Chris Bullock is best known locally for his propulsive keyboard work in the Nicotine Fits, whose Stooges-meet-MC5 energy earned them the Pikes Peak Art Council award for best popular music act in 2007.
But Bullock brings a decidedly different approach to his solo project Tall City, which foregrounds the old autoharp he bought at a church yard sale for $40. Tall City actually started out with Bullock reading his poetry over electronic music composed on his 1980-vintage Apple computer.
It took almost a year for the even more vintage autoharp to take over Tall City's sound, during which time he practiced in his apartment strewn with resale shop finds, crates of records, clothbound books and random ephemera.
Actually, it wasn't due to lack of skill on the instrument that Bullock put off performing.
"I waited until my voice sounded reasonably OK. It was awhile," says Bullock, who had previously talked over the music instead of singing.
Bullock's side project has less in common with the Nicotine Fits than it does with Pale Room, the band with whom Bullock moved from New York's Hampton Bays to the Springs in 2005.
"We sounded like Soul Coughing and this band called the Minutemen," says Bullock. "We were random nonsense poetry but with jazz and rock or something."
While Tall City's sound has changed musically, the lyrics still sound like eerie poems. In "The Howling of the Heathens," Bullock comments on heartlessness. The first verse, he explains, is about a real-life ex-employer he describes as "shady." The second speaks about women who latch on to tragic lifestyles. And in the third verse, those two types come together via the story of the Virgin Mary, who's on her knees praying.
"She pretends to pray," says Bullock. "But really she's talking to God."
In the song, God impregnated her without contact, but she still thinks of it as a sexual experience when she says:
"Do you remember when you came to visit? I want to feel that way again / You turned off your holy light and we spent the night in sin / Nine months later your messiah boy was born / And you took him straight up to heaven; now no one keeps me warm."
While this notion of the ultimate one-night stand might be considered blasphemous, Bullock uses the biblical story to illustrate a moral. He describes its underlying theme as a "bleak view of a decay that comes from too much indulgence."
As a poet working on his second collection, Bullock says he's a fan of 17th century English metaphysical poet John Donne, who used human and sometimes erotic sensations to explain mysticism.
Bullock was raised amid the "divine femininity" of Catholicism. In contrast, he figures, "with Protestants, the guys become drama queens. Going to church every day you see a guy hanging on the wall suffering, and the dad can say, "I suffered for your sins, too.'"
DJ Chris Bullock
Shuga's, 702 S. Cascade Ave.
Thursday, June 19, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Free; 328-1412 or shugas.com.