Phoenix Thunderstone

Picnic With the Dead

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There's always a redolent sexual energy at a Phoenix Thunderstone show, but whereas that's generally a violent and almost spastic energy, Picnic With the Dead reveals a slinkier, more subtle kind of sensuality. Singer/bassist Sean Heskett -- a man known for his predilection for full-frontal nudity -- sounds as if he's reclining on a plush, luxurious bed, wearing silk pajamas and sipping absinthe. And guitarist/singer Wendy Van Dusen is a pouty, bad little girl; when her voice joins along with his, like on the ultracool cover of Prince's "Free" and the moody, desert-vibe of "She," it's truly a match made in hell. The songs are generally simple, straightforward affairs: prominent drumbeats propel Van Dusen's bar chords and lead guitarist Hugh Yerburgh's tasty licks while Heskett's rudimentary bass playing provides an appropriately stripped-down foundation. This leaves plenty of room for odd sounds and eerie feedback, the former often provided by multi-instrumentalist Lemon De George, as he adds ragged, bluesy harmonica riffs and strangled saxophone bleats. Nowhere do they create a more creepy and frightening atmosphere than on "Moonshine Lover," mind-bending guitar and harmonica feedback melding with an ominous bassline and Heskett's warped, reverb-heavy vocals. Occasionally their lyrical terrain is a bit too well-traveled, like the doomed romance described in "Falling From Love," but their tales of sin and decadence seem disturbingly and effectively real.

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