Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players
Better than Jesus
by Grant Moser
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.)
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
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
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).