemed to lack something as compared to a Sickabillys show. They played a lot of new songs, a lot of old songs made much heavier, but they were missing that irreverence and “I don’t give a shit” attitude that they usually have – almost as if they were trying a little too hard.
The Hellraisers experiment was certainly short-lived – within a few months they were back to being the Sick-a-billys, though they kept the same lineup. “Yeah, people weren’t really feeling it – hell, I wasn’t feeling it – so I thought it would be better to go back to the brand I had already spent so much time building.” Thus, Sasquatch and the Sick-a-billys were reborn. The one thing Sasquatch was happy about with the Hellraisers experiment, though, was his attempt to at least try to get away from the “rockabilly/psychobilly” labels. “Look, I play a combination of old country, old blues, and metal. That’s not rockabilly, thats just what everyone seems to call it… OK, well I guess it’s kind of rockabilly…” Yeah Dave, it is, especially when you play that style while rocking a greased-up pompadour, wearing old cowboy shirts, and shredding up a hollow-body guitar.
Sasquatch & The Sickabillys have got to be one of the hardest working bands in any scene. The Rhode Island-based trio has been touring constantly since their inception, not just New England but all over the country. Last year they did something like 250 shows. This year’s no different – when Dave lined up his upcoming schedule for me my eyes almost popped out of my skull. They’re currently in the middle of a tour that takes them all the way down the East Coast, over to Texas, then back up to the Northeast. After that’s done they’re going to jump in the studio to re-record their debut CD Burning Miles of Sin, adding about 5 new tracks to the disc as well. Then its back on the road for a bigger tour in the Fall, taking them down the coast, out to the Midwest, and all the way up and down California before making their way back across the country. Once that’s over its BACK to the studio, where they plan on recording an all-new full-length which they anticipate to be out by Christmastime. Wow. That sounds like a lot of work, but Dave is happy to do it – “I just don’t want a real job, you know?” Oh, and their studio time is intense, too – Dave admitted to me that their first album, Burning Miles of Sin, took only 10 hours to record start to finish; and their second release, Storming the Gates, took a grand total of one and a half days. Unbelievable. Mind you – these are full-length albums – most bands can’t even get a 5-song EP recorded in that time! Clearly, when it comes to recording, these guys do not fuck around.
As evidenced by their set on Sunday, Sasquatch and the Sick-a-billys clearly don’t fuck around when it comes to their live shows either. They came out swinging with the maniacal anthem “Apocalyptic Lipped,” Sasquatch bellowing “FOOOOOOOOOOOOOLS” as he frantically plucked a dark staccato and rolled his eyes back into his head. As hungover as he was prior to the show – “See this sweat on my face? I promise you, this is NOT from hard work” – he didn’t miss a beat as he slammed out his usual psychotic, high-energy set in all his utterly offensive and politically-incorrect glory. A Sick-a-billys show runs the gamut of the musical genres that comprise their style – from the laid-back swing of “In a Pig’s Cunt” to “Am I Evil,” which, honestly, is so fucking metal it hurts. They played some country-ish songs, some bluesy songs, and some straight rock. They even threw in a little surf-rock intermission while Sasquatch introduced his band and thanked the other bands for being on the bill. I thought the standout of the set was “Storming the Gates,” the title track off of the Sick-a-billys’ second full-length album. This song embodies the psychobilly label Sasquatch has been branded with – nasty licks, raucous growling lyrics, heavy drums, driving basslines, and underlying tones of dirty, grimy metal. Sasquatch and the Sick-a-billys kept the crowd riveted from the moment they took the stage until the very end of their extended set, when in a fit of rage Sasquatch grabbed his mic stand and hurled it against the brick wall on the side of the club before storming off the stage to go grab a drink.
Sasquatch mixed in some great covers with his original material – all with his own personal touch added in. One that I hadn’t heard him play before was 10,000 Maniacs’ “What’s Going On” – yeah, seriously. It has probably been at least 15 years or so since I’ve heard ANY version of that song. He changed it up quite a bit though, belting out new lyrics in his standard growl… “And so I wake in the morning and I step outside / And I smoke a fat joint and I get real high.” He also changed pretty much every verse to make it that much more crass and offensive – gotta love it. “King of the Road” and “Understand your Man” are regular covers for his sets, as is my personal favorite, “Brand New Cadillac.” He actually caught me screaming out along on that one – literally RIGHT before “She ain’t coming back to meeee” he decided to stop the song dead in order to take a shot of Jager… and of course I was that asshole who was still singing even though the entire place had gone silent. Screw it, I’m a freak for the Clash – I apologize for nothing. He actually did the casual stop in the middle of a song quite often during the set – the other guys must be used to this by now, because every time he did, without him even looking at them, they’d all know EXACTLY when to cut their respective instruments. Sometimes he’d stop to take a shot, sometimes he’d go off on a tangent… and every time the bassist and drummer would know EXACTLY when to kick in again once he was done.
One thing Sasquatch has always been great at is surrounding himself with extremely talented musicians. My previous favorite lineup was the combo of Justin K and Miss Natalie a year or two back (Can’t go wrong with an upright bass and a hot hardcore chick on the drums), but I think these new guys might have taken over the top rank. Bassist Aaron Cobra proved himself to be a real showman – pounding on his bass, raising it up, bringing it low, headbanging, all while running all over the stage. At one point in the set he leaned into the crowd, grabbed a fan’s beer from their hands with his mouth, and chugged it down while spilling it all over himself – all while still playing perfectly in time with the song. He then leaned his bass back into the crowd and let the fan beat on the strings as he worked the fretboard with the beer cup still in his mouth. After this he spat out the cup, ran over to the drum set, and headbutted a cymbal with precision timing.
These on-stage shenanigans complemented Sasquatch’s overpowering stage presence well – Sasquatch’s previous lineups were usually a bit more stationary, forcing the wild frontman to run the show by himself. ‘Masshole’ Benny Austin on drums was certainly no slouch either – its hard to come up with crowd-pleasing antics while behind a drum kit, so he let his playing do the talking. Austin kept things ridiculously tight throughout the set – jumping back and forth between styles ranging from country, punk rock, blues, metal, and God knows what else. His cymbals made their presence felt without being overpowering, serving as a sort of background roar to the rowdy exhibition on stage in front of him. He showed great tempo and volume control as well, changing it up in perfect sync with the guitars whenever Sasquatch felt the urge to do something… interesting. And yeah, he managed to pull all this off while getting spit on by Sasquatch and dealing with Aaron’s whole headbutting thing. Very impressive.
What can often be lost in the on-stage insanity displayed by Dave Sasquatch is the fact that he is actually a ridiculously talented guitarist. I think the first time I saw the Sick-a-billys I was way too caught up in his whole act to even notice, but as I went to more and more of their shows my jaw dropped lower and lower as I realized how nasty he really is. None of this 3-chord crap common to a lot of other “billy” acts – he can lay down intricate riffs, shred out solos, and strum at the speed of light, all while keeping up his profane madness. Check out some of his recorded tracks on the website and you’ll be able to hear for yourself. These guys all seemed to have a great time on stage together, and that comfort level comes across in their music – they were tight while staying loose, they put on a hell of a performance, and most importantly they fucking ROCKED. Do yourself a favor and make sure to go see them the next time they’re in town. As I mentioned, they’re kicking off a tour so they’re not planning on being back in Boston anytime soon, but I’ll consider it my civic duty to let you know the next time they get up here so you don’t miss out. This I swear.
Big congrats to Aaron Cobra for officially being dubbed a true Sickabilly by Sasquatch – finally, its about time! Big congrats also to the random and INCREDIBLY happy old guy in the crowd who couldn’t stop dancing all night long – he was also dubbed by Sasquatch… King Romance! Ladies, he’s single, please take a number and wait in line.
All live photos from Sunday’s show are by Seth C. Drury.