TWISP — James “Jimmy the Pickpocket” Berg knew Danbert Nobacon’s music long before most of his peers in the U.S. Now he’s helping the British songsmith make more of it.
Berg, 36, leads the Seattle cabaret-punk ensemble the Bad Things. As a young punk rocker hitchhiking around Europe, one band kept coming to his attention: Nobacon’s old collective Chumbawamba.
“European squatter kids all loved them,” Berg says today.
Fast-forward to 2008: British expatriate Nobacon (real name Nigel Hunter) had relocated to Twisp with his young family and booked himself into the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle, playing songs from his solo album “The Library Book of the World.” Berg, also playing the festival with the Bad Things, couldn’t believe what he was reading on the program.
The two musicians met, Nobacon gigged with the Bad Things around the Northwest, and last year proposed a new self-produced CD project: “Woebegone,” the tale in song of a time-traveling roots musician plunged into a polluted, police-state world of the very near future.
“I think we added some suggestions to tunes, but generally, it was his baby,” says Berg. “We were just kind of the vehicle for it.”
What: Danbert Nobacon and the Bad Things, cabaret rock
Where: Twisp River Pub, 201 N. Highway 20; free
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday
Tickets and information: 997-6822
On the Web
“Woebegone” was to appear this weekend, in tandem with a Nobacon/Bad Things show Friday at the Twisp River Pub. The release date has since been pushed back to September, but the performance goes on as scheduled. Nobacon vows a proper CD release show will follow when the disc appears, plus perhaps a theatrical presentation of the “Woebegone” cycle at Twisp’s Merc Playhouse.
“I don’t know why I started writing as this character — it just sort of grew from there, really,” Nobacon says.
Nobacon came to public notice with Chumbawamba, the anarchist rock troupe he co-founded, which specialized in scathing political screeds like “The Day the Nazi Died,” “Never Do What You Are Told” and “Homophobia.” Their binge-drinking ode “Tubthumping” became a surprise international hit in 1997, though it barely represented the band’s total output. Their public shows were marked by extreme theatricality, involving outlandish costumes or, sometimes, no clothing at all. Nobacon and his family settled in Twisp in 2007.
Accordionist Berg and bassist Austin “Mad Wilcox” Quist came at rock from a similarly theatrical angle, forming the cabaret-rock group A Midnite Choir in Seattle. The group put out one well-regarded album, “You Have Been Warned,” in 2002, shortly before reforming into the Bad Things. Berg had picked up the accordion during his European travels and took much of his influence from the Pogues, the Irish rockers who “were able to still sound traditional and not sound like a rock band, but somehow still have that punk edge,” he says.
He’s not sure if the “cabaret” label, often applied to Dresden Dolls and Devotchka, covers his band fully. “To me, it’s the old sense of raucous, theatrical music that hearkens back to the Weimar Republic, the old Berlin of the ’20s and ’30s, which was a little more loose morally, and they tended to sing about darker subject matter — but it was theater and it was entertainment. … A Bad Things show can be a totally drunken punk rock show, or it can be a theatrical cabaret show. It just kind of depends.”
Nobacon’s solo music has been pugnaciously American — rootsy gutbucket songs with acoustic orchestrations and sharp political messages. That affection is part of what drew him to the Bad Things as a backing band for “Woebegone.”
“I love accordion and acoustic instruments, and the band does a really interesting thing with banjo and acoustic guitar, or banjo and mandolin,” he says. “They just have a really interesting exhange, the way they play.”
Nobacon, who’s spent much of this year recovering from a January ski accident that shattered one leg, has other irons in the fire as well. Back in 2002, Chumbawamba scored the film “Revenger’s Tragedy” for renegade film director Alex Cox (“Repo Man,” “Sid and Nancy”). In September, Nobacon’s “anarchist fairytale” book “Three Dead Princes” will appear through Exterminating Angel Press, with illustrations by Cox. Nobacon says the director might appear in Twisp for a book release event.
And the tale of “Woebegone” may not be at an end.
“There’s another 18 songs which tell the next part of the story, which we didn’t record,” Nobacon says. “I’ll probably get around to that sooner or later, but probably later.”
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123