Dead Man's Bones teams with magician Rob Zabrecky for two shows in Eagle Rock
Call them actors if you must, but Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields are performers. And with their band, Dead Man’s Bones, they are proving that there is a difference.
This weekend at Eagle Rock's Center for the Arts the band—joined by magician and former Possum Dixon front man Rob Zabrecky—will stage its second series of L.A. shows (after the October release of its self-titled debut album on Anti) in what Gosling and Shields hope to cultivate into an ongoing series of vaudeville-style special events featuring a rotating cast of characters, music and supernatural art forms.
They’ll play their music—a dark and murky-sweet stew of 1950s-style do-wop singed with the organ-heavy longing of early ‘60s lo-fi acts like the Zombies, and flavored with a dash of the aching minimalism harnessed by the traveling minstrels of the ‘30s.
But that’s just the beginning. Channeling a postmodern ethic, Dead Man’s Bones intends to make the audience as much a part of the show as the performers on stage. The result being that this is not a band of actors turned musicians, but rather a pair of like-minded friends exploring the rich depths of their creative potential, be it theatrical, musical or otherwise.
“We’re treating this particular show more as a party—a birthday party vibe, or a dance party with kids,” said Shields.
“There’s gonna be a bouncy castle and a chocolate fountain,” added Gosling. “And when they walk in everyone gets a cupcake.”
In addition, the show’s promoters (FYF) have posted the following request on their website, “We are encouraging everyone attending these shows to wear attire that would resemble a 50's dance. This is not a show. This is an event. This is a sock hop. The dance you've been waiting for…”
“The show is going to be presented in a very unorthodox fashion,” explained Zabrecky, who in addition to being a mainstay at Hollywood’s Magic Castle will serve as the show’s host and resident mentalist. “When you go see a rock band there’s that 40-minute set from the band, and although I don’t want to say what it is, this won’t be that at all.”
To that end, rather than having an opening band the shows will feature a rag-tag assemblage of performers including the magician/harpist Tina Lenert and a number of others who appeared with Zabrecky for a series of shows called the Brookledge Follies, which were staged at Brookledge, a private residence in Hancock Park.
“The Magic Castle opened in 1963, but prior to that magicians were kind of hanging around this private residence that still includes a very large theater in the back of the property,” said Zabrecky. “It’s very special and it’s haunted, and the family that started the Magic Castle still lives there.… So we formed a kind of vintage spook show—it wasn’t something that we sold tickets for, it was a word-of-mouth thing—and Ryan and Zach found their way there one evening and they liked the show, which is inspired by old-timey vaudeville.”
“We fell in love with that place and what was happening, and we are trying to do our own version of that in Eagle Rock,” said Gosling.
If a cupcake-fueled 1950s sock hop and a vintage spook show don’t sound compatible at first glance, that’s because they aren’t. But in the spectral universe of Dean Man’s Bones, where the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir—painted like little skeletons—sing backup lyrics like, “My body’s a zombie for you,” or “When I think about you flowers grow out of my grave,” a grim playfulness comes as naturally as Gosling’s booming and surprisingly deep baritone voice.
“When I learned about Dead Man’s Bones I just fell in love with everything about the group,” said Zabrecky. “I felt they were trying to capture that childlike abandonment, that place of wonder and mystery that you have when you’re a little kid.”
True to form, Gosling and Shields will have members of the children’s choir join them on stage again (the revelatory use of these little phantoms was a key conceit of the album), but they will also try out some new material on the crowd.
Since the record was basically a concept album—born out of an initial longing to create a ghost-monster love story musical—it’s natural to wonder if they intend to stick with the supernatural theme as they move forward.
“I don’t think we can avoid it at this point,” said Shields. “But that world, it’s a big world—that underworld. And there’s a lot to explore down there, and we’re going to get a couple of flashlights. And guitars.”
Photo: Rob Zabrecky. Credit: August Bradley