A Dark and Stormy Night with Amour Obscur and Copal
After grabbing a surprisingly quick train in midtown following Matt Herskowitz’s show Wednesday night, it was good to be able to catch most of Amour Obscur’s set on a completely kick-ass gypsy punk bill at R Bar. Dee Dee Vega, a small woman with a big, powerful contralto voice fronts the band. For her, cabaret is strictly noir – when she went down to a growl, it was as creepy as it was lurid. A lot of their songs reminded of World Inferno when that band was just coming up, part ska, part klezmer punk, part creepy cabaret. They left no doubt that St. James Infirmary Blues is a funeral march, and turned Minnie the Moocher into the world’s most energetic song about smoking pot. But their originals were the best. Bassist Matt “The Knife” Goldpaugh swapped vocals with Vega on a couple of lickety-split, darkly chromatic gypsy punk stomps while Matt Dallow got some macabre organ tones swirling from his neon-lit accordion, the electric mandolin slashed and skanked and the horns punched in and out like a drunken but still dangerous prizefighter. “Only the whiskey’s coming home with me,” they sang deliriously and defiantly as the show wound out. They’re at the small downstairs space at Webster Hall on Nov 12.
Copal were up next. At one point during their set, the band suddenly went almost silent, interrupting a couple of guys in the crowd who’d been embroiled in a conversation. A couple of people turned around – and the guys immediately shut up. This wasn’t a stuffy classical audience, either. It was a young, drinking crowd who just happened to be transfixed by the band, crowding toward the stage as bandleader/violinist Hannah Thiem and cellist Isabel Castellvi – who also plays in the equally adventurous and eclectic Mivos Quartet – exchanged riffs and built an atmosphere that ranged from hypnotically swirling to downright menacing. With its elegantly rising bass intro and stately minor-key melody, the opening instrumental set the tone for the rest of the night. They picked up the pace with the second tune, a pounding drum intro and cello-metal riff kicking off a tarantella theme. After a solo by guest dumbek player Liron Peled (of Raquy & the Cavemen), a wild vortex of strings rose and then gracefully returned to the theme, taking it out sudden and cold.
The most intense song of many was Into the Shadow Garden, the opening track on the band’s latest album. Thiem’s apprehensive, Middle Eastern intensity was echoed in ghostly fragments by Castellvi over a long, hypnotic brooding levantine vamp contrasting the strings’ tense elegance with the percussion’s eerie, boomy ambience. Once again, they reached a point where the strings leaped into a snarling whirlwind, then back away just a hair, Thiem shadowing Castellvi this time. The next tune was a roomful of mirrors: first the group’s bellydancer moving in unison with Thiem as the two swayed, smiling, completely lost in the music, then Thiem reprising a Castellvi riff move for move, right down to the overtones as the phrase trailed out with a sepulchral chill. The magic continued as the band made their way through more Middle Eastern as well as Celtic, Balkan and trip-hop influenced grooves, closing with an anthemically stomping, trippy tune that had the whole floor either dancing or bobbing their heads. Is Copal the best live band in New York right now? After seeing this show, the answer might be yes.
Bad Buka were next: by the looks of things, everybody stayed, which they should have, since those gypsy punks are a phenomenal live band. But in this blog business, you eventually see pretty much everybody who’s any good. If you happened to miss them, Bad Buka are at their home base, Mehanata, on Halloween around midnight.