Duke Aeroplane & the Wrong Numbers are a sister project of noted local “suspender fusionists” the Vermont Joy Parade. The two bands share a handful of members, a similarly vintage fashion sense — think extras from the film Gangs of New York — and, most importantly, a propensity for clever, energetic music and a flair for the dramatic. On their latest recording, Live on Buck Mountain, Aeroplane and company deliver a live album that could serve as a devilishly bawdy companion to VJP’s own recordings. But it seems a shame that this raucous record would be overshadowed by that band’s studio offerings. Because behind the handlebar mustaches, bowler hats and suspenders, the heart of VJP lies in the band’s lively, creative spirit and undercurrent of pleasant debauchery. And as excellent as the VJP’s studio records are, the best way to experience the band is in person, ideally with a few Tom Collins or Old Fashioneds, with dozens of your closest, sweatiest friends. It is here that Live on Buck Mountain emerges from the shadow of the Joy Parade. It is an experience unto itself.
Everything about this record is meant to evoke a sensory experience, from the 13 playfully haphazard tracks — a woozy mix of music, stage banter and glass clinking — to the album’s packaging, a brown paper bag that’s sealed with wax and includes lyrics typewritten on yellowing parchment. The result is an immersive work that achieves that rarest of feats: It actually makes home listeners feel like they’re part of the show.
Following a lengthy piano intro, the band digs into Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed.” Save for the melody, Aeroplane’s version is hardly recognizable — think Dylan by way of Tom Waits’ classic live album Nighthawks at the Diner. It’s a bleary-eyed, blues- and booze-soaked jumble. After the song, pianist and vocalist Galen Peria, aka Duke Aeroplane, tells the crowd he’s spilled his beer all over his piano. That sets the evening’s tone of revelry.
Following another cover, this time Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready,” we get the first of five Peria originals, “Famous Last Words.” It’s a rousing, accordion-fueled cut, laced like much of Peria’s writing with a thread of impending doom. But, typically, that sense of mortal dread is leavened by a devilish streak. It’s pointed but playful stuff.
The album closes on another original, “Working Is a Curse.” The song is a clever lament of the loss of idle time in favor of keeping one’s nose to the grindstone. A rousing, anthemic sing-along chorus nods to famed curmudgeon Oscar Wilde, a clear literary influence on the band. “Working is a curse! Working is a curse!” sing band and crowd. Then, “It’s the curse of the drinking class!”
Whether in concert or in the comfort of home, Live on Buck Mountain suggests we can all drink to that.
Live on Buck Mountain is a very limited release — ours was one of 33 copies, according to the hand-numbered brown paper bag. So finding the album could be a challenge. In the meantime, you can check out the music of Duke Aeroplane & the Wrong Numbers at dukeaeroplane.com.