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Way of the Weird

Gun and Doll Show
Tom Pitts

Comfort Stations: Why are the members of the Gun and Doll Show posing like this? 'Cause it feels good, or so they say.

The Gun and Doll Show eschews solemnity for eccentricity

By Christa Palmer

In a city saturated with 250 original rock bands, it's absurd to think that a new band in jaded old San Francisco could make itself popular by simply being weird. But strange though the 2-year-old Gun and Doll Show may be, weirdness alone isn't what's gained them an expanding volume of critical buzz. Rather, the witty and spontaneous approach to lyrics, song and performance art is what sets them apart from the flannel-shirted whiners and annoyingly solemn performance-art groups who wear their hearts on their sleeves.

"Singing sad, personal songs is not what life is about," says vocalist/guitarist Killian MacGeraghty, on the phone in his San Francisco apartment. "Part of it is, but other parts of our lives we like to laugh and joke around. When we're playing, I think audiences get the feeling that anything could happen. We are always trying to give the audience something new and humorous; that's key to when playing up against so many other bands. We try to put ourselves in the audience and ask, 'What would get the audience not to go to the bathroom, not to get a drink and not to get someone else's number for a date?' "

MacGeraghty's musical career is long and varied, including a stint with the late tribal/industrial combo Sharkbait. He and drummer Jeff Kingman have been playing together for about six years, originally as Watershed 400. Only a couple of years ago, when they were in need of bandmates, bassist Joe Castiglione and vocalist/guitarist Shana Kingsley say they "demanded" to join. The name was inspired by an actual gun and doll show in Sacramento, an event with booths featuring assorted firearms and figurines.

So while MacGeraghty admits that the band members aren't approaching any kind of brilliance on their instruments just yet, the combination of rock-based music and original show tunes, mordant wit and performance art breaks the mold of the clone band. "We give the audience it all, in case they only get what part of our show is about. None of us are real virtuosos, so everything is original, but it's not because we think we're super cool; it's simply because we're self-taught musicians and just can't figure out other people's chords," MacGeraghty laughs. "But I think when people talk about punk, it's not about the music so much, because that's too predictable, but rather the experience you have at a show."

Just such an experience was on display last month at Slim's, where gangly beanpole MacGeraghty darted up and down the stage in his suspenders and glitter-painted chest like a fuel-infused jack-in-the-box. And although the theatrics and antics were milder than usual in this particular show, a more typical Gun and Doll Show event has MacGeraghty swinging over the crowd on a rope, singing with rat traps clamped onto his face or squatting inside an on-stage cage.

"We're coming from the stage where we think most of performance art is really bad," MacGeraghty explains. "It can get too personal, and it just doesn't give the audience a story. Too many artists don't realize that, and it's like, Why does anybody give a shit about you and your stupid sad story? You have to give a reason. If you saw the show once and you think it's good, now I have a little bit of credibility with you to give you something personal, but only a little. If I threw all this personal stuff at you, I could lose you."

Although much of MacGeraghty's and Kingsley's music is about relationships, it avoids the personal and intense in favor of the universal and humorous. And while the music is light and immediate, there is a creepy, mysterious undertone to their lyrics. Especially in Kingsley's "Angel," with her thwarted, thin arms bent over her head, her unearthly and striking voice rang remarkably clear throughout the smoky haze in the bar.

And though sometimes it's hard to discern exactly what they have in mind when wearing miner's hats, posing in a doggy stances or sitting inside a cage, MacGeraghty sees the band's noncommercial stance as affording him the time and opportunity to figure out what the hell the Gun and Doll Show really is. "It's great because we're like a small business, and we can turn on a dime," MacGeraghty says. "Just yesterday I had the idea to do a glitter booth at the Shoreline Amphitheater, where we might paint people's faces. We're going to do it because our next album is called "Glitter & Glue," which will be made this fall, so this helps us promote it."

For the Gun and Doll Show, like most new bands or theater groups in San Francisco, marketing themselves with meager resources is also a challenge. But their promotional ideas are just as inventive and fun as their live appearances. Once MacGeraghty paid for a plane to fly over San Francisco with a message on a banner trailing behind it.

Other times they have bought ad space in local weekly papers. "We put some super-lonely-boy lyrics in the middle of the sex ads," MacGeraghty remembers. Also, on the day of a show Kingsley sometimes dresses in fliers and goes to work. And most recently an artist friend of theirs painted a 7-by-9 mural of the band members doing "Evil Has a Face" (the cage song) on the outside wall of the Paradise Lounge. MacGeraghty installed a button, which when pushed makes the mural speak.

"The audience needs to be involved," MacGeraghty says. Another rule I have with performance art is that we can do it only if we can pull it out of our pockets, if it's something really simple and if it doesn't take a lot of trouble. Because if it takes trouble to do, I'm forcing you to like it. That's why I think people like our performance art, because we don't throw it down their throats."

So with all MacGeraghty's songwriting, playing, practicing, theatrics and pranks, does he have any favorite bands that he enjoys listening to? "It's kind of embarrassing," he says, hesitating, "but I don't really listen to music. All I have is this horrible little cassette player that I listen to my own stuff on. You see, I'm super gullible. So whatever I'm listening to, I'm really going to like. If I listen to Barney, for whole days in a row, I'm hooked. I'll buy all his albums."


Look for listings of Gun and Doll Show dates this fall or call 641-0723.

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From the August 1997 issue of the Metropolitan.

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