Zach Shields and Ryan Gosling’s spook-rock experiment, Dead Man’s Bones, came to life in full force on Sunday, June 27, 2010 at Eagle Rock Center for the Arts. Joined on stage by ghost cowboys, magicians, mentalists, marionettes, and a kid’s choir (who named themselves “ A Warm Glass of Milk” for the evening), Dead Man’s Bones turned Sunday straight into an all ages Halloween Prom, with a generous helping of balloons, cotton candy and popcorn.
A massive queue around the block before doors at eight said it all. Dead Man’s Bones isn’t just a flicker of a candle; this band is real, even if they’re pretending to be grave dwelling zombies for the sake of song. Pompadours and pin up girls, secretary sweaters and more flannel than a Walmart in Wyoming, Eagle Rock was alight with vaudeville aficionados on their tip-toes to experience the resurrection of the variety hour. And Dead Man’s Bones delivered.
But they didn’t do it alone. This wasn’t just a concert, this was a lesson in the obscurer arts. The Ghost Cowboy brought the center to its knees with his painful picking and wail to a prop ghost, “You invented me!” Lit up in blue, he cast a spell, or sang us into one, with all the lilting sorrow of a dying campfire and a man on the run. A non-speaking performance by a master of the Theremin followed with so much creepy flying saucer action, we felt like we were being abducted by hipster aliens. Accompanied by wild-west piano, the speakeasy that was this stage made prohibition seem utterly dreamy. Rob Zabrecky gave us paper magic and his wistful brand of tap dancing. His uber thin frame teetered and wobbled like the marionettes (operated by Bob Baker Marionettes’ clan) that soon followed. The cranky mentalist shtick (bad psychics always get a laugh) brought up volunteers from the audience and cracked jokes about dead (wait-or-are-they-alive?) grandmothers and he slammed us for not being dead still when he needed to concentrate. Then the waif-like Tina Lenert made magic with rings and silk and joined Rob Zabrecky on the harp for a placid version of “Paper Moon.” The ensemble felt cohesive and warmly homey.
And then the big draw. Shields and Gosling poured onto stage like the “Dead Hearts” in their song. Gosling’s falsetto capped like a cherry Sunday Shield’s merciful crooning. In moments, the two silenced us all. The center felt stunned. Girl fans nervously giggled at quiet moments and their giggles were misplaced. Dead Man’s Bones is simply not a Hollywood-type-side-project. Shields and Gosling shed their heart-throb image from the first belting of “keep on walking til I find you,” a somber, but almost predatory ballad.
When The Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir joined Shields and Gosling on stage, the two men lit up. It’s a thing of magic. They so heartily welcomed the unpredictability and the possibility that the kids bring to the performance (though no major kid gaffs occurred). The children sung heavy lyrics about trying to die and being zombies and losing souls and they danced like it would bring rain made from candy and popsicles. Here, the anachronism works. The profound and the morbid are made celebratory when 15 cherubic nubiles give the funeral-like-eulogies a go. There’s something oddly soothing about children embracing the darkness that makes the darkness not so looming and ominous.
It should be said there’s nothing cutesy about this choir, and Shields and Gosling are the first to admit it, giving the stage to two stellar singers (Macy, 18, and Dakota, 16) for really, honestly, good versions of “Bad Romance” and “House of the Rising Sun.” On top of that, we had our faces melted by young Cosmo and his incredible interpretive dance to “Pa Pa Power” (think Punky Brewster dancing as fast as she can). These kids go for it.
Dead Man’s Bones played most of their songs from their self titled release and rounded out the set with a new song (the name of which was not given), giving props to Gosling’s cousin, Bully, for learning the drum part in two days. We were asked to sit for most of the show and we pretended we were fourth grade zombies in Pleasantville under red, black and white balloons that decorated columns and the ceiling like swollen stars, while Shields, Gosling, and crew raised the dead.
The Dead Man’s Bones don’t have a ton of shows to catch but definitely catch one if you can.