Slim Cessna’s Auto Club @ The Sunset Tavern
February 18, 2018, Seattle, Wash.
By Todd Terry
Church was definitely in session on a cold Sunday evening in Ballard last month. The temperature outside was near freezing, but inside Slim Cessna’s Auto Club were bringing their Gothic Americana fire and brimstone to the clubhouse-like environment of the Sunset Tavern.
The Auto Club is a six-piece group from Denver who create an intoxicating mix of country, rock, blues, gospel, and folk, all serving as a platform for the words of truth and tales of sin delivered by frontmen Slim Cessna and Munly Munly.
Cessna was tall and a bit imposing, bearded and bespectacled in his white cowboy hat and gold-toothed smile. Munly was gaunt and a bit spooky in his working class Goth western wear. As they traded verses and harmonized, the pair alternated between being the closest of musical companions, to being spiritual combatants locked in a battle as old as time. Together they are two of the most dynamic and compelling performers in contemporary live music, and they elevated the show to full on belt buckle rave up and revival.
Adding to the intimacy, Slim and Munly sang several songs while sitting on the monitors at the front of the stage, or from within the crowd itself. They shook hands and locked eyes with audience members while telling their tales of redemption and damnation.
Has Slim found salvation? Is Munly being cast out? When they sank to their knees on floor of the venue, the audience joined them. As the music built to a crescendo and they rose, we showed our faith in the Auto Club and rose with them.
For the last song of the encore, Slim played an instrumental version of “For the Good Times” by Kris Kristofferson on his phone, and sang along while the rest of band broke down their equipment. It was an unexpected and quiet note to end the set that made for genuinely poignant finale. It was a perfect “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” moment, but of course, it was at night.
Drink of Choice:
A happy hour paloma at The Sexton, an Asahi Super Dry at Shiku, and Rainier Tall Boys at The Sunset.
Guests were dressed for the cold, meaning the audience was awash with smiling faces in black hoodies. The excitement of the band’s performance was contagious, with at least one noticeable exception. Right near the front of the stage there was a sullen young man in black leather jacket who was a dead ringer for Blake Anderson from Workaholics. He was not having any of the musical shenanigans that evening. No sir, he did not like it… he did not like it one bit.
From the Stage:
During the encore, Slim pulled a $5 bill from his pocket and asked if someone could get him a Miller High Life. He went on to explain that he, like his grandfather, father, and son, was a Coors man, but that High Life was a suitable replacement. He explained that his grandfather was a Cadillac salesman who would always keep the trunk of his car filled with Coors. His son, George Cessna, who was the evening’s opening act, proudly wore a Coors beanie during his set. I guess the Rocky Mountain Spring Water runs deep in the Cessna family.
Most Valuable Player:
Picking a favorite from the Auto Club members is not an easy task. I could have easily gone with Rebecca Vera on pedal steel and organ. She also added haunting background vocals. Another contender was Lord Dwight Pentacost on his amazing Jesus and Mary double-necked guitar, but in the end I had to go with the one and only Munly Munly. In Fugazi terms, Munly is the Guy Picciotto to Cessna’s Ian MacKaye. He resembled a younger Peter Murphy who played banjo and was prone to an occasional flamenco style dance move, so there was a lot to love. On several occasions, I thought I heard a little bit of “Rainbow Connection” in his banjo playing, but that may have just been wishful Muppet thinking.