The most surreal of evenings began the moment I arrived at cafe 939’s Red Room. This utterly delightful and intimate (200-capacity) Twin Peaks-inspired venue immediately put me in the perfect mood for these amazingly talented otherworldly performers.
When I walked in, Laura Jorgensen was already on stage, her ethereal vocals floating above accordion accompaniment. The visual and auditory image was that of a storytelling fairy princess, vocals gliding and soaring like a bird. Incredibly beautiful. At one point her friend Nolan Eley joined her on trumpet, and though it isn’t mentioned on her MySpace page, unless I had been swept away and was hallucinating, for at least one of her songs she accompanied herself on dulcimer. Her EP The Wings and The Waters is available for free download (see her MySpace). I highly recommend that you have a listen and see her when you can. I will definitely announce (and most likely attend) her future area appearances. Her debut album is due out in April.
If Laura Jorgensen’s dreamy set transported me into a scene out of a David Lynch movie, then the next performers, Mighty Tiny, with their carnival masks and gritty Vaudevillian, Tin Pan Alley, slightly askew musical theater… even more so. I’ll list the band members as they have them on their MySpace, and you can make of it what you will: Matt Tompkins: Sexo Stringogogue de Slap e Voce, Max Rose: Chitarra Twingbogue e Voce, Amy Alvey: Violoschnoze, Kana Zink: Fisharmonica, Dave Pezzano: Klonkabasso, and Noah Appel: Brorum Thumps.
It was as it sounds – crazy and fun; sometimes humorous, sometimes ominous and unsettling. Astonishing musicians and vocalists. I don’t quite know who’s who yet, but the lead vocals were shared by two guys – one had a raspy, bluesy tone; the other sounded like he could have been easily plunked down into a lavish Broadway musical. Accordion, violin, drums, guitar, bass, and occasional harmonica – all quite remarkable. Surprising arrangements, campy, theatrical, entertaining as hell and wonderful. One song I have to make special mention of – the murky and mysterious “Down In The Well”, from their new EP Eat People. Starting with something deliciously bluesy bubbling up from its depths, which slowly built into fire and brimstone. A gorgeous performance. They ended their explosive and highly unusual set by singing “Happy Birthday” to a friend of theirs in the audience, and as light and innocent as that sounds, dark and rather threatening, unlike any version you’ve heard before.
Their Eat People EP as well as a free 3-song demo are available on their official site. And good news for those not at Cafe 939 on Saturday – you can see Mighty Tiny at Great Scott this Wednesday night.
I’m not even quite sure where to start with H.U.M.A.N.W.I.N.E., there’s just so much going on here, and hearing them for the first time, in such a setting, I was completely floored. Reading more about them now, there’s serious social and political commentary in their lyrics, of which I caught brief glimpses of during their performance, as my first impression was to be emotionally walloped by the mind-blowing musicality, their unusual and theatrical presentation. As a live band, they’re completely captivating, centering visually and musically on Holly Brewer, with her magnetic stage presence and spectacular vocals, complemented beautifully by M@ McNiss’s haunting baritone. Their duets were especially shiver-inducing. A wide variety of people perform with Holly and M@ at different times; this evening, it was Paul Dilley on stand-up bass and Nate Greenslit on drums, and they were both excellent.
Their songs varied from dark cabaret, to a crazy sort of “klezmer carnival” (complete with kazoo) to what I’ll loosely call gothic folk with Holly on acoustic guitar. For example, “Death wish for the Impostor”, which was unbelievably gorgeous, and the song just before it, with the line “the sky’s so much bigger when you’re free”. I’m not sure of the title, but that one was quite beautiful as well, with lovely vocal harmonies.
At one point mid-set, there was an “impromptu recycling effort” with Holly flinging old comic books into the appreciative crowd (I believe this is something of a band tradition). One striking thing was how down-to-earth, chatty and personable she was between songs. It’s not that I necessarily expected her to be removed or aloof, but it was quite impressive how she changed from a conversational tone immediately back into dramatic character for a song, like the flick of a switch.
Holly’s riveting storytelling continued with the song “Wake Up” (though I’d call it a theatrical piece rather than a song), before which she declared “we need the sleepers!”, and three adorable children from the audience came up to join the performance. Toward the end the band played two pounding rockers, but still there was Holly’s distinct and haunting vocals which rose and floated above the cacophony. Two of the kids returned for the finale, a bit of musical theater called “Dim Allentown Cove Pt. 1”, from Fighting Naked. What an incredible show… you really must see them!
H.U.M.A.N.W.I.N.E. first formed in 2001, and have released the following: For Burning Cities Present (2004), Kalifornia (EP, 2006) Rivolta Silenziosa (EP, 2006), Fighting Naked (2007), Mass Exodus (3-track E, May 2009), and last October, the full-length Mass Exodus (on their own Nervous Relatives Records), which is an allegorical “concept album” about the post-apocalyptic world of Vinland, a theme first explored on Rivolta Silenziosa.
February 13 – Holly will be a guest singer at T.T. The Bear’s Place “Annual Mardi Gras Ball” (w/proceeds to go to the New Orleans Music Clinic, providing medical care to musicians).
February 17 – Church of Boston (“Best of 2009” presented by Launch Over and BlackTie Affair Booking) with Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys, Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, and Sarah RabDAU.
March 20 – Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner Rock Club, Worcester, MA
April 1 – Church of Boston
*I was advised by Holly after the show that the correct spelling of the band’s name is actually H.U.M.A.N.W.I.N.E. – that is, it’s an acronym (or perhaps that would be an anacronym, though she swears the answer to the riddle is on the front page of their official site… anyone?)
A few quick words about Cafe 939 – a music venue and coffeehouse with superb acoustics and a nice, cozy space. It’s wonderful. It has an eclectic music aficionado feel, no doubt due to it being run entirely by Berklee College of Music students, and probably most frequented by the same, as it’s just down the street from the acclaimed school. A great alternative to the club scene, though no fear imbibers – it’s right next door to The Cactus Club, a full-service bar/restaurant. Though apart from a few chatters at the back, the audience was extremely attentive and focused on the performances. A very cool place, and highly recommended!share this: