Have you ever wondered what indie kids look like when they’re not posing? Bored cool and unaffected poise is pretty much to be expected at any show, particularly when the headliner is deliciously obscure. But throw a child into the mix and the mask falls with a thunk. If their wise and witty jangle-pop and vintage slideshow weren’t enough to draw you to the Trachtenburgs, then watching a bunch of trendy, high-gloss hipsters clamour for the attention of 10-year old drummer, Rachel Trachtenburg, surely is.

The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players are a self-described indie-vaudeville conceptual art-rock pop band taking old sets of slides, of family holidays, picnics and birthdays from the 50's, 60's, and 70's, found at estate sales, auctions houses and flea markets – the sort you might find in your parents' loft. With their finds they create clippy pop exposés out of the forgotten memories of unknown contributors. The results are funny and eclectic songs that are as politically bent (left) as they are literal representations that both take the piss and pay tribute to the subjects of the slides that lent their inspiration. From gigs at Bonnaroo and SXSW, to boasting the appearance of the first unsigned band of American night show Conan O’Brien, the Trachtenburgs are generating just the right sort of buzz to attract industry and hipsters alike, waiting to claim to have seen them in the days they still played intimate venues.

On this torrential Thursday, the muggy wall that hits you as you enter the Water Rats feels as sodden as the walk over. It’s already almost too crowded for comfort. The first band is midway through their set and the bar packed with people waving cigarettes gratefully (there’s a No Smoking policy in effect in the back room) or taking refuge from the humidity that permeates from the stage room. In this heat the fact that a young child in pigtails just walked past through the bangled elbows and loosened ties seems perfectly on par.

Entering the stage room, the first thing you notice over the heads of mingling excitement is a giant screen that seems to take up the entire back wall. Emerging onto the stage, the Trachtenburgs arrange themselves and with quaint formality introduce their roles in song: Jason is the dad and the band’s guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist, Tina is the mum, fashion designer and operates the projector, Rachel is the daughter and drummer. Before launching into their first number, Jason, an uber-nerd with a Woody Allan stuttering charm that becomes more pronounced when he gets excited, fumbles his way through explaining their own history with the people we’re about to see in the slides. And 'Look At Me', a jumpy pop song about the long friendship of two women stretching nearly four decades, "goes a little like this." This interpretation of the slides becomes a feature of each song, with Jason at times breaking off in the middle of a track to explain what they found so remarkable, so poignant, so peculiar about the images in question. Through these little tangents Rachel hushes into quiet metronomic time-keeping, demonstrating all the patience of an experienced drummer.

Out of their enormous haul, two series in particular sparked their most inspired pieces. The first comes from a collection of slides initially prepared for a corporate presentation to the board of directors for McDonald’s. The epic six-part rock-opera it created, 'Wendy’s, Sambos and Long John Silver’s', remains hilariously literal. From the crashingly apropos "Let’s not have the same weight in 1978 – let’s have more" to the frighteningly obvious realisation of "Together as a system we are unbeatable", the lyrics are taken directly and solely from the slides themselves. The second series is the one that got this Trachtenburg art project rolling to begin with. 'Mountain Trip to Japan, 1959' documents (unsurprisingly) a vacation across the Japanese mountains, and more sinisterly as Jason points out, the more brutal side to the effects of the Cold War. The slides range from cute cocker spaniel puppies to a crowd chasing after a public execution.

Flushed by our rapt attention and tumultuous response, the Trachtenburgs finish with 'Believing In You', a sweet little number featuring all three singing their thanks to the audience for "Taking time from your busy, busy day".

With what could come across a gimmicky and crass, the Trachtenburgs maintain a depth that few others could manage. Rather than exploiting the lives of people and situations that have no chance of defending themselves, what they achieve is a reconnection of otherwise forgotten moments, paying tribute with dignifying humour. For the art-project indie set, the value of this sort of re-validating of histories to which you have no connection will continue to be appreciated and applauded, but sadly within the fickle mainstream I fear their fifteen minutes may soon draw to a close.

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Commenting On: Water Rats, London, 8/7/2004 - Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players

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