The gospel according to Reno
Bands should sound like the place they’re from. It’s irritating when a band from, say, Fallon sounds like they’re from London, England. Local murder balladeers Black Tabernacle, however, clearly hail from The Biggest Little City. Their tone of Old West desperation and gambling-town trashiness infused with mock religiosity is Reno all over.
“That gunfighter sound is the basis for everything we do,” says drummer Jed By Dawn. “We’ll go into anything—country, a Black Sabbath riff. But it all comes back to the gunfighter thing.”
It’s no wonder they cite classic Italian westerns like A Fistful of Dollars as a primary influence. Lead guitar slinger Minnesota favors a twangy tremolo and reverb tone reminiscent of the Ennio Morricone soundtracks for those movies as well as classic rockabilly and country. Rhythm guitarist Jerm, bassist Handsome Dan and Jed By Dawn provide a taut backdrop that combines the energy of punk with the ominous pomp of black metal, the fervor of gospel and the honky swing of country, all lubricated together with a dehydrating amount of alcohol.
“It’s the sound of a shack in the desert that’s only half there,” says Jed By Dawn.
“It’s a real dry sound,” says singer Pastor Pete “The Cheat.” “It’s like eating sand and then smoking cigarettes.”
Pastor Pete’s stage persona is that of a lecherous sham preacher, who’s drunk at the pulpit, spewing beer and bile and preaching the apocalypse. By turns, he sounds like a hostile carnival barker, an inebriated country crooner, a screeching desert madman and a yarn-spinning evangelical shuckster. His stage presence and vocal style remind me of a couple of precursors, notably The Cramps’ Lux Interior and The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow, but he has his own unique black menace.
But the whiskey revival theatrics don’t hinder the songs. “It’s not just a gimmick because we have the tunes to back it up,” says Jed By Dawn. It is hard to deny the songs. “I Come from the Woods,” for example, is a Civil War-era epic with strange honky-tonk to hardcore changes that would sound jarring in less skillful hands and a detailed narrative that would make Nick Cave shudder.
Plus, they know how to pick a perfect cover. If a legitimate band decides to do cover songs, they should only do so if their cover versions reveal something new about either the song or themselves. A recent Black Tabernacle set included songs by Duane Eddy, T. Rex and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Creedence cover, especially, was a revelation—a demonstration of the true horror inherent in “Bad Moon Rising.” (There’s been a recent trend of local bands covering CCR; perhaps some enterprising soul should organize a “Reno Salutes Creedence” compilation).
Don’t attend a Black Tabernacle show if you don’t feel like having beer sloshed in your face and the crunch of broken glass beneath your feet. The crowd gets into a rowdy, drunken frenzy. It’s especially exciting because the band, though quite intense, isn’t overly loud or teeth-kicking.
“It’s flattering that the energy gets so high at our shows,” says Jed By Dawn. “People come to the songs; we’re not jamming it down their throats.”
Adds Pastor Pete: “They come to us like people always come to a good sermon.”