Born a Jehovah's Witness, come of age as a Louisiana oil-man's son, run
away at 13 to Florida with an older woman and residing for a time in the
balcony of an abandoned porn theater, Dax Riggs of Deadboy and the
Elephantmen has the kind of heaven-and-hell background that ought to suit
him for singing the blues.
He is best known for his work with 1990s heavy-sludge band Acid Bath, where,
the Kite String Pops or
Paegan Terrorism Tactics, he floated a melodic counterpoint above
viscous metallic dirges. With Deadboy and the Elephantmen, a partnership
with drummer/back-up singer Tessie Brunet, Riggs has turned away from
Sabbath-inspired rampages toward more stripped and blues-influenced
material, even slipping a few ravaged and ghostly ballads into the
mix. Like Mark Lanegan, whose career has followed a similar trajectory, he
brings a hint of danger even to his softest, most melodic outings, and
on blues-rockers like "Stop, I'm Already Dead" and the stand-out
"Misadventures of Dope," he sounds like a lost soul on fire in hell.
The songs break down, roughly evenly, into amplified blues-rock anthems and
gentler ballads. The loud songs feel more genuine, Riggs' rough-edged
voice burning a hole through steady crescendos of eighth-note guitars,
embellishing dead-simple songs with baroque moans and flourishes. The best
of these "Ancient Man," "Misadventures of Dope" and "Kissed by
Lightning" straddle the divide between punk and blues and metal, fast
enough to make you want to move, damaged enough to break your heart. The
ballads are a harder sell, though acoustic blues cut "No Rainbow"
gains a dreamy grip over repeat plays, particularly in the life-affirming
"la-da-da" chorus at the end.
Comparisons to White Stripes are probably inevitable, given that this is
another blues-based duo with a charismatic male frontman and a woman on
drums. The main difference is that Deadboy seems less packaged, less
theatrical, than Jack & Co. White Stripes are a great band, but they're
doing a show with costumes and stage moves and well-considered
image. Deadboy seem more like a natural occurrence, two kids who can
hardly help doing what they do, and wouldn't if they could.