Randall Shreve and the Sideshow pulled a rock 'n' roll carnival caravan into Stickyz on Friday night to celebrate the release of "The Jester," the follow-up to 2008’s "The Entertainer." The show was a family affair, with Shreve’s brother Benjamin Del Shreve joining as an opening act and even the Shreve family patriarch cheering in the audience. The Arkansas residents also brought along Fayetteville friends, A Good Fight; I only caught enough to hear a heavy late '90s punk influence and to see a lack of enthusiasm from the audience. Clearly, Little Rock was there to get a double dose of Shreve.
Benjamin Del Shreve took the stage wearing aviators and a full beard, in a look that’s best described as a slimmer, better-looking Joaquin Phoenix circa his 2009 rapper meltdown. The grungy appearance only enhanced the band’s bluesy rock and played up Shreve’s persona when he cheekily sang “Hey man, I look good, I play guitar, can I have some money now?” Next time you’re in the audience, be prepared with some dollar bills — during the song, fans threw around enough cash to warrant some stripping and a lap dance. The band really worked the heavy blues and Southern rock jams like “Creepwater” and the guitar-shredding “Alana,” but had maybe one too many drinks to be at their very best. Though if the alcohol was to blame for Shreve’s “I love you man”-style banter, I would suggest to keep downing those beers. In between songs, he shared brother-related anecdotes (“I know Randall Shreve personally. He shot me in the foot with an arrow once.”) and loving ramblings (“He’s really attractive. He can sing better than Freddie Mercury and I will fight anyone who says he can’t.”) Ah, musical sibling love.
Main act Randall Shreve and his band of carnies is an eccentric, theatrical bunch, a point that was driven home when their set opened to the orchestral sounds of the 20th Century Fox theme song. Shreve entered in a bowler hat, embellished military-style jacket, and pasty white make-up with sad-jester black slits drawn down the middle of his eyes. The Sideshow thrives on this kind of over-the-top showmanship: Pianist Timothy Grace moved like a manic marionette, throwing his hands up and bringing them down fast and hard on clanging keys; drummer Zach Reeves exaggerated every beat and shook his curly mane wildly. They even brought out a banjo and accordion to accompany several songs.
The music is similarly kitschy, repurposing familiar carnival melodies and dabbling in diverse genres. The effect is a vaudevillian variety show. A visually stimulating spectacle is mixed with musical vignettes, from the accordion-inflected Latin dance number “Tango #69” to the barroom sing-along anthem “Kiss My Ass.” Shreve complemented each with apt dramatics, clapping and stomping tango-style, leaving the stage mid-song, walking to the bar and ordering a beer, or asking for shots before crooning the ode “Alcohol.” Time-restrictions cut the show short, but the audience got a taste of the Sideshow’s new and old, especially in a crowd-pleasing medley of "The Entertainer"’s cabaret-inspired “Welcome to the Show” and The Jester’s “Pier 14.” The newer tune is a Marilyn Manson-esque delight in which Shreve sings “Welcome to the freak show. This is where the freaks go. Welcome to the carnie party, darling.” With the release of "The Jester," it seems as though Randall Shreve and the Sideshow have solidified their niche—and found a captivated audience.