Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players

Many acts have visual or stylistic gimmicks (i.e., The Strokes’ hair or The White Stripes’ white stripes). Some have amusing novelties incorporated into their stage show (i.e., Metallica’s Lars Ulrich). But few – very few – have the ability to transcend the immediacy of the joke and create a heretofore unseen way to entertain the masses.

Enter the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. As the name implies, it’s a family, comprising singer/pianist/father Jason, nine-year-old daughter/drummer/singer/cutest-thing- you’ve-ever-seen Rachel, and costume designer/projectionist/mom Tina.

And yes, the words “slideshow” and “projectionist” were both used in that last paragraph. The Trachtenburgs scour estate and yard sales for strangers’ abandoned slides and create hi- freakin’-larious quirky pop gems based on the imagined lives of the frozen-in-time subjects (typically of the visually laughable era spanning the end of WWII to a time when it seemed like everyone had a bad comb-over). The images are projected on a screen at shows, perfectly timed to the lyrics of the songs.

The output can be described as the music that would be played on the sunny hillside where They Might Be Giants, Steven Sondheim and Rocky Raccoon meet to discuss the Utne Reader and the hold corporations have over Western society.

Jason Trachtenburg has been involved in the indie rock scene for more than a decade. A few years ago, he released a solo album, Revolutions Per Minute, assisted by Presidents of the United States of America’s Chris Ballew on indie label Orange.

Three years ago, when Rachel started playing drums, the Seattle-based family formed the band. In no time, the Trachtenburgs became the talk of the town – selling out clubs and landing coverage in all the local media.

“We’ve been doing it every day since about April 2000,” Jason told POLLSTAR, “entering talent shows, doing open mics, crashing various places, playing wherever we could because we knew we had something really special.

“This is our actual life. Our life is our act, and our act is our life. There’s no differential between the two.”

Then, at the end of 2002, at the height of their popularity in Seattle, the family packed up and headed for New York.

“Moving from Seattle to New York several months ago was the best career decision we’ve ever made,” Jason said. “We took our act as far as we could take it in Seattle. But it really wasn’t enough to make a living.

“So we said, ‘Let’s take this act to New York. If we can break into the top bands of New York, there’ll be the publicity that surrounds that in order to be a world act, an international act.’ Bands from New York get attention from all over the world. So we got up and left.”

Before even arriving in the Big Apple, Jason, the band’s primary songwriter, lined up a monthlong residency at the Fez nightclub. From there, the act landed in what must be every single publication in New York, from the New Yorker to Time Out New York to the New York Post. Other gigs and residencies followed, including a performance on Conan O’Brien’s late night show, the family’s own page on Comedy Central’s Web site and a press-frenzied appearance at South by Southwest.

Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players

Along the way, the Slideshow Players have toured with They Might Be Giants and headlined a club tour (booked by Monterey Peninsula Artists’ Brian Swanson) through the Midwest, which sold nearly all the tickets (Jason doesn’t say “sold out”).

Since the success of that two-week jaunt, the Trachtenburgs have launched a more ambitious club tour of the country, which also included stops at Bonnaroo and the family’s first tour dates in California. The Slideshow Players were scheduled to play Field Day and All Tomorrow’s Parties, but those events sputtered out in their own way.

Before the tour, Mother Tina was curious as to how the new audiences would react to the family’s show.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what California thinks of us,” she said. “New York has been amazing and people really love it. I think we have high hopes for California.”

As for how well the performance would translate from an intimate club with a few hundred people to an outdoor event with thousands, Tina was optimistic.

“I think they’re going to love it,” she said before Bonnaroo. “When we have a large crowd, that’s what happens. You think people are there to party and yell and scream, but when the performance starts, people are really very quiet and listening and taking it in.”

And that’s exactly what happened, Swanson said. Despite some production anxieties, the Bonnaroo set – in a tent to 4,000 to 5,000 people – got the crowd humming, even those who couldn’t see the slides.

“Granted, the slides and their being a family and Rachel being nine years old are all a part of what they do but – and Jason at one point said this as well – if … the songs weren’t there as well, this would be just written off. “But the songs are really catchy too and they can exist and do exist in their own right as well.”

The family is releasing its debut album, Vintage Slide Collections From Seattle Vol. 1, presently available only on the band’s Web site and at shows, through Bar None Records in September, possibly with enhanced features that will play the slideshows on a user’s computer. In case you’re wondering, Rachel is home-schooled and has tutors, so the family can tour the country without her missing school. Also, she’s simply the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. No fewer than three New York indie rock bands have borrowed her to play bass for gigs, but she takes it all in stride. Her favorite part of being in the band is “selling merchandise and being with my mommy and daddy all the time.”

Do her friends think she’s the freakin’ greatest?

“The friends that I met before I started performing don’t really care and my friends that I met at shows think it’s pretty cool,” she said.

As comedian/social commentator David Cross wrote in Vice magazine after seeing them at Bumbershoot, “Now that’s a way to raise a family and conduct your life that most of us either haven’t thought of or simply lack the imagination and courage to carry out.”