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The Mighty Quintron

Blurring the lines between musician and machine, this French Quarter freak is the voice of evolution.

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The musical subculture of New Orleans' 9th Ward is as far removed from Middle America as the rarest of tropical birds. It's exotic to say the least and colorful to a fault. Overused modifiers like "quirky" can't even begin to tell the story. If John Kennedy Toole, author of A Confederacy of Dunces, could have located the right Jackson Square Tarot reader, looked deep into the future, and seen this motley assortment of outrageous artists, misbegotten oddballs, and inexplicable fashion disasters, he might never have committed suicide. It would have provided him with more than enough inspirational fodder to fill at least a dozen more fantastical novels, each as oddly charming as Confederacy. In fact, it's almost impossible to watch members of the 9th Ward posse -- such as MC Tracheotomy, a comically misanthropic Afro-sporting hip-hop Elvis impersonator -- without thinking about Toole's overeducated and disconnected antihero Ignatius J. Reilly.

Try watching one of Miss Pussycat's curious little pop-culture puppet shows without it conjuring up images of Reilly's accidental consort, the loud and liberated Miss Myrna, on an artistic tear. Try taking a drink at the indescribably nifty Saturn Bar, a popular 9th Ward watering hole so bizarre it makes Memphis' P&H Café seem as sterile as any Applebee's, without hearing Toole's character Sunglasses and his step-right-up declaration, "Guaranteed to get syphilis off the ice cubes." It's another world down there in N'awlins. And in that off-kilter world, Mr. Quintron, an impossibly skinny key-pounder with a devilish gleam in his eyes and the spirit of the Lord radiating from his fingertips, is the undisputed king.

The last time I saw Quintron perform it was 4 in the morning at his home/club opposite the Saturn Bar. We had just crossed the millennial border, as New Year's Eve 1999 became New Year's Day 2000. Prince would have been impressed. Quintron was standing shirtless behind a clear plastic curtain, sweating like James Brown, pounding out his signature gospel-drenched dance numbers to the charismatic delight of an overstuffed crowd. Even in January the humidity was thick, calling to mind one of Quintron's own comments. In an incredibly rare interview he once said something to the effect, "It's too hot in New Orleans to just make a lot of noise. The crowd won't stand for it." Hence Quintron's hypnotic blend of boogied-up carnival music played intensely, almost as if his lone organ heralded the second glory-soaked coming of Christ. Nick Diablo, the eclectic frontman for Memphis' American Deathray, stood on the front row, eyes rolling back in his head, shaking jelly-kneed as if he might fall out at any moment. All around hipsters of every stripe, vintage-clad martini-swillers, gutter punks, and rockers in their nattiest leathers did likewise. Anyone who wandered in on this show without expectations must have thought he had stumbled into the deepest pit of hell -- and found a tent revival going on.

Over the last decade Mr. Quintron has, along with his wife Miss Pussycat, created a catalog of recorded material that defies easy description. His most outstanding efforts include a solo LP titled Satan is Dead (Do the Stomp) and a collaboration with Memphis' premier punks the Oblivians on The Oblivians Play Nine Songs with Mr. Quintron. The former, with its monotone chants, circus-inspired melodies, and insane religious fervor, is augmented by an electronic device for the production of rhythmic noise called the "Drum Buddy." The D.B., Quintron's own invention, looks like a coffee can on a turntable, and it functions like a cross between a theramin and a drum machine. Beams of light shoot out from perforations in the can which, when interrupted by a passing hand, produce a series of piercing squawks and thudding beats. It's a handy tool for a one-man band. It is classic Quintron.

Nine Songs is a wee bit more accessible. Of all the Oblivians' fine releases, it is, largely due to Mr. Quintron's simmering organ work, their unqualified masterpiece. Just like fighting fire with fire, these two seemingly untamable forces nullified each other and in doing so opened the door to a new dimension. Nine Songs is the definitive voice of the Dirty (white) South. It's a smoking battlefield where the carcasses of the blues and rockabilly smolder in the wake of punk. It is the sound of evolution.

The talented Mr. Quintron, along with the lovely Miss Pussycat and the whole 9th Ward gang, is playing the Map Room on Friday, July 27th, with Memphis' own Virtual Girlz in tow. Let your freak flag fly.

You can e-mail Chris Davis at davis@memphisflyer.com.


local beat

Plan ahead -- In addition to the Great Southern Beer Festival (see page 47), there are a number of notable shows on tap for the next month or so. Get your calendars out and mark the following dates: On Friday, August 3rd, multiplatinum R&B force R. Kelly will be at the Mid-South Coliseum; buzz-worthy singer-songwriter Pete Yorn will be at Newby's on Wednesday, August 22nd; The White Stripes, one of the year's most hyped indie bands, will be at Earnestine and Hazel's on Monday, September 10th; and the electronica duo The Crystal Method will be spinning at the International Shell Complex on Monday, September 17th.

As for local shows, a British film crew will be in town on Saturday, August 4th, to film a Young Avenue Deli double bill of Lucero and The Subteens. Apparently, the Brits want to find out if rock music still exists in America outside of teen pop and nü metal, so their Memphis stop is likely to offer compelling evidence that it does. That same night, power-poppers Eighty Katie will be throwing a CD-release party at the Hi-Tone Café, to be followed by a second release party on Friday, August 10th, at Shangri-La Records. Also on the 10th, local metal heroes Saliva will have a coming home party of sorts at the New Daisy Theatre, their first local performance since their impressive set at the Beale Street Music Fest in May.

And, finally, Labor Day weekend will provide a couple of very promising local showcases. The Center for Southern Folklore will bring back its much-missed Memphis Music and Heritage Festival, while Shangri-La Records will celebrate the release of a book/CD project on Memphis garage bands of the Seventies by bringing back some of those bands for a reunion show on Saturday, September 1st.

Other news of note -- The Oxford American's annual music issue is out, with a profile of Memphis soul star Ann Peebles by local writer and sometime Flyer contributor Andria Lisle There will be a tribute concert for late local musician Craig Shindler on September 22nd at the Overton Park Shell. Anyone interested in helping with this event should contact Karen Rockett at cstribute@aol.com Al Green will be honored by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation on October 4th at Harlem's historic Apollo Theatre. Green will receive the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award. Other honorees will include Stax vocal trio The Emotions and Brinkley, Arkansas, jump-blues legend Louis Jordan The Web site for local label Makeshift was mistakenly given as www.makeshiftrecords.com a few weeks ago. The actual address is www.makeshiftmusic.com.

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