Carla Bozulich at Trunk Space, 9/9/11

Carla Bozulich, Badwater Bob, Where Dead Voices Gather, and Tobie Milford The Trunk Space Friday, September 9, 2011

"That's a pretty song, right?" -- Badwater Bob

There's only about twenty people in the Trunk Space, and we're sitting on the floor. Badwater Bob is on stage, a spry, gray gentleman in a string tie and worn Levis. He's been playing campfire songs for the past half hour, traditional cowboy stuff like "Cool Water" and "Streets of Larado." Right now Bob is leading meager crowd through a singing of "Taking Tiger Mountain," an ambient song/poem by Brian Eno. Hastily copied lyric sheets have been distributed, and everyone is singing.

Badwater Bob is charming, but not much more than a rudimentary guitarist. His voice, though, is clearly why Carla Bozulich, the woman we are here to see, has invited him along on her tour promoting her new album In Animal Tongue. Bozulich is sitting with us, huddled in a close circle, leading the refrain from the floor while Bob does so from the stage.

She is all smiles when the song concluded, and the meager attendees hoot and shout our applause. "That was the best time ever," Badwater Bob says. "Most of the time people just sit there and look at me."

"That's another good, old one." -- Badwater Bob

Bozulich is joined onstage by John Eichenseer, who alternates between bass heavy synths, an electronically modified piccolo, and violin. Bozulich plays guitar, but she's often stopping to apologize for bungled chords. Her hands are shaking, and she confesses that she's nervous.

"You would think I would stop being nervous by now," she says. "Not just at this point in the show..."

Bozulich has been making music since 1982. Most of this crowd know her through her work with the Geraldine Fibbers, her alt-country band from the mid '90s. Nels Cline, who currently plays guitar in Wilco, played guitar in the 'Fibbers, and about half the small crowd at the Trunk Space are here wanting to listen to songs from that band.

She plays one: "Richard," from the 1995 release Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home. The song is as scary as material like "I'm Going to Stop Killing Today" and "Artificial Lamb," and as intensely beautiful as her song "The Blue Room."

"Now the story takes a happier turn," Bozulich whispered. "'Cause the devil loved the girl and the feeling was returned...The devil grinned and whispered, 'Comfort is a myth. The clock keeps ticking, ticking; going tick tick tick tick.'"

"Vintage soda, hmm. Fits the theme." -- Badwater Bob

Outside a genuine biker gang roars onto the sidewalk, parking in front of and entering the neighboring Bikini Lounge. Flashes of lightning tear across the sky, and tiny beads of rain drop now and then.

"Carla," a drunk guy says to me outside in the parking lot. I'm not sure if it's a question or a statement. I say, 'Yes.'

"Carla Bozulich, do you know who that is?"

"Yeah, that's who were are here to see." I can hear strains of Tobie Milford inside, trying out new violin loops.

"Yeah, I know. Do you have a lighter?"

"I'm sorry, I don't."

"Well, do you have a cigarette?"

"I don't have one of those, either. I actually quit. Nearing the two month mark."

He laughs at me. I think I get the joke.

"It can't be loud. That was a different era." -- Badwater Bob

There's only about twenty people in the Trunk Space, and we're sitting on the floor.

Bozulich asked if we wanted to hear a song about killing a boyfriend or killing a mother. The crowd seemed entirely divided, but Bozulich made the choice for us, choosing "Baby, That's the Creeps."

Eichenseer is on stage, manning the keyboard, and Bozulich is rolling around the floor, her tangled black hair sweeping across the floor, her gothy boots stomping at the concrete. She alternates between a strident yelp and shrieking screams. "If it's working for everyone, it's just not working," she told me when we spoke, before our conversation turned to gospel music and punk rock.

I'm not sure it's working for everyone, but it's undeniable. You can't look away. She does one more song, shooting down requests for more 'Fibbers songs.

"I'll do one more song if everyone buys something," she smiles.

The crowd agrees, and she gives them what she wants to give them.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Carla Bozulich, Badwater Bob, Tobie Milford, Where Dead Voices Gather at The Trunk Space.

The Crowd: A mix of arty punk kids and older, adventurous folks who have followed Bozulich through her many winding turns. Overheard in the Crowd: "Welcome to hell," one concertgoer shouted.

Another responded with: "Oh, it's not so bad. We love it."

Random Notebook Dump: Carla said 'I hope no one is recording this one ("The Blue Room).' It's beautiful. I wish I was recording.

Personal Bias: I was extremely glad to see the return of Where Dead Voices Gather, and the band hasn't seemed to have gathered much dust.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.