The Tuna Helpers, Molehill Orkestrah

Plush, Saturday, Jan. 28

If you've forgotten that fairy tales are dark and scary, signifying your worst fears, The Tuna Helpers will remind you. At the same time, they inspire the kind of trust that good dolls do. They're cheery and endearing, lighting the shadows with smiles. They reassure you that you're not alone.

Dressed as from a close encounter with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but with pink tulle and roses softening the effect, the trio took the Plush stage on the 10th night of a 10-night tour, only a little worse for wear (a charming rasp accented Bethany Sneed's vocals). Their semi-deconstructed puppet stage was shaped like an open coffin painted royal blue. Its red and black curtains parted for a welcoming song from its inhabitants--an adorable baby doll with goth makeup, and a set of Siamese twins in red bunting.

The Helpers' short, performance-art rock songs paced quickly throughout the set. Nearly half of them were new since the band's 2005 release, I'll Have What She's Having. The new "Blow Your House Down" has a surprising soul feel, and "Calling Out" may be the band's first full-on rocker, featuring Adrienne Sneed's dark and edgy guitar playing. "Haloing Moon" was a crowd favorite, involving a truly macabre miniature of Donnie Darko's nightmare rabbit, its eyes and mouth lit red from the inside as it "sang" along about melting brains, "You know we're sometimes afraid."

Adrienne's operatics may be an acquired taste, but the outbursts are brief and deftly applied among cackles, roars and more traditional crooning. With everything else going on, it's too easy to overlook the sparkle in Khattie Quinones' drumming, not to mention her personality. The real show, though, is Adrienne's sister, Bethany. Perpetually moving, she outshines the moon on her turns at American Sign Language, her hands and arms dancing the lyric in tempo. You could almost tell the stories of these songs from her facial expressions alone.

The crowd diminished throughout the set as fans of the opener, Molehill Orkestrah, departed, but those remaining at the end wanted more of The Tuna Helpers. The band obliged with "Hold This," a song as close to a lullaby as they might get: "All your roses all your sighs / fall under blankets of sleep / Button up, tie your ribbons / and let us be on our way." They had a long drive back to their Austin homes ahead of them.


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