The Legendary Shack Shakers w/Mystery Twins, The Dirt Daubers and Pine Hill Haints at Mercy Lounge, 11/17/12

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It’s a major bummer when an artist is sidelined by circumstances fully within his or her control, but it’s not much consolation when the situation is completely beyond their reach. Last spring, legendary blues-hillbilly-punk ensemble The Legendary Shack Shakers got some frightening news: Longtime drummer Brett Whitacre’s occasional blackouts were due to an electrical malfunction that caused his heart to stop momentarily, and he would need help if he didn’t want his brief spells of clinical death to become permanent. Thirty-six-year-old Whitacre was fitted with a pacemaker, which kept his metronome in good working order, but left the uninsured musician with over $60,000 in hospital bills.

Though Whitacre can and does still play, everyone in the Shakers camp agreed that the end of the season would be a good time to recharge from their grueling years of touring and focus on other projects. Through Scene staffer Randy Fox’s report, The Spin was pumped to learn that the Shakers would hold their pre-hiatus sendoff at Mercy Lounge, and that it would double as a chance to pass the hat for Whitacre’s medical fund.

Rock o'clock was still a ways off when we mounted the Mercy staircase Saturday night, but one-half of Pine Hill Haints was already serenading a packed house dotted with biker jackets and flannel. Forgoing the usual libations, we threaded our way to the front to get a better view of Jamie Barrier and his wife, Kat, working the crowd with a semi-acoustic set rooted in traditions much older than electric power. Though usually augmented by bass and percussion, the two core Haints relied on their delivery and the quality of the songs themselves to hold the audience spellbound, despite their bare arrangements featuring mandolin and fiddle alternating with guitar.

This was excellent foreshadowing: Though the rest of the bill had the benefit of powerhouse accompaniment, performance would remain the key to carrying the crowd, as The Dirt Daubers exhibited when they took the stage next. J.D. Wilkes, ringleader of both the Shakers and the Daubers, bounded into the spotlight, grinning and whooping like a tent revival preacher as the band ripped into a number called “Let It Fly.”

Wilkes’ wife Jessica is no slouch on the stand-up bass, but she really shone when her turn came in front of the mic, where the long, cool woman in a blue dress offered a perfect contrast to her coiled spring of a husband. Her delivery reminded us of Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughan, pointing up the cool undercurrent of jazz and R&B that helps differentiate The Dirt Daubers’ own boiling energy from a second coming of the Shakers. Guitarist Rod Hamdallah, a recent addition to the Daubers and the replacement for The Jesus Lizard's Duane Denison in the Shakers, let nothing disturb his Zen-like calm during his fireball runs up and down the neck. One fan hollered, “J.D. Wilkes, you’re more of a man than my stepfather ever was.” No one was going to argue with him.

At the end of their set, the Daubers announced the night’s first surprise guest: Next up would be local favorites Mystery Twins, the duo featuring Stephanie Brush and Doug Lehmann of The Clutters. Aside from some new lighting gear — which helped them look more, um, mysterious — the Twins didn’t offer much that was out of the ordinary in their set, but that’s just another way of saying it was awesome. Their harmonies may not be as tight as Mickey and Sylvia or The Everly Brothers, but we can’t imagine a better way to accompany the Twins’ rock 'n' roll take on “Love is Strange,” Petula Clark’s “Heart,” Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man” or their own fist-pumping originals, like the A-side of their new 7-inch, “Arrow.”

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Without any further ado, the main event was at hand. It was hard to believe there were many stops left after The Dirt Daubers’ set, but Wilkes and the Shakers found and pulled out all of them as they feverishly dished out their delicious elixir of Chicago blues, mountain music, hardcore punk and possession by tongues of fire. We were glad to see Whitacre looking healthy: Being dead at least three times hadn’t slowed him down a bit, and his double-kick-drum blast drove the band like a gale-force wind. Propelled to a frenzy, Wilkes bounced all over the stage, pulling faces, miming a machine gun to Whitacre’s fills, trying on hats thrown by the audience, all woven in and around his growling, howling sermons and searing harmonica lines that a blind person could easily confuse for Alvin Lee’s guitar work.

Four songs into the set, Wilkes’ shirt was gone; shortly thereafter, he surfed the crowd while screaming the lyrics to “CB Boogie,” on which former drummer Paul Simmons (currently of The Reverend Horton Heat’s band) sat in. Their furious version of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” possibly beat the original, and The Rolling Stones’ cover doesn’t come close (and Exile on Main St. is on our desert-island list). No wonder Robert Plant invited them to open for him!

As the evening drew to a close, there was one last guest appearance: The band was augmented by Nathan Brown and Todd Anderson, who were part of the original Shakers lineup in 1996, and jumped right in as though they hadn’t missed a day. We left supremely glad this doesn’t mark the end of the road for any of the players involved, and that a Shakers reunion sometime in the future has not been ruled out.

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