The Sweetback Sisters are playing at Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville on Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Sweetback Sisters will be at Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville on Sunday, August 8th (by kenficara)

I can’t help but think of the B-52’s when I hear the Sweetback Sisters. No, I don’t mean that they make you want to hear “Rock Lobster.” Although the Sisters’ two primary singers, Zara Bode and Emily Miller, do like to dress alike onstage, they remind me a lot of the way Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson sing together in that their voices and singing styles complement each other well,

and they always sound like they’re having a good time singing together. The enthusiasm of the singers makes the infectiousness of The Sweetback Sisters’ sound a foregone conclusion. They’re going to be at the Thunderbird Café in Lawrenceville on Sunday, August 8th. The Thunderbird is renowned both for its acoustics and for the unusually eclectic variety of artists who perform there.

As the Thunderbird’s powers that be proudly say:

The Thunderbird Cafe & Lounge is one of the premier live music venues in Pittsburgh. Located in historic Lawrenceville on Butler Street, The Thunderbird Cafe features top national artists as well as established & up and coming local bands. Our state of the art sound system, and comfortable atmosphere make the Thunderbird Cafe a great place to enjoy live music, good food and drinks, and friends.

They aren’t kidding about the people who play there, either. Over the next couple of months, besides assorted hot newcomers, they will host both Rory Block and The Legendary Pink Dots; when describing The Sweetback Sisters, one could conceivably imagine them somewhere between those two…Clone Rory Block, give her a droll sense of humor…I’ve heard more tortured comparisons….

Here’s an example, just a fragment of one of their usual crowd-pleasers, also on their first full-length album, 2009’s Chicken Ain’t Chicken. “My Uncle Used to Love Me but She Died” is an old Roger Miller song that they obviously continue to have all kinds of fun with, even saying on the website, “We challenge you to glean meaning from this Roger Miller gem.”

Beats me what the hell it’s about either, but that’s not the point. All I hear is five singers and players sounding like a whole greater than the sum of their parts and making the audience a part of the performance.

That song’s been done by lots of people, as has Willie Nelson’s “Hello Walls.” However, it would be unfair, not to mention overly simplistic, to pigeonhole the Sisters as an off-kilter cover band, because while they draw much of their material from your “classic” country artists such as the aforementioned and others such as Buck Owens and The Carter Family, they make songs by contemporary artists sound like original material, too. As another scribe put it, “Josh Ritter’s rockabilly-style ‘Deputy Blues #2’ and Kristin Andreassen’s ‘Red Shoe Blues’ are from this decade but could just as well be the B-sides to long- forgotten singles in an old jukebox.”

Here’s another example, a song called “Feeling Bad,” which, again, according to the Sisters themselves, “entered Zara’s head as a Western Swing number and exited as a lazy Hawaiian lullaby turned Telecaster-fiddle drag race”.

Some might complain about the lack of original material. Personally, I think such a complaint misses the point. I have always preferred hearing a good cover over a lame original, but that’s not it, either. True, Chicken Ain’t Chicken sports exactly one self-penned title, guitarist/third vocalist J. Milnes’ “You’re Gone (Again),” but it fits in just fine alongside the classic and neo-
classic covers. More crucially, Milnes himself doesn’t sing it—he surrenders the spotlight to Zara Bode and Emily Miller and their matching dresses and cowboy boots, and just like all the songs that preceded it, it comes off sounding like no one else but The  Sweetback Sisters.

When is the concert?
Sunday, August 8th, 2010 at 8:00pm

Where is it?
Thunderbird Cafe (map)
4023 Butler Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15201-3224
(412) 682-0177

How much to get in?
$10 in advance or $12 at the show

We’re in for a good time Sunday night at the Thunderbird Café. Spread the word!