Thomas Truax photograph by Andy Werner

Thomas Truax / The August List / Huck @ The Art Bar, Oxford, 19/04/14

Huck’s voice is a fascinating thing, a delicate, charred blues keen that can be roughly triangulated from Chris Isaak, Neil Young and Kermit. The songs he’s playing tonight, with a second guitar to add electric trills, all come from his folk operetta Alexander The Great, which isn’t about Alexander Of Macedon (or even Eric Bristow), but appears to be a beat-flavoured rites of passage tale. The full stage show is coming to town soon, and should be well worth a visit, but perhaps the songs feel a little thin without the theatrical element: they have all the grand dramatic gestures, as well as a dollop of highly literate tragedian’s nouse that can throw Pandora, Babel and Thomas Aquinas into a single lyric, but sometimes feel sparse when we yearn for a big, Jacques Brel arrangement. The final number ramps up the gutsy bluesiness in a way that unexpectedly reminds us of PJ Harvey circa To Bring You My Love, and provides the set’s highpoint.

There’s not much we can tell you about The August List except that they’re great: they’re the sort of act that encapsulates you for 30 minutes, and leaves you realising you’ve still got a blank notebook. We could tell you that ‘All To Break’ sounds like Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ rewritten by Johnny Cash and played by The White Stripes, or that their cover of Scout Niblett’s ‘Dinosaur Egg’ has the rootsy quirkiness of a downhome Lovely Eggs, but what really matters is that this duo has the unhurried, natural sonic chemistry of all your favourite boy/girl duos, and a neat way with a high octane country blast like ‘Forty Rod Of Lightning’. Alright, some of the yee-hah accents are of dubious provenance, but the music is wistful and frenetic by turns, and one tune features a Stylophone, so they’re clearly not too in thrall to deep South influences to add a cheeky Brit wink.

Stick insect thin and surrounded by home-made mechanical instruments, Thomas Truax looks like he’s come direct from a scene cut from Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride. His creations, such as the Hornicator and Mother Superior, are either too well known to require a description, or too alien to be captured by one, but tonight’s set really brings home the quality of his songwriting – we’ll be honest, we thought we’d seen all he could offer, and that tonight’s show would be a tired trot through his cabaret schtick, but we were wrong. A straight, eerie ballad version of Bowie’s ‘I’m Deranged’ turns up early in the set, and quickly confirms that Truax is a talented performer without all the trappings (even as it confirms that he ain’t David Bowie), and from there it’s only a short hop to the abstract campfire howl of ‘Full Moon Over Wowtown’, performed acoustic in every cranny of the venue, including a quick jog round the block and a free shot of tequila behind the bar. ‘The Butterfly And The Entomologist’ is still a beautiful tale – and surprisingly apposite for Easter weekend – and a slow, treacly cover of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ is a proper dues-payin’ roadhouse grind. Perhaps the evening’s high point is ‘You Whistle While You Sleep’, which uses our favourite instrument, the Stringaling, to build a cubist house loop à la Matmos, before cutting to allow Truax to improvise insults to a loudmouth at the bar (who stayed wonderfully oblivious for the whole tirade). Truax has enough tricks and techniques to last a roomful of musicians a lifetime, but this set proves that it’s in good old-fashioned composition and performance that he really shines.

  • Dickie Dogisdone

    A great review David.
    As August List encapsulates, your words captivate. And as a new initiate to Truax I was mesmerised and fascinated by the performance. When will he be coming to Brighton?
    We will be looking out for him.

    D Dogisdone

  • David

    “Encapsulates”? “Captivates”, I meant. Sorry about that. Come on, editor, where were you when you were needed? Yuk yuk.