Sideshow Tramps
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Sideshow Tramps

Houston, Texas, United States

Houston, Texas, United States
Band Americana Folk

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"Medicine Show No Mo"

Breaking the seventh seal at the Sideshow Tramps' CD release party
By John Nova Lomax – Houston Press, June 7, 2007


Not many CD release parties begin with pagan processions. But then again, the Sideshow Tramps are not most bands.

A little after eleven, as attendees milled about in the verdant, lush beer garden behind Dan Electro's, a scream was heard from the balcony above. "When I was boooorrrrn / the Devil had me / and then I found my medicine!" With that, Sideshow Tramps Geoffrey Muller (a.k.a. "Uncle Tick) and Shane Lauder (a.k.a. "Coach") started beating a military tattoo on snare and bass drums.

"When I was boooorrrrn / the Devil had me / and then I found my medicine!" By now, you could see who was doing the screaming. It was a twentysomething guy dressed only in cutoffs, his body painted in the manner of some kind of drunken witch doctor. (In reality, the guy is a doctoral candidate in philosophy who had flown in from New York just for this gig.) He started coming down the stairs toward the beer garden at the head of a line that also included the two drummers, a violinist, a guy brandishing a lawn rake over his head, another with a doll nailed to a stick, and a trombonist.

"When I was boooorrrrn / the Devil had me / and then I found my medicine!" The pageant marched down the stairs and into the beer garden. Some of the drinkers fell in at the rear. The band was playing a sort of Montrose/Heights approximation of New Orleans brass band music — and why not? Hurricane season began that very day.

"When I was boooorrrrn / the Devil had me / and then I found my medicine!" By now the carnival had entered the club and made its way to the stage. And sadly, the momentum was lost as the band struggled to launch into "Old Plank Road," their first song. "We haven't made the transition yet from parade band to stage band," Lauder noted from the stage. "We're working on it."

But that was one of the only letdowns on the night. While Dan Electro's was stifling — Press photographer Dan Kramer compared it to a bikram yoga session — not many of the band's couple of hundred fans seemed to care. They were here to see the group they had watched grow from kids tentatively picking string band tunes in the corner on off nights at Brasil, to commanding the stage at one of the longest-running and most successful weekly gigs in recent years (Mondays at Helios), to the launch of their very first CD here at Dan Electro's. (Some even go back with the band to their days playing in and around the University of St. Thomas, when their audience at times consisted mainly of nuns.) These people had seen them grow from punk-tinged bluegrass kids who played tons of covers and were just this side of competent on their instruments to world musicologists who can each play the strings off of several instruments and have not just bags of their own songs but something more — a lore that adds new chapters on its own with each passing gig.

Not to mention affiliate members. Trombonist Mike Switzer sat in for a few numbers, as did various members of show openers Two Star Symphony and a pedal steel player. The band's original washtub bassist also got into the action. (But not Hambone, the band's felonious former washtub bassist and washboard player — he was still in prison, which no doubt disappointed the one fan who hollered out for him to come back.)

This was the first gig under the band's new name. They off-loaded the Medicine Show name onto their first album, which does a very good job of approximating their live show. Both album and show find folk styles from everywhere, from New Orleans to West Virginia to Minsk, getting tossed into a blender and coming out as ordered chaos, one of those dissolute trips to the Gyspy sin palaces Russian aristocrats were always sliding into on their way to ruin in the works of Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

Band members traded off on vocals, with Craig "The Reverend" Kinsey leading them through high-concept Dylan-esque tales while mandolinist Scott "Rag Tag" McNeil took more of a Howlin' Wolf belt-it-out approach. Their fans could sing along to every word. People got naked. Beautiful women jumped on stage and danced with the band — it's secular spirituals and spiritual sexuality. Uncle Tick reported that another woman had brought her young son with her and that the two of them passed him Lone Stars all night, or at least until the bar ran out.

Which was way too soon. Dan Electro's could not keep up with this band's fans. If you've ever seen an army of ants at a picnic slurp a drop of Kool-Aid dry, you've kind of got the idea of what the scene was like at the bar all night. It was three and four deep. The Lone Star vanished before midnight, which is not a surprise as people were ordering them four and five at a time and carrying them off in six-pack boxes. Since Dan Electro's doesn't sell the hard stuff, there was also a roaring speakeasy-style trade. Illicit pints of the hard stuff haven't been passed around like this since the glory days of Harlem's Cotton Club. Which is all of a piece with the band. In fact, I was offered a hit off a pint glass full of vodka, which the band has a song about, by Josie, the former Helios bartender who is the subject of another of their songs. "Lady Vodka" indeed: At what other local band's shows will band lore come to life like that?

The band is still easing into their transition at Dan Electro's. A couple of days after the show, I asked Muller how that was going. "We like both places," he says. "People feel at home and are comfortable at both. At Dan Electro's, it's like you're hanging out at [owner] Bob's house, and it's cool. It was the same at Helios, but there, you were hanging out at Marianna's house, and it always seemed like she had Lord Byron and Aleister Crowley as houseguests."

So the band has conquered St. Thomas, Montrose and now the Heights. Their debut CD lives up to their formidable live show. Who knows what's next? They might go on to conquer Texas and the world and they might not. But that doesn't really matter. They've already secured a place in Houston nightclub history as the band that put the fuck back into folk.
- Houston Press - John Nova Lomax


"Gone WestFest"

October 14, 2007
Hippies, hipsters and hillbillies (not to mention hula-hoopers) alike came together for this year's Free Press Westheimer Block Party Saturday. As a new member of the community, I don't know what this party's been like in the past -- though I've heard today's festival is "a shell of what it once was" -- but if the premium performances and diverse crowd are any indication, it's clear there's certainly something worth holding onto.

When I first arrived, the Sideshow Tramps were kicking up dirt outside Numbers. Lead singer the Reverend led the crowd through a spiritual rock 'n' roll experience that was equal parts bluegrass and punk rock. They called it "glory hallelujah music" and after watching the crowd lay their hands on guitarist Uncle Tick in an attempt to revive him, I'm not really one to argue.

Neither was the crowd. With hands clapping and feet stomping, they fed off the frenetic energy. Some even two-stepped, furthering my personal theory that Texans are born knowing how to partner dance.
- Houston Chronicle - Bobby Hankinson


"Hot summer releases from Houston bands"

Aug. 22, 2007

Sideshow Tramps, Medicine Show

This band of rabble-rousers used to be known as the Medicine Show and used to throw down some wild Monday-night parties at Helios. The name has changed and the Helios parties are over, but the music is as good as ever.

The Tramps' folk-Americana-blues-punk mélange was given a careful treatment in the studio, ably capturing the band's electrifying live performance. Standouts include John Went Up to Heaven, a knee-slapping bluegrass tune; the gypsy-jazz feel of Funeral Song; and a bit of rockabilly on Rag Tag Mess Around.

With a running time of just over an hour, you'll get your money's worth on this exuberant musical tome about life, death, sex and, religion. The icing on the cake is the glorious, 9-minute tribute to vodka featuring Two Star Symphony. Simply put, this is a fun listen from one of Houston's most entertaining live bands.

Available at CDBaby.com, Sig's Lagoon, Sound Exchange and Soundwaves.
- Houston Chronicle - Sara Cress


"various blogs"

UH STUDENTS AGAINST SWEAT SHOPS –Tim O’Brien
Fair Trade concert
October 16th, 2007
Students for Fair Trade had a conscious raising concert in the UC Arbor today (Tuesday October 16) . Giant Princess played first followed by the Sideshow Tramps. The youngest member of the Students Against Sweatshops, Yuna O’Brien clapped her hands in approval for both bands.


GROOVEHOUSE – Houstonist/flickr
October 13th, 2007
Sideshow Tramps Belt It Out…
This band is a helluva lot of a fun! Fun to watch and listen.


NONALIGNMENT PACT – Ramon Medina
July 28th, 2007
…Sideshow Tramps (@ Hard Rock Café) Formerly the Medicine Show. The new name doesn't do it for me but there's no denying the band their dues! Maybe this year I can get inside the club to see them.


SUGARSKULL.COM – Kristen Davenport
Back in Texas
June 21st, 2007
…I’ve been lisening to the sideshow tramps/medicine show a lot the past day or so, because chantal introduced me to them. I like this type of music a lot. it reminds me of the murderin’ cannons. Tomorrow I’m going to a Jerry’s Kids show, and I’m pretty excited about that!


SJI TUBE – nonotes
Jun 18th, 2007
St. James Infirmary
A couple of years ago I did some research into the song "St. James Infirmary," wrote up what I found, emailed that essay to friends and posted it on my web site (as part of a series of "Letters From New Orleans," as I was living in that city at the time)…
Here’s a sort of growling, quasi-jam bandish version, by The Sideshow Tramps, addressing the similaritities between the tune to “SJI” and the later “Minnie The Moocher” by basically merging them. Then it moves into “John The Revalator.” It goes on for nearly 10 minutes. Also, there’s a drum solo.


WHAT DO YOU CALL THIS GENRE? - Canine Diamond
June 18th, 2007
I've developed a low-grade obsession with this particular genre of music but I'm not sure if it has its own name or not. It gets lumped in with all those other ambiguous folk/punk/old-time/blues influenced subgenres that are so popular right now, but I'm starting to notice enough bands that pretty much follow a similar idea that I'm wondering if it doesn't warrant its own tag.

I've gotten in the habit of thinking of it as "jug-band noir". Jug-band or early jazz (which now falls into the old-time category) seems to be the prevailing sound but there's heavy influence from country, purer blues, punk (I never thought I would learn to see punk as useful, but I'm beginning to see its value as a secondary or tertiary classification), sometimes reggae, and other things.

In some ways, the Scud Mountain Boys, of whom I was a big fan when I was in college, are on the fringes of this (early purveyors, perhaps). A case could be made for Scott Biram, although he could pretty well carry his own subgenre.

The Devil Makes Three (California: This is really my favorite of the "jug-band noir" sound)

The Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir (Canada: These guys are more Scud-ish than some. Like the Scuds on meth.)

the Sideshow Tramps (Houston: More electric blues, swing, and punk sound than I prefer, but they have it in them to do jig-band. At least, they did until Hambone checked into the gray-bar hotel, but that's a long story.)
- www


Discography

New Album, Revelator, to be released Jan. 2011
The Burdener (2009)
Sideshow Tramps - Medicine Show (June, 2007)
Medicine Show - Live at KTRU (January, 2005)
We can be found on cdbaby.com, myspace.com, itunes.com...

Photos

Bio

John Nova Lomax, relation of famous American roots music chronicler John Lomax and long time music editor of the Houston Press, says: “Both their album and live shows find folk styles from everywhere, from New Orleans, to west Virginia, to Minsk, getting tossed into a blender and coming out as ordered chaos, one of those dissolute trips to the gypsy sin palaces Russian aristocrats were always sliding into on their way to ruin in the works of Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky.”

Hayes Carll, long time fan of the band, says, “I used to come out and watch them play at Helios all the time. I have never seen anything like it.” Hank Schyma of the Southern Backtones says, “This is a new kind of rock band.”

They hit their audiences with a powerful high-energy show that earned them the “best stage act” from the Houston Press Music Awards. Their live show has often been called a religious experience. Perhaps this stems from Scott McNeil’s vast knowledge of world religions and mysticism or Craig Kinsey’s four-year stint as a monk in a secluded monastery in the Ozark Mountains. No matter the reason, it is safe to say you have never seen a show like this.

Concerning the band’s music and live show Craig Kinsey said, “We had this idea to produce a live show that imitated all the dynamic of coitus. To achieve this, we had to do lots of research.” Kinsey grins. “We do not have a set list. We listen to the crowd and respond to her. If something we are playing isn’t touching them the right way we move with that and flow organically until we hit the spot that is good for us, and the audience. Once there, we are relentless. Just look at the faces of people in the videos and pictures of our shows. I think you’ll see that a picture is worth a thousand words. There’s not much more I can say about it really. Music, when it is fulfilling its purpose, should be highly erotic and liberating. If I may use the words of Bon Scott, once people see our live show everybody comes and comes again.”

Some of the band’s instruments are handmade by members Shane Lauder and Geoffery Muller including a cigar box guitar and saw. This musical assortment has won Muller the Houston Press Music Awards’ “Best Multi-Instrumentalist in Houston” year after year. To date, they (individually and as a group) have collected multiple awards and accolades. The Sideshow Tramps diversity has allowed them to play festivals as assorted as The Houston International festival, Hayes Carll’s Stingaree folk festival, San Antonio Indie Fest and a host of venues including the House of Blues, Continental Club, Helios (where The Sideshow Tramps made their notorious start), and even nursing homes for a rapt audience of about 40 elderly folks.

Sideshow Tramps formed gradually. Old friends Scott McNeil and Craig Kinsey played bluegrass with Geoffery Muller on the front porch of a house on the University of St. Thomas campus, where Kinsey and Muller are alumni. They put on a stage extravaganza at UST patterned after the old American traveling medicine shows, complete with bearded ladies, strong men, swamis, and pirate songs. Drummer, Shane Lauder, soon joined the group. To the surprise of the band, after an open mic night done on a lark, the group was asked to play every Monday night at Houston’s Helios. Soon the Monday night crowd of five to ten people was transformed into a packed house of bizarre and eclectic fans ranging in age from early teens to senior citizens. This humble beginning created a scene the Houston Press dubbed “the front porch vanguard” which has spawned numerous tours and other bands of similar style.