Thankfully, we have Al Foul and the Shakes to keep us from parking it on the dance floor. For the uninitiated, Mr. Foul and his tremor-inducing rhthymatists Shannon Moreno (upright bass) and Joel Ford (drums) have been keeping things lively in this often somnambulant burg for many moons. Formed in 1993 with a lineup that included local legend Pigpen on the washtub bass, Foul and Co. have mined a particularly potent vein of raw rockabilly with ever-increasing prowess. These days, they're getting serious.
Having recently signed with Slimstyle Records, a label based in Tucson that distributes through Rykodisc, the erstwhile pompadour-wearers are all about the Work. That is, they are currently in the midst of a multistate tour; they've finally scrounged a reliable van; their first studio album, Spank That Ass, is ready to drop; and they have a committed label that has the time and the resources to properly promote them.
Now, the band has even larger aims, including possibly touring the South with San Diego scare-rockers Deadbolt, an ambition to tour Europe, and an overwhelming desire to take it to the people, wherever and whenever it is required.
Foul and his rough-and-ready sidemen have always been game for a spontaneous gig like some kind of backwoods rock and roll mariachi trio.
"If you're good at it, you can play for almost any kind of crowd," Foul says.
When the inevitable discussion of influences comes up, Foul cites the usual rockabilly suspects, naming two Charlies, Bennett and Feathers, and Carl Perkins as some of his heroes. But the largest debt Foul owes is to the Cramps, whose own exploration of the genre led Al Foul right to the good stuff. It didn't hurt that he worked in the Rounder Records warehouse in Somerville, Mass., before he left for the Old Pueblo. It was there he started down his musical path, working alongside fellows from the Queers, the Real Kids and Cheater Slicks, guys who collectively abetted his burgeoning passion for music. And though it's hard to detect, the Bahstuhn accent occasionally creeps out from behind his sublimely gravelly voice.
Al is perennially at the center of a three-ring circus of his own devising, but it's not limited to rocking. Theater has found its way into his repertoire. Earlier this year, the Double Zero hosted a series of Foul gigs that evolved into an elaborate-yet-slapdash theatrical presentation of The History of Al Foul that had more in common with pro wrestling than the Japanese puppet theater that found its way into one episode.
The whole thing started one week with some performance art that was abetted by none other than local blues exploder Bob Log III, he of the many helmets, and involved Mark Beef (of Tucson's Head Grenade) breaking beer bottles over headgear on loan from Log.
The next two installments consisted of carnival games for prizes (if a Schlitz can be considered a prize), and the aforementioned puppet theater (recounting Foul's birth and discovery of manhood and alcohol), respectively.
Then Beef and Foul really got going. First, they dealt with Al's tribulations with women, with Beef as The Woman. Foul recruited his friend Dave Munson to play him so he could narrate, and during that night's episode, Munson received his thanks. After Beef threw him through a table that had not been pre-weakened (calling to mind the brilliant cabinet-breaking scene in American Movie), Munson "got this huge shard (of wood) right up in his ass."
Subsequent Wednesdays saw Foul's abduction into white slavery, a trip to prison that resulted in a riot, and even his courageous battle with transsexuality. Tucson venues take note: Al seeks to stage the melodrama in its entirety, but needs the right place, "a place that doesn't mind if you smash 200 bottles, plates, tables, all that shit, and not freak out." Quixotic? Perhaps. But I wouldn't bet against him.
The theatrical moonlighting doesn't even approach the Al Foul live rock experience. The band breaks down the fourth wall every time it plays, making audience participation integral to its performances.
Perhaps its best-known number, "Spank My Ass," involves inviting all willing parties (females encouraged) to get on stage and whup some. The song's finale consists of a "drum solo" by Foul, but don't be confused if it sounds like the ministrations of an overzealous ham purveyor. Because that's exactly what it is.
What's more, they'll get any audience doing the Breathalyzer, a dance that recreates popular field sobriety tests (and what proper rocker can't relate to that?), or the Chickenwalk, or the Roach, the mysteries of which remain unexplained. Plus they'll just plain kick your ass with ripsnort hillbilly mayhem when they're not making you bop 'til you drop. Put simply, this is not a band for the fun-impaired. They're for the rest of us.
After touring through November, Al Foul and the Shakes will return to Tucson for a spell. Although the Old Pueblo now has a new live music venue, Che's Lounge, of which the band (and the author) is particularly fond, it still suffers from the lack of a good medium-sized rock venue since the demise of Club Congress as a consistently available rock forum. This hits the Shakes especially hard, because they miss out on opportunities to play with touring bands that skip Tucson for lack of an appropriate stage. "We lose out on tons of bands, bands that go from Austin straight to L.A. or Phoenix. Some of the best bands in this country are driving through here all the time, maybe just stopping for gas at the Triple T." While it's clear there's a need, there seems to be no rush to fill it.
But no matter; such limitations will hardly stop a band that crashes bars soliciting invitations to play. It seems Al Foul and Co. don't even need walls, much less a stage, to whip their musical mayhem out of their back pockets like a switchblade. And all of us are better off for it.
This Friday, November 3, will see the Al Foul and the Shakes record release party (at either Nimbus Brewery or Club Congress--call to see if they've sorted out the scheduling dilemna) and more ass-spanking than should reasonably be tolerated.