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If Tim Rutili’s doesn’t have the most harmonious singing voice, but it’s certainly one of the most distinctive, or just the flat-out weirderst. On his records with Califone and the long defunct Red Red Meat his words are always slurred, as if he’s somehow singing them backwards and forwards at the same time. I had assumed that some degree of studio trickery was involved in producing this effect—maybe running the tapes in reverse and then patching the mix through a worn out catchers mitt?—, but no, apparently it’s all natural.

When Red Red Meat reunited last night to perform at Subpop‘s SXSW showcase all Rutili had to do to get that strange, nasal, warble was to simply push air through his lungs. Anything else that’s involved remains a mystery. That voice really drives the music, though. Without him Red Red Meat’s rusty, lo-fi, folk-rock might just sound like pretty-ok grunge.

More, plus photos below

The set was heavy on material from the band’s third record, Bunny Gets Paid, which Subpop will be reissuing in a deluxe edition next week. There were a few cool surprises though, the band’s cover of Low’s “Words” (which is included on that reissue, btw). Sort of a strange symmetry there; singing defined Low’s music, but in a very different way. Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk could, you know, hit notes. The eeriness of Low’s original version, and most of the band’s early word for that matter, largely comes out of those on-point harmonies. But, weirdly enough, it still works when Rutili sings it. He doesn’t need perfect pitch to get the song’s nightmarish sentiments across, his effed-up baying-hound-style croon is enough on its own.

Rick Froberg, on the other hand, probably does have the best voice in rock n’ roll, as if Iggy Pop and John Fogerty had cranky sunken-eyed kid. And his band, Obits, for the most part, looks like a bunch of haggard, skeevy, weekend dads. Well, everybody except but guitarist Sohrab Habbibion, who looked a little bit like an accountant. Regardless, Obits were heavy enough to make rock-a-billy sound, you know, tolerable, maybe even good. Why isn’t Froberg standing some Northwestern mega-dome stage duetting with Eddie Vedder during an encore set of Wipers covers?

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