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Published: 2003/06/21
by Paul Kerr

Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC- 6/11

"Yes, they are a real family. Yes, they exist in technicolor." This was part
of the introduction by Dr. Robert, who proceeded to welcome to the stage the
Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, an act unlike anything you've ever seen
before. They are, as the old saying goes, a band with a plan. The concept goes
something like this: They go to estate sales and buy strangers' vacation
slides. Then they write songs as if the scenes in the slides happened to them. Dad
plays guitar, keyboards & sings, Mom runs the slide projector, and their
9-year old daughter plays drums and sings backup.

The best part of the joke, however, is that the band is no joke. Like Spinal
Tap, the irony turns inside out once you realize they're actually writing
great songs. What worked on one level as a joke blossoms into a whole new
phenomenon once the songs get stuck in your head for three days after the show. Jason
Trachtenburg, aka Dad, had previously honed his songwriting chops playing in
various bands throughout the country, finally landing in Seattle to record a
solo album produced by Chris Ballew of Presidents of the United States of
America fame. After his wife Tina, aka Mom, came home one day with a slide projector
and some slides, Jason sat down to have some fun making up a song to the
pictures. Upon completion, they realized they may have just changed the way people
create art.

Word has been spreading fast about these slideshow superheroes. They made
history as the first unsigned band to appear on Late Night with Conan O'Brian.
(Their self-released first album is now due to be reissued by Bar/None in the
fall.) Their Cat's Cradle show was one of the last stops on their "Woke Up in a
Psychedelic Daydream" tour before heading to Tennessee for the Bonnaroo
festival. They opened the show with a brief explanation of what was about to
transpire. "This is high art," joked Jason. Not content to simply influence the
future, "we're attempting to change the past." As their daughter Rachel got settled
behind the skins, she quipped "I have no idea if I'm growing or the drumset's
getting smaller."

They began with a rendition of the song that started it all, "Mountain Trip
to Japan, 1959." As pictures of high-altitude vacationers filled the screen,
the twisted lyrics spun the tale of what appeared, from colorful chairs to
cocker-spaniel puppies to a public execution. Rachel proved a surprisingly adept
drummer, not just content to keep the beat, but adding subtle textures and
colors throughout the odd-time signatures and multi-faceted compositions. The songs
certainly weren't simplified for her in any way, and her unique drumming
style and on-stage persona added layers to the complexities of the band.

"Vietnam, Watergate and Eggs" was the title of the second track, and it
probably needs little further explanation. Flashing between scenes of carpet
bombing and hard-boiled eggs provided more than a slight contrast. The Slideshow P
layers are almost as much a comedy act as a musical one. Half an hour into the
show they'd played only two songs, due to Jason's comedic ramblings and
Rachel's straight-man one-liners. They followed with "Look at Me," which follows the
friendship of two women through the '50s, '60s and '70s. The friends were
apparently not averse to a cocktail or two, and the silliness that ensued was
captured on film and provided plenty of lyrical material.

"Christian Terror" is a new song inspired by fervent religious slides
sponsored by the government of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). They followed with a tale of
men gone wild in "Middle America," and led into their final number, a 6-song
rock opera based on a McDonald's marketing report called "OPNAD Contribution
Study Committee Report, June 1977." Can't you just hear your local DJ rolling
that title off his tongue? Alternating between the testimonials of various
executives and typically inane corporate drivel, the suite highlights the
linguistic absurdities which necessarily accompany any good white-collar study. Titles
for the different sections include "What Would the Corporation Do?" and "Let's
Not Have the Same Weight in 1978 – Let's Have More."

The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players exist in that strange universe
between concept and performance, between comedy and music, between joke and art.
In a world which loves to pigeonhole its artists, they're sticking to their
vision. It's not their fault if no one knows what to call it. For now, I'll let
the words of a woman behind me in the audience sum it up: "This is the greatest
thing I've ever seen."

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