Fingerpickin' Good

Bad Livers

The tuba confuses the punks, and the Iggy Pop covers tend to baffle the old folks, but by the end of their live shows, Austin's Bad Livers have usually won everyone over, whether they're playing a bluegrass festival or a rock club. Beginning with the twangy "Lust for Life" cover they recorded in Butthole Surfer Paul Leary's living room, Livers founders Danny Barnes and Mark Rubin have pooled their classical training and their stints in klezmer and punk bands and struck a balance somewhere between anarchy and anachronism. Theirs is a mix of woozy bluegrass breakdowns with fierce fingerpicking runs, vintage balladry à la Bill Monroe, comic lyricism, echoes of polka and Delta blues, and a white-hot multi-instrumental virtuosity, from the deliciously named Delusions of Banjerup through their most recent release, Industry and Thrift.

After spending much of last year reinterpreting old jazz 78s for a score to Richard Linklater's '20s bank robber flick The Newton Boys, the Livers extended themselves even further with Thrift, which layers the old-timey bluegrass acoustics of mandolin, banjo, stand-up bass, and accordion with electric instrumentation and drums. Folk purists needn't worry: "I'm Convicted," a rootsy collusion of banjo and steel guitar, laced with an insistent backbeat, stacks up beautifully alongside the hazy pop harmonies of "It's All the Same to Me," the sprightly klezmer arrangement of "A Yid ist Geboren inz Oklahoma," and the lead track, a curious little millennial ode called "Lumpy Beanpole and Dirt," which will forever redeem tuba solos. Hammerdown Turpentine opens the show Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. (at Texas), S.F. Admission is $10; call 621-4455. --Heather Wisner

 
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