If you want larger than life then look no further than JD Wilkes.
Off stage he’s allegedly a mild mannered gentleman, but on stage he is anything but. Plucking pubic hair (his own) and casting it into the audience, relentlessly displaying tourette styled ticks, gurning and contorting his body into pretzel shapes are all par for the course when attending a Legendary Shack Shakers gig. The man is a combination of sweat, spit, and angels and demons fighting for control.
And more power to him.
It may well all be an act, but he plays it to the hilt. The stage persona is as real as you can get to lunacy unleashed, and unlike the Victorians who would simply gape at the madman, we get to sing and dance along with him and his band.
That this show was billed as an acoustic affair was something that wouldn’t neatly lodge in my head though.
It kept slipping out and I’d have to pick it up, look at this strange little thing, and then I’d shrug and try and pop it back in.
It was messing with me and I didn’t like it.
And up until the day of the gig I was actually in two minds about going.
That is until a random message from a friend asking if I fancied it tipped the balance of the scales from a maybe to a why the hell not, and I’m glad it did because ultimately it wasn’t really an acoustic show at all.
My perception of what it would be, and what it was, had nothing in common at all.
Rather than an acoustic guitar strumming snorefest facsimile of what I had experienced at Shack Shakers gigs before, it was a stripped back set up that featured a basic drum set up, a double bass, and an electric guitar that more than delivered.
Throw in JD and his harmonica, and a guest appearance of a fiddle, and the juke joint on moonshine angle on entertaining was well covered.
In hindsight I’m comfortable in saying that energy wise you can’t differentiate between a full blown Shack Shakers set and this version of it.
In the aftermath of a show I’ve often pondered where the band would sit most comfortably. Sonically speaking that is. And it has come to me that they exist in that moment when the party peaks. When the drink has worked its inhibition magic and the madness is in full flow, but also in that moment just before the darkness slips in and fucks everything up.
You can smell the danger in the air and it’s intoxicating, but the violence and blood hasn’t arrived yet. It’s a good time; a moment that rests on the cusp, but the real deal never lasts long while these guys can stretch the feeling of that moment out over a much longer period by tightly controlling it.
They work on the premise that it has to sound like the train is about to jump the tracks, and if it doesn’t then what is the point.
It’s an illusion, but a damn fine one to get lost in as most of us will admit that the feeling of living on the edge is thrilling, but the reality carries a cost that is often too much to pay. This is why we gravitate towards the rollercoaster at the fair and throw ourselves into night long marathons of horrors movies. We want the thrill without the cost, and JD Wilkes and the Shack Shakers deliver that very same thing. The pretence of danger without the burden of having to live with the consequences, and that’s what makes it so fuckin good.
It’s a best of both worlds scenario and they know it.
Next time let’s all see how near the edge we can get.