In the late 1960s/early 1970s, American filmmakers like Arthur Penn and Martin Scorcese filmed homages to the outlaws of the 1920s with their movies Bonnie and Clyde and Boxcar Bertha. Those movies romanticized the careers of those gangs, and the directors skillfully used the tales as metaphoric protests against the ongoing Vietnam War/Nixon presidency, just as the original outlaws were reacting to the effects of the Great Depression.
The Thirteens seem to have stepped — living and breathing — right out of those movies, and, in these days of Bush, their outlaw spirit is most welcome.
The Thirteens, of course, differ from the thieves of old in many ways: They don't kill anybody, for one. And they most certainly don't steal, as their music is pure original.
The band was formed about a year ago from the remains of The Revolvers. They briefly toyed with the idea of calling themselves The Bad Apples, but settled on The Thirteens/The 13s (either form is acceptable) after an Internet search turned up a lot of "Bad Apples." When you see them, you can immediately picture how they might be cast as a '20s-style gang/family. Tasty Teen (aka Josh Dorsey, bass/slide guitar) is the "black sheep" son, the one who's a little crazy and more than a little dangerous. PG-13 (aka P.G. Lewis, guitar) is the "good son," the one who's turned to a life of crime after he comes home from his highly decorated turn with the Marines.
Kendall Davis (drums) is the right-hand man, the bodyguard. Missy Teen (aka Melissa Fairmount of The Fairmount Girls, vocals and secondary percussion) is the den mother/moll and equal partner in crime with Sam Nation (aka artist Sam Shipman, lead vocals, rhythm guitar, "harmonicat"). Sam would be the brains and heart of the family, the respected "elder statesman" who has seen his share of scrapes and lived to tell the tale.
Another way the band differs from their Roaring '20s counterparts is that they document their own tales rather than letting some worker's ballad or sensational newspaper story do it for them. Their music is difficult to characterize, but it's instantly familiar. They incorporate elements of Country ("I love real Country," says Nation), Rockabilly, Blues, Rock and Punk into their sound. The comparison that comes to mind in regard to their sound would be if The Cramps and X had a house party and Country great Jimmy Rodgers stopped by to visit.
The Thirteens also possess two qualities that appeal to a lot of people: You can dance to their music (as a matter of fact, you'd be hard-pressed not to dance), and they have the ability to play a little quieter and still rock out.
"It's really great to be able to play quiet and be able to hear it," says Missy Teen. "I love stuff that's in my face — don't get me wrong. But what we're trying to do in this band is play some really cool music that is nice to listen to; you don't have to brace yourself to enjoy it. The other night we were playing a show at the Len's Lounge party at The Garage (infamous Northside practice space), and one of the best things in my life, as far as being a Thirteen, is that I saw Chuck Cleaver (Ass Ponys) sitting in a lounge chair right in front, just relaxed as all-get-out, listening to what we do. And that's the idea. We don't want to 'harsh' anybody."
"I hope the songs are kind of accessible in a way, like you feel you may have heard them before. It's probably because they're not terribly original," says Nation about the music. "There are patterns that have been done a lot before. The words are a little different though."
And, in a way, he and the rest of The Thirteens are right: It all has been done before.
But not like The Thirteens.
Just be glad that the heat they're packing is only in their music.
THE THIRTEENS perform at the Rolling Stones tribute/Pendleton Animal Shelter benefit on Aug. 28 at the York Street Café in Newport.