The trumpet player snaps his suspenders. A rough-whiskered man straps a metal washboard over his beer belly and signals a pair of men crouching over a converted steel washtub and a battered beer keg--and suddenly the pub rockets back in time. A tinny, warbling barbershop-quartet harmony races up its burgundy walls, the sound soaking into the smoke-laced woodwork just before a double jangle of steel guitar and banjo can catch it.
These folk 'n' old-timey metal music machine romps are led by trash master James Cook, the gentleman whose Junkyard Wars-worthy idea to marry a trash can and a banjo spawned, we're told, the world's only "trash-can-jo," as well as the band Trashcan Joe itself. Armed with converted washtubs, cigar boxes and the Sixpence's own pint glasses, the dumpster-diving foursome treads lightly upon the decades, visiting the 1930s with a rendition of "All of Me" and then fast-forwarding to the Beatles. It's as if someone is playing an old gramophone record in surround sound.
It's an apt soundtrack for a place where Guinness ads and framed photos of the Sex Pistols jostle for wall space and copies of The New Yorker litter the stout benches. The tall bookshelf is stocked with a copy of American Foreign Policy Reader--from 1964.
As Trashcan's old-time radio warble resonates through the space, the tavern's near-necking couples, beer buddies in Kyuss T-shirts, and serious dart contenders pause to let out a cheer before resuming their primary pastime: drinking.
From the lithe French brew Stella Artois to burly Farmhouse and Belgian draughts, the Sixpence is the Olympic Village of beer and spirits. If the frothy Lindemans Framboise on tap doesn't clue one in to the tavern's liquid superiority, perhaps this will: Its menu includes a footnote about Reinheitsgebot, the German law that forbids brewing bad beers.
The pub's attention swings back to the band as the horn player hops atop a chair and launches into a one-man can-can while shaking a broomstick studded with jingling bottle caps.
As he finishes the number, the pub's light fixtures begin to flicker, as if clapping in time with its beer-flushed patrons. It is easy to imagine that we are in a decade past, perhaps in the belly of a great London train station. We travelers share a pint and let these Americans entertain us, their brash tunes filling our heads with silver-screen images of the land across the pond.
Or maybe, just maybe, it's the Guinness talking.
Trashcan Joe at Moon and Sixpence, 2014 NE 42nd Ave., 288-7802. 8:30 pm Wednesdays.