Jello Biafra has called Legendary Shack Shakers vocalist J.D. Wilkes “the last great rock and roll front man.” I don’t know about the “last” part, but I agree that there are not many singers left who can compare with Wilkes when it comes to capturing an audience’s attention.
I first saw the Shack Shakers about ten years ago when they were more or less a rockabilly band and Wilkes was a skinny guy in vintage shirt and horn-rim glasses who did hilarious pantomime-like routines while singing. Since then they’ve retooled and regrouped several times and have grown into something else: a weird mixture of swamp blues, bluegrass, Cajun music, polka, and punk rock, all steeped in a Southern Gothic aesthetic that Tennessee Williams would have envied. Wilkes now earns comparisons to Iggy Pop and Tom Waits. But even back when I first saw them, it was clear that the Shack Shakers had the potential to live up to the “legendary” in their name.
Wilkes, who lives in western Kentucky (though the band is based in Nashville), is also a cartoonist and is working on a film about the essence of Southern-ness, or something like that. Concepts get complicated with the Shack Shakers — surprisingly so for a band that tours with the likes of Southern Culture on the Skids and Reverend Horton Heat. The Shack Shakers’ most recent album, the impressive Pandelirium, was supposedly the conclusion of the “Tent Show Trilogy,” which was meant to explore global influences on Southern music. Or something like that — once again, the concept gets a little freaky. But no matter: just follow Wilkes wherever he takes you, and you’ll find something interesting.
LEGENDARY SHACK SHAKERS: The Casbah, Sunday, January 20, 8:30 pm. 619-232-4355. $12.