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The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players
Better than Jesus
by Grant Moser

Photo by Donald
Graham (Paper magazine)

Dressed in matching shiny Vegas suits that Tina's mother makes for them, the Trachtenburg Slideshow Players (Jason, Tina, and their daughter Rachel) are kitsch and circumstance. Sounding like a combination of The White Stripes, Paul Schaeffer, Cabaret, and Schoolhouse Rock, they enrapture with their low-fi simplicity. Rachel, 9 years old, bangs away on the drums, and Jason, a neurotic Rick Moranis, plays the keyboards and sometimes harmonica. Tina, with vibrant red-purple pigtailed hair, rocks the slide projector.

The family was living in Seattle about three years ago when Tina came home with a slide projector and a box of slides from an estate sale. He looked at the slides (titled "Mountain Trip to Japan, 1959") that night and realized there was an interesting story. The more he looked at the pictures the more he realized he was becoming familiar with the characters. By the end of the evening (using the only skill he claims to have: songwriting), he began composing a tune based on the photos.

That next morning he sang the song to his wife and she loved it. He decided try the song and slides out at a show, incorporated his daughter Rachel to play drums, and The Slideshow Players were born. They were a hit in Seattle, but he was still working his day job, and he soon decided that they needed to take their act to the highest level; namely New York.

They are a sensation in New York, and especially Williamsburg. Let's be honest: Luxx on a Tuesday evening around 7 is normally not a busy time. So when I showed up there on March 18th and found a packed house, I was surprised. The floor in front of the stage was full of people sitting Indian-style, like we were at camp and the talent show was about to start. Well, it turns out we sort of were.

After they moved here late last year, they immediately sought out Williamsburg and began playing Galapagos, to instant acclaim. So much in fact, that within no time they were selling it out. They moved next door to Northsix to accommodate the burgeoning audience. (The show at Luxx was a last-minute move due to unfortunate circumstances at Northsix that was no fault of the club. This deserves a quick aside because while the clubs are technically competitors, they immediately cooperated to ensure the booked bands still could play in the neighborhood. "It's sort of magical that they'd do this in the name of art. It says something about the neighborhood," said Jason.)


The Slideshow Players' songs are odd, but in a familiar, homey sort of way. It's like post-millenial Schoolhouse Rock: they sing about death, public hangings, and graveyards; Vietnam, Watergate, Agent Orange, and eggs; 2 retired military nurses, Kappy and Jean; traffic school instructions; and a McDonald's corporate marketing meeting. And they're all hilarious and entertaining. You can't help but smile along throughout the show; it's what your parent's slideshows in the basement should have been like.

I inquire about Rachel and if she understands the things they sing about, which seem at times heavy for a young child; for example Agent Orange, Vietnam, and death. "Rachel knows about everything," Jason explains. "We home school her, and we explained the general concepts to her. I mean, I don't really understand Watergate when it comes down to it. But also remember that kids today see everything. They're exposed to it all."

And when I spoke with Rachel, she seemed to handle all my questions in stride. She was taking drum lessons before the Slideshow Players started, and she likes playing them. "I want to keep playing them, but one day maybe find another job too."

Rachel is an integral part of their celebrity. Audience members regularly yell out at shows for her. I ask how the attention is, and if kids her age treat her like a rock star. "My friends don't care I'm a rock star. Well, at shows some kids think I'm cool, but my best friends like me as a friend first. But it is fun being a rock star."

She hasn't helped write any songs yet, but sometimes helps choose what slides to use and when. However, she soon tells me: "I have written one of my own songs. Maybe I'll play it at a show soon."

When I ask her what music she or the family listens to at home, I receive a ten-minute listing of every band she likes. "Quasi, ELO, Led Zeppelin, Moldy Peaches, White Stripes [she knows she's been compared to Meg White and says "I like that"], Bicycle, The Beatles, Andrew Katz, Dorkweed, Nellie McKay, Regina Spector, Anna Copacabana, Liquid Tape Deck [who wrote a song about Rachel], Burt Bacharach, and The Cardigans."

(There were more, but my hand got tired and I just couldn't keep up. Sorry Rachel.)

I also asked her what she thought of moving to New York. "It's very fun and interesting. I like it here. And the people are nicer."

The whole family is glad to be here. "It's very cool to be able to do our art and make a living at it," Jason explained. "It's gratifying to win approval from New York, and from Williamsburg. We just want to keep the entertainment value high and raise the bar a bit."

I do ask about the shelf-life of this phenomenon and how long they think it can last. "We want to make five recorded volumes of our music. [They already have one CD available, and have another written.] I'm aware we have to continue with the slides for a while at least. There'd be an uproar if we got rid of them, and it'd also sell our audience short."

But that doesn't mean he isn't thinking ahead. Jason has always been a songwriter, and this new popularity has allowed him the chance to perform on his own from time to time. "My show at Sidewalk went well. The response was good, but compared to the Slideshow Players shows, the audience was small."

For more information, visit http://www.slideshowplayers.com.

The band is on tour but will return to NY in mid-April. See them April 26 at Roseland (with Kaiju Big Battel).





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