Vagabond Swing Brings Their Wild Live Show to NYC
Sunday night Lafayette, Louisiana’s Vagabond Swing gave the crowd at Rockwood Music Hall something to remember for months, blasting through what had to be the wildest, most ferocious show this normally sedate venue (“Classy,” a band member called it) might have ever hosted. “This is the smallest stage we’ve played in years,” admitted their trumpeter, but that’s what happens when bands who play to huge crowds on the road hit this city the first time around. And yet as much as they threatened to completely blow out the PA system, they felt the room, pushing it as far as it would go without being completely over-the-top. The group incorporates elements of Gogol Bordello at their most psychedelic, the Strawbs, Zappa, World Inferno, Tom Waits and Aunt Ange and yet sounds nothing like any of those acts. Their drummer also fronts the band, leaping from behind the kit out into the audience on several occasions, backed by trumpet plus two guitars, electric mandolin, bass and drums, the trumpeter and a couple of the guitarists doubling on creepy funeral organ.
Their shapeshifting songs went on for what seemed 20 minutes at a clip. To call them psychedelic gypsy punk isn’t off the mark but it doesn’t do justice to how crazily eclectic and intense they are. Their first number kicked off with a blistering Keystone Kops intro that morphed into a pensive waltz, then a swaying cabaret vamp and then back to the chase scene which didn’t take long to go completely awry with noisy guitar and trumpet solos. The second featured two slinky bass solos, two macabre organ interludes, a slowly careening waltz that reminded of the heavier stuff on Abbey Road and then a pensive folk-rock interlude with the trumpet soaring uneasily overhead. From there they went into brooding minor-key reggae and came out of that with machine-gun drums into morbidly swirling Carnival of Souls atmospherics. And then the trumpeter led them into a brief, bracing Ethiopian-flavored passage that turned menacingly Macedonian in a split-second and went doublespeed with a vengeance. Is there any style of music this band can’t play?
Wait, there’s more: a punked-out tango with an especially sweet trumpet solo; a twistedly bluesy merry-go-round waltz and a screaming Cab Calloway hi-de-ho number on acid. Vocals are part of the picture, but those didn’t come through clearly considering how fast and furious the band was playing. It didn’t matter. This was the kind of show that gives you enough adrenaline to sprint from the club, cut across two lines of traffic on Allen Street in the pouring rain and then dive down into the subway out of the storm, all in the span of about fifteen seconds. That’s not to suggest that you should do that, only to illustrate how exhilarating it felt to witness something this explosive at midnight on a Sunday.