The star-spangled cowboys of political comedy

Jackson Moe presents its new album ‘Pure Gold’

4 minute read
Max Barth and Joe Messina: “The fake band with real music.” (Photo courtesy of Henry Scribbens.)
Max Barth and Joe Messina: “The fake band with real music.” (Photo courtesy of Henry Scribbens.)

Philly comedy/music duo Jackson Moe (Max Barth and Joe Messina) got their start as a recurring segment on Party Lines, a live monthly political show at Good Good Comedy Theatre during the 2016 election cycle. Barth and Messina have since developed a catalogue of original songs that both skewer and applaud different parts of American culture, now available on an album titled Pure Gold.

Party Lines starting line

“At the very first Party Lines show, Joe wrote a song called 'Ballad of the Independent,' a folk song congratulating apathetic people for not taking positions,” Barth says.

The pair attended both the Republican and Democratic 2016 conventions to cover them for Party Lines. They wore their signature Jackson Moe outfits (red, white, and blue capes; cowboy boots; rhinestone belt buckles) hoping to blend in, but achieved the opposite. “One Trump supporter liked it, but then thought we were making fun of him and decided he didn’t like it. He was wearing a ‘Hillary for Prison’ shirt,” the artists recall. The musicians ended up in a Reuters photo credited (on some outlets) as Trump supporters, despite telling the photographer they were not.

For the 2016 election-night edition of Party Lines, they released a “Guide to Third Parties,” which aimed to help fans find the “right bad option” for themselves. “The Constitution Party is vehemently against tyranny,” the guide reads, “but the federal government stepping in to stop tyranny at the state level is double tyranny, which they are double against.”

Party Lines featured original songs, sketches, panels, and interviews with real humans and real puppets. Often, Barth and Messina found themselves eerily ahead of the curve. “Melania Trump” stopped by the February 2017 edition of the show to promote her new clothing line of “bunker-wear” called Complicit. One month later, Saturday Night Live released its digital short featuring Scarlett Johansson as Ivanka Trump peddling a perfume dubbed Complicit. Jackson Moe has no official comment at this time regarding that particular conspiracy theory.

On the road

The pair recently finished their Live AF tour with stops in Hartford, Boston, Denver, New York, and Philly. Their live music performances feature homages to Bruce Springsteen, John Prine, the Beach Boys, and Poison (“the four best bands in the world”).

When Max Barth and Joe Messina took Jackson Moe to the 2016 RNC, Trump fans and journalists alike were confused. (Image courtesy of the artists.)
When Max Barth and Joe Messina took Jackson Moe to the 2016 RNC, Trump fans and journalists alike were confused. (Image courtesy of the artists.)

“We played small comedy venues and brought like twelve guitars on stage with us for no reason,” the two recall. “We’ve been writing songs together since college. ‘Americatown’ was written right after graduation at Max’s mom’s house on a broken piano. ‘Tin Foil Heart’ was the first one we wrote that made Jackson Moe feel like a standalone project.”

Usually sporting star-spangled robes over cowboy outfits, the partners of Jackson Moe brought their stage personas to the “Tin Foil Heart” music video released in 2018. A song written for “when you love somebody and you hate the government,” the refrain will inevitably play on a loop in your brain while you Google “who is Halliburton and what did they do?”

Fake band, real music

Pure Gold lives up to the album name, featuring six tracks with catchy harmonies and wild lyrics. Tin Foil Heart sounds like a country-love ballad compiled from the YouTube comments section, mixing declarations of love with frantic warnings about government surveillance. The band insists, “This is our official story and I wouldn’t redact a thing.” Another title, “Run (From The Sun),” answers a question: what if the Beach Boys were fighting for survival in the Mad Max: Fury Road universe? According to the song, "We don't have meat cause there's no more farms, the animals revolted and now they're armed.” The song “Christmas (with Your Mom)” follows a fumbling new stepfather as he tries to conjure holiday cheer. “Now that I’m your Daddy-o, I’ve built you this patio,” he sings. “I’ll be here when you’re saddy-o, here’s a new clock radio.”

Jackson Moe blends old-school rock with modern political absurdity to fuel their irreverent song lyrics. Barth and Messina both perform standup comedy and create other content, but their songwriting continues as another election looms. They are going back into the studio in October to record a few new songs, such as “Girl, I Know You Saw My Text.” The two are always ready to bring out “the fake band with real music.”

Pure Gold was produced by Joe Michelini (American Trappist, River City Extension) and recorded at Berlin Studios in New Jersey with backing band the Bolo Boys.

What, When, Where

Jackson Moe’s Pure Gold is streaming on Bandcamp and Spotify. Find the artists on Twitter at @joe_messina and @HeIsMaxBarth.

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