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When dark forces are at their most catchy

Eban Schletter's 'Witching Hour' brings comics and musicians together to conjure witches, zombies and a goofy good time.

October 29, 2008|Mindy Farabee | Farabee is a former Times staff writer.

"I'm not a warlock," said TV composer Eban Schletter, ensconced in the back room of his Hollywood studio. "Let's just get that straight . . . but I do think the Wiccan religion gets a bad rap."

These days, witchcraft is much on the mind of Schletter, who's gearing up to perform the music from his seasonally appropriate CD, "Witching Hour," today and Thursday at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood. He'll be joined by his band and special guests including comics Dave Foley, Dave Gruber Allen and Paul F. Tompkins, and vocalists such as Jill Sobule and Grant Lee Phillips, who also appear on the album.

"Basically, we're trying to keep it loose and fun and to add in a few high jinks," Schletter said.

"Witching Hour" is full of Vincent Price-style monologues, swinging electric organs and foggy bassoons, but Schletter maintains his isn't a Halloween record, per se. "There were a couple direct references to Halloween and I took [them] out," he said.

More, it's a tribute to Schletter's Bay Area childhood, watching Bob Wilkins' late-night "Creature Features" on KTVU. He hoped to create a record that recalls the mist-filled "super gothic" supernatural thrillers of his youth, but Schletter also drew on a number of other influences: kids' music from the 1940s and '50s, Edgar Allan Poe and the "nonsense poetry" of Eugene Field -- to concoct his 22 tracks.

"If you're 5, it's creepy," Schletter said of Foley's take on "The Headless Hitchhiker of Highway 13." "If you're older, you're like, 'Who is this guy?' It's got a real Ed Wood feel."

To the extent that there's a narrative thread driving "Witching Hour," it's a loose song cycle chronicling the fates of several souls at the bottom of the same lake. Neurotically timed to clock in at exactly one hour -- guess at what point the song "Half Past" pops up -- "Witching Hour" incorporates geeky payoffs when possible, and "gimmicky" Web updates, evidently, are in the works.

Schletter said there were a few opportunities for jest that got away. "If this had been vinyl I would have totally done backward messages," he said. "I wanted to do a bunch of them and have them all be super-be-nice-to-people . . . This is the most overambitious stupid record ever."

It's also something to which Schletter has devoted a great deal of time. The composer -- whose credits include "Mr. Show With Bob and David" and "SpongeBob SquarePants" as well as long-running Largo favorites like "The Paul F. Tompkins Show" (and short-lived ones like "White Trash Wins Lotto") -- has been working on this project for nearly five years, with one track, the punky "Zombie Man," dating back almost three decades.

Now he's angling to institute "Witching Hour" shows as a local tradition -- the Steve Allen marks its third appearance on the stage. It premiered last Halloween at Largo and later provided the soundtrack for the club's pagan Imbolc festivities honoring the Irish spring holiday.

That's just the kind of feel-good celebration Schletter likes to get behind. "I come from the Jewish tradition, where every holiday is 'Remember when this crappy thing happened?' " he joked.

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calendar@latimes.com

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'Eban Schletter's Witching Hour'

Where: Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. today and Thursday

Price: $10

Contact: (323) 666-4268

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