Junk Parlor at The Ivy Room, by SarahJayn Kemp
Junk Parlor (photo: SarahJayn Kemp)

I first saw Junk Parlor at the Uptown in Oakland some months back. Performing as part of a cabaret, Junk seemed very at home being surrounded by go-go dancers and other variety acts. There are some people who feel comfortable vacationing on the fringe, and then there are those folks who use their sustainable strangeness as collateral to take out a mortgage and set up residence there. Junk Parlor, with songs like “Dance with Me, Bela Lugosi,” is firmly the latter.

The outfit includes a violinist and accordionist in addition to your standard setup for a rock and roll band. The ambiance at the Ivy Room seemed to fit the band’s aesthetic: mostly normal and safe, with a little twist of sideshow and some of the darker elements of traveling life. They’re the type of band you’d be equally likely to expect to roll up to the place in a vardo or a somewhat-out-of-commission, reasonably-priced Honda. They’re of this world, but trying hard to evoke that otherworldly spirit.

And it works! I was completely charmed by them. Every song was like a spooky lullaby for my soul, drifting me emotionally off to a region of swampy, moss-covered graveyards and eerie juke joints in the middle of the woods. Each song painted a visual so specific for me. For example, if ever there is a movie made where the temporary occupants of a funeral home are having some sort of necromancy ball, I need the music director to use Junk’s song, “Ragged Hearts,” as the fresh corpses foxtrot with one and other. It’s the only song that will fit that moment so squarely without being too on-the-nose.

Lead vocalist Jason Vanderford has a voice like molasses. I could listen to him sing the phone book, so clear and shiny but with a body — a heft — to it. However, I did not miss the vocals in other standouts from the night that happened to be instrumentals: a traditional instrumental about a “strong man,” and “Midnight in Oakland.”

Junk Parlor bring the forgotten, more homespun aspects of rock back to the stage, placing the dust-covered, rustic relics of live music of people who dance with death on display — and it’s a beautiful sight to see.