The Middle East Downstairs // Cambridge, MA // Sept. 11, 2009
To call the event that took place in the Middle East Downstairs on Friday, Sept. 11, singular would be akin to calling the universe big. The description is accurate enough, but there's just no way to convey the true breadth of it. Luckily, everything that took place this Friday fell within a distinct (if broad) musical universe. The night began with soft, blues tinged folk and ended with a 30-piece circus punk marching band, naturally.
Larkin Grimm kicked off the night with her distinct, airy voice sung over acoustic guitar and an accompanying violin. Her music lends itself to darker atmospheres, with minor chords abounding, and her quiet resolve kept the music ever hungry, clawing at the air for what she denied it.
Boston supergroup Ketman picked up the pace next, blasting into their set with two powerful punk tunes. Eric Penna on guitar, Joseph Marrett on bass and Mora Precarious on drums put the club in tempo for the remainder of the night. Eric and Joseph meld well together, playing with and off each other instrumentally while sharing singing duties, but the real star of this show was Mora. Rarely will you find a drummer who goes at her instrument with more passion or vigor than Precarious. She steamrolled through song after song, hopping up as she finished particularly pushed phrases and never gave her drums a moment of rest. Though they brought in horns after the first two songs, it seemed as though they wished to show the power that a trio could control before bringing Kevin Corzett on sax and Brian Ruttledge on trumpet to provide melody, harmony and rhythmic baking for the remainder of the set. With the horns in place, the band gained even more power, as the horns jumped, danced or generally moved whenever they weren't playing. To finish their set they launched into "Bulletproof Molly," a fast-paced song that could be the soundtrack to a lucid nightmare.
Having moved to Austin from Boston two years ago, Reverend Glasseye's set with a one-time only reunion band was truly incredible. Backed by an organ, drums, saxophone and a trio of strings (most of whom also made up Beat Circus); he carried his songs in from the desert to darkly serenade the audience on the shadier aspects of life. Combining Waits-esque lyricism with a shivering, haunting voice, his set was moving and incredibly heartfelt. Talking freely with his old hometown crowd, he was candid and appeared genuinely overjoyed to be playing with his old friends again. He prefaced several songs with small descriptions, explaining that "The Bastard" was autobiographical and mentioning he had never been able to write a love song before "Christiana," tenderly cradling the pain of loss before letting it spill out into the crowd. Before his final song, "All My Friend," he announced that it would be for all those no longer with us and slid into a heartbreaking tune that left much of the audience leaning on each other for support.
Brian Carpenter may well be possessed, or a sorcerer, or both. Leading Beat Circus through an epic set of material off the brand-new Boy From Black Mountain, he raised his arms as if casting a spell over the audience and held them entranced. His baritone slid between violin melodies and distorted guitar explosions and danced with double-bass plucks while the drums pulsed with the rhythms of Americana. Beat Circus's performance was at times dark, at times beautiful, but altogether a momentous experience.
Five members of Mucca Pazza, complete in mismatching uniforms, took the stage and began playing various stringed and amplified instruments to a slightly bewildered crowd that collectively jumped as the rest of the band began playing from within the crowd. Music influenced by Roma and Klezmer traditions as well as punk rock kept the crowd jumping and dancing the entire show while the band cheerleaders (there were four) did routines and hyped the crowd even more. Mucca Pazza is sensory overload at its best: trombones standing on the bar blared riffs while a sousaphone player bounced around with the crowd upfront; on stage the drum-line danced while busting out monstrous grooves then suddenly sat down as someone jumped to the front playing a distorted miniature guitar; a conductor conducted the crowd and band in a duet while shaking his booty; and that was just the first five songs. No one sang. In fact, the only words spoken were by band leader Mark Messing through a loudspeaker pointed at a microphone, thanking the crowd and describing themselves as "a little marching band." Mucca Pazza began their set as 30-piece marching band, and ended it as a party of hundreds.
-Review by Garrett Frierson