Local Love: The World Famous Milestone Gets A Little Weird with Dr. Cirkustien, Dollar Signs, Modern Primitives & Misery Jakals
It’s not everyday that I get to make it out to really diverse shows, so when I saw this one on the calendar I jumped right on it. I had been telling Dr. Cirkustien that I would come cover their show for quite some time now and was glad I was finally able to put their magic down on paper… or at least try to. They have the type of magic that’s hard to capture on paper. But, I’m gonna try. At times it’s a strange road to go down, but here we go. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.
The night started off with Dollar Signs. Now, maybe I’m not as hip as I used to be, well, I was never that hip, but it seems I used to be a lot better at keeping up with all the bands in the area. I was quite surprised that I had never heard of these guys. According to their Facebook they’re from Burlington, NC and they are “Too fast for folk shows! Too quiet for punk shows! Too serious for comedy gigs! Too funny for art gallery openings!” That seems to be about right. Their ridiculously catchy folk-punk was done with a bit of a different twist than that of the usual fare of the genre. While they were in fact indebted to such acts as Johnny Hobo & The Freight Trains or, say, Defiance, Ohio they managed to bring a different twist. Usually playing as a two piece, they graced the stage with five members, some of which would switch instruments for certain songs. There would be cellos, tambourines, a ukulele, and one amazing trumpet. It was fantastic anti-folk that had this artsy, avant-garde Elephant Six vibe. All this was done with a type of funny pop-punk sarcastic cynicism. Songs about breaking up, pop-ups on the Pirate Bay whilst trying to download The Walking Dead and moving into your dream apartment–only to find out that it’s a shithole, showed that these guys had two different sides. Folk-punk tends to be very emotionally resonant, which it was, but not too much. It was also funny and thought provoking, but not too much of that either. A serious band that can’t be taken too seriously. These guys were definitely an unexpected treat. They’ve got to be the best local band that you’ve never heard–unless you’re hipper than me that is.
Now, I’m sure all you guys already know about Modern Primitives, but if you don’t, I’ll try to explain a little of their game. They play straight forward, brazen rock and roll, the way it should be done. No frills, no gimmicks, no crap. Now, maybe it’s just because their sound is one of my favorites, but these guys are way too good at what they do. Their gruff and raucous sound owes much to the very garage-y, proto-punk sentiments of the late 60’s, pioneered by such acts as The Sonics and continued into the modern era by the likes of The Soledad Brothers and to a lesser extent, The White Stripes. It was retro, yet still new and fresh. Their not-so-lo-fi-lo-fi sound blasted through the room and converted any unbelievers that may have been there. Abrasive guitar tones jilted the soul and the bass hit every space of silence between drum beats making for the perfect rhythm section. These guys have been kicking it for awhile and if, by chance, you haven’t seen them live then I highly recommend it. I’m quite sure most local show goers would agree.
Akron, Ohio’s Misery Jackals were up next and I must say these guys put on one hell of a show. Their self proclaimed “punk rock after the apocalypse” fit right into the bill. With an accordion, a toy piano, an upright bass and a banjo they were able to blend genres that not many dare to try–and they nailed it. They dexterously went from bluegrass, to polka, to punk rock. It was like Gogol Bordello, but with a different type of intensity. I guess you could compare them to an American version of Skinny Lister, with what seemed to be drinking songs about the working class. There’s not really a lot I can say except…
Dr. Cirkustien took a little time to set up, but none of us minded. The smokers congregated outside like faithful worshipers in waiting. Obviously I was one of them, but when I was done and put my cigarette out I headed inside and waited while they finished putting their gear in order. Now, these guys know how to entertain. They don’t just play, they put on a show, and not in some cheesy, gimmicky way. They do it right. They are known for the masks and costumes they wear. A shamanistic wolf headdress with red eyes. A devil mask. A mask that always reminds me of what those not so nice anarchists in A Clockwork Orange wear and Jason Renegar’s Ringleader outfit.
Now, anyone who knows me well enough knows how much I love any derivative form of reggae or ska music. I suppose what I love the most about these guys is their twist on it. What originally was a project that was supposed to be this “smoky, jazz-blues poetry” band ended up being the Dr. C we have today. A band whose goals include “world domination, to have no day jobs, and to play on the moon.”
As soon as they were finished setting up and checking their mics, they opened their set with a sort of soundcheck-song that welcomes you to the show, appropriately titled “Cirkus Time”. After that, it was all one strange trip. I’ve always imagined their show to be like some sort of bad/good acid trip, depending on your definitions of good and bad. Their unique version of dub and ska music is in fact very circus-y, intriguing, fun, and a bit frightening. Harnessing a Kurzwell organ, spot-on metal and punk guitar playing and some of the finest bass work you’ll find in the Queen City, these guys do the strangest dub you’ll ever hear, but there’s more to it than that. At times it reminds you of The Doors and other times it gets downright funky. Jason’s persona as a frontman is undeniable. He stood perched with two microphones; one standard and one drenched in some sort of pitch modulation effect. Beside him was a small table using an American flag as a tablecloth, on top of which he kept his beer, water, a kazoo, and a slide whistle. An iPad was strapped to one of the mic stands that held samples of all sorts of different and strange sounds that were cued with the utmost perfect timing. The guitar player, affectionately known as Satan or Doc Cirkustein was the only one not on stage. He stood on the floor with the audience, his devil mask completely complementing his playing. This bizarre world of circus music and reggae coupled with their dynamic stage show is proof that these guys know what they’re doing. It’s also proof that they’re one of the most interesting and unique bands in Charlotte. Though, sometimes it’s creepy and a bit off-kilter, there’s this inherent joy in their shows. Hopefully, these guys aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Do yourself a favor and see them live. As Hunter S. Thompson so famously said “buy the ticket, take the ride.” It could quite possibly be the best decision you do with your day.
Info for the bands can be found as follows: