There's really no way to adequately prepare one's self for a performance by the Dick & Jane Family Orchestra. The Hollywood underground quintet, who appear Friday at Burbank's Viva Cantina, squall, roar and strum through a dizzying barrage of idiosyncratic original material. Put across by brash, buxom vocalist Jane Cantillon, a big-voiced, unpredictable entertainer whose spontaneous antics veer from growling and strutting like a feral feline to wild gesticulations to throwing herself down onto the stage and thrashing around like a seizure victim, it's a fast-moving, hit-and-run musical spree that's quite unlike anything else in pop music.
The wise-cracking, Ohio-born Cantillon, who came of age alongside the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu as part of the Cleveland punk scene, is a veteran performer. "I came out here in '78 and started my own band, Jane & the Hollywood Sympathy Orchestra and I've been singing ever since," she says. "My history is so long I should be dead already."
An Emmy-nominated television producer and independent filmmaker by day, Cantillon has led the band along the local club circuit since 2007, and specializes in what she calls "L.A-centric lyrics."
"Los Angeles constantly inspires me," Cantillon adds. "The big bad city itself, and all the freaks I know — that's awful to say, but, then, I am one of them!"
"In my song 'Mayberry LSD,' which is about our Silver Lake-Hollywood neighborhood, I talk about Scientologists and Angelyne. I have another one called 'Car Trouble in Paradise, Bad Breaks in LA' and my song about Echo Park is called 'Mine is the Dog's Life, Rough Rough, Rough Rough.'"
The band is anchored by the steady guitar work of spouse Richard Ross, who also toils behind the camera for a living, and he has craftily developed the band's unusual musical approach. Augmented by bassist Lee Joseph, drummer Michael Peffer and the percussive washboard stylings of old school punk veteran Vanilla Shake, the Dick & Jane band is nothing if not unique.
"It's got everything. We go from cabaret-garage rock to folk-punk," she says. "We mix it all up."
It's a fertile collaboration, both romantic and artistic, albeit one that got off to a shaky start. "I had to drag Dickie on at our first gig and force him to play," Cantillon says. "He hadn't been onstage since high school!"
"I write all the lyrics," she says. "Then I bring them to Dickie and he finishes the song, takes care of all the music. We first got together, as a couple, very briefly, around 1980 and then really got back together in 1996 — I always say 'recycle and reuse!'"
Dick & Jane use an odd blend of sociocultural awareness and dark, offbeat humor that lends their material an appealing immediacy and impact. Their self-styled mission of supplying "urban folk songs and garage lounge music for your musical enjoyment" has taken the pair from Hollywood punk dives to Los Feliz jazz spot the Dresden Room to such prestigious rooms as the Cinegrill and New York City's infamous Limelight.
"I'm a chanteuse on the loose," Cantillon says. "When I was in my 20s, I sang Cole Porter and now that I'm a grizzled old lady, I write punk songs! I'll write about almost anything. 'Death by Insomnia' — that was actually a headline in the New York Times. 'Last Taboo' is about 'dirty rotten cigarettes.'"
"We want to spread the love, joy and cynicism," Cantillon says. "I'm just happy to still be alive and making music that people will still roll out to come and listen to."
"It's better than collecting stamps."
What: The Dick & Jane Family Orchestra, with Golden Sombrero, Spindrift
Where: Viva Cantina, 900 W. Riverside Dr., Burbank.
When: Friday, Jan. 31, 8 p.m.
More info: (818) 845-2425, http://www.vivacantina.com
JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of "Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox" and "Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story."