By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Puerto Muertois the weird and lovely brainchild of Tim Kelley and Christa Meyer, a married couple who have been writing songs together for a year and playing them live (previously under the name Johnny Deformed) for the past six months or so. Kelley strums an electric guitar and sings; Meyer also sings and, when the mood strikes, plays accordion and a stripped-down drum kit. Currently living in St. Louis, they've been trekking back and forth to Chicago's Runandgun! studio to record a seven-song CD, which they'll start selling at shows in mid-August. They have a few dates lined up in Toronto and New Orleans during the first part of August and a couple more in St. Louis; then they plan to relocate, maybe permanently, to New Orleans. (Aside to band: St. Louis is a beautiful, inexpensive city where your talent will surely flourish uh, whatever. Please don't leave us!)
A few weeks ago, after an opening set of ambient guitar-drone from local feedback expert Tony Renner, Puerto Muerto played a bewitching, all-too-brief set of originals for a handful of Way Out Club patrons. The band opened with "Jean Lafitte," a jaunty ballad about a pirate who kills Spaniards and Englishmen with equal aplomb: "The two are much the same," Meyer observed dryly in the voice of said pirate. While delivering the song's oddly fustian lyrics in a remorseless lilt, Meyer thrashed away at her bass drum as if she were punishing a naughty cabin boy. Kelley chimed in on the lusty chorus, which sounded something like a mixture of early Pogues, the Mekons and Kurt Weill. Next, in an agreeable nasal baritone, Kelley sang "Washtenaw River," a somber waltz about a drowned girl's grieving family, with Meyer contributing understated accordion.
The evening's highlight was "San Pedro," a spooky spaghetti-Western/cabaret number showcasing Meyer's startling, classically trained voice. In the space of one song, it's over-the-top operatic; it's cool and matter-of-fact; it's a scary snarl somersaulting into a manic wail. Just when you think, "Ah! Maria Callas," you start to hear Sally Timms; then, all of a sudden, it's Edith Piaf. Finally you submit to the voluptuous force of it and stop making dumb comparisons. (Asked about her vocal influences, Meyer said, "I can't really think of any one influence in particular. I do really like Sarah Vaughan.") Frazzled by a not-unfriendly but very drunk heckler and his tireless slurred requests for "House of the Rising Sun," Puerto Muerto ended their set after a mere seven songs. As they started to break down their equipment, an inspired Renner cheered, "Argh! More pirate rock!" Go see these guys while you still can. Buy their CD. Beg them to stay in St. Louis.