Like many a literary theory, anti-folk music is difficult to pin down. Some people will eulogise about it for hours, but ask them to define it and they’ll run away faster than a tutor confronted with the question ‘so what exactly is deconstruction?’ The only real consensus that is reached is that anti-folk always somehow seeks to overturn the conventions of mainstream music. Since I am only familiar with stateside acts such as Regina Spektor and Kimya Dawson, I was excited to find out what The Bobby McGees had made of the definition-resisting genre in our very own city.
Unfortunately, before The Bobby McGees took to the stage we had to endure the support acts: be it mellow rock or folk ballads about pirate ships, they all had guitars and mediocrity in common. One of the worst offenders was Red Shark in Vegas, who credit bands such as The Pogues and Nirvana with helping to mould their sound. However, my friend agreed with me that their most obvious influences were actually The Kooks and Razorlight – and neither of us was sure which was worse. Equally unfortunately, the lead singer’s imitation of Caleb Followill – apparent from his t-shirt and haircut – did not extend to his ability with a guitar.
When The Bobby McGees finally came on stage, they did everything in their power to make the stage their own. I can honestly say that I have never before seen a band dress their microphones in tinsel, blow bubbles and scatter sweets and glow sticks into the audience. I have also never before seen a band that makes music with a ukulele, an assortment of recorders and a musical saw before; but there’s a first time for everything.
Band members Eleanor and Jimmy created an experience that was strange and more than a little mind-boggling. Eleanor’s breathy, infantile voice seemed at odds with Jimmy’s brash and broad Scottish accent as the two of them sang, shouted and chanted their way through a series of short, often bizarre songs. Twisted and sometimes bitter lyrics such as “Please don’t dump me, I’ll hunt you down and kill you in your bed” are sung over sometimes cutesy and sometimes discordant backing music to maximise the audience’s confusion and the band’s ego.
The Bobby McGees certainly try their best to challenge popular music genres, and while I appreciate this ambitious aim, I think I’ll be sticking with tamer acts for the time being.