- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players

Vintage Slide Collections From Seattle, Vol. I

Bar None Records

The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players call themselves an “indie-vaudeville conceptual art-rock pop band” that “turns the lives of anonymous strangers into pop-rock musical exposes.”

Got that?

Sure, it sounds precious, but the Trachtenburgs don’t take it seriously for a second. The paterfamilias, Jason Trachtenburg, is the bespectacled mastermind of this project, potentially exciting the musical ambitions of every audio-visual geek with a sardonic sense of humor.

A singer-songwriter who has flitted from New York to Austin, Texas, and finally to Seattle, Mr. Trachtenburg plays upbeat vaudeville piano and rock guitar. His young daughter, Rachel, occasionally bangs on drums, and not half-badly.

His pal Chris Ballew of the Presidents of the United States of America chips in on bass guitar.

Mr. Trachtenburg writes comical lyrics based on slide shows salvaged from estate sales, garage sales and thrift shops, turning family vacations and childhood memories into punch lines. Many of the slides are included in the CD liner notes, and others can be accessed on the disc itself if you have a personal computer handy. When the brood plays live, his wife, Tina, projects said slide shows onto a big-screen backdrop, giving the whole thing a campy performance-art sheen.

“Vol. 1” is funny on a couple levels, the most obvious being the slapstickery; less obvious is a sly, anti-capitalist subtext. The “Funniest Home Video”-type sight gags are straightforward enough, and Mr. Trachtenburg milks many an easy joke. “Do you gotta wear those treasures,” goes one line, which, in the liner notes, is the caption to a shot of roller skaters in ugly ‘70s-vintage striped slacks. “European cars were built to last /European cars don’t drive too fast,” Mr. Trachtenburg and his daughter chirp, accompanied by a slide of a pair of compact European cars.

Sometimes the gags are literal. An out-of-focus shot of someone riding a bicycle leads to the line, “We’ll take a trip on a fast blurry bike.” Elsewhere, they’re less concrete. In “Fondue Friends In Switzerland,” a risible picture of a pair of rotund nuns inspired Mr. Trachtenburg to muse, “Some feel religion is bound to fold / But others disagree and do as they’re told.”

The back half of “Vol. 1,” though, takes the cake — the Big Mac, actually. In this vaguely sinister six-song suite, Mr. Trachtenburg gleans cruel comedy from a 1977 internal report commissioned by everybody’s favorite corporate punching bag, McDonald’s. I say cruel because middle managers are easy targets, and at that level, running a business is inherently unglamorous. I would like to see Mr. Trachtenburg try it for a day. Still, I would be lying if I denied finding “What Will the Corporation Do?” laugh-out-loud funny.

In “Wendy’s, Sambos and Long John Silver’s,” the Mickey-D’s mavens fret about competitors “using network television to take advantage of efficiency.” In “Together as a System We Are Unbeatable,” two bullet points confirm the worst fears of every anti-big-business lefty who has ever protested a global trade meeting. “Need for unity and increased contribution more important today than ever before,” one says. “Must stop competition before they become strong” and “more difficult to combat.”

Mr. Trachtenburg may or may not think McDonald’s is evil, but his ability to set clunky business English to bubble-gum music is genius. The Trachtenburgs finish off “Vol. 1” with “Believing in You,” a redeeming poke at themselves. Here’s looking forward to “Vol. II,” which reminds me of something. Memo to self: Phone home and advise parents to burn old family slide shows immediately.

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