Last night at the Bell House, A Hawk and a Hacksaw were all business: smiling was left to the audience. Of all the acts chronicled in this month’s crazy adventure, this ferociously virtuosic gypsy band was the most intense, sort of a high-energy counterpart to New York’s Which Way East. Nonchalantly but powerfully, one by one, they aired out songs from their latest album Cervantine, a lock for one of the best of 2011. Their sense of humor only came to the forefront when they hit a trick ending, or a shift from slow to fast or back again, and there were dozens of those: every time they’d let one ring out, one person or another in what looked to a pretty full house would whoop or scream and then the band would dive back into the maelstrom of vampirish chromatics and apprehensive minor keys. Former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes was a whirlwind of accordion against Heather Trost’s alternately soaring and austere violin textures, alongside the two drummers – one on a couple of standup snares, the other on a big boomy tapan, plus a trumpeter who played blistering, staccato lead lines when wasn’t adding another rich, overtone-laden layer of accordion to the mix.
Everybody’s phone went up when Trost switched to a horn-violin, a cross between a trumpet and a fiddle with two sets of strings, one dangling from the instrument, which she pulled on for a creepy, creaky-door effect, and another that she fretted to change the pitch. None of that footage seems to have made it to youtube yet today but some of it is bound to: google and you’ll find it. The wry horror movie vibe of the song’s Addams Family march melody stopped just short of amusing: was the band going for laughs, or chills? Maybe both?
They started with a swirling vamp rich with raw gypsy riffs, then what was basically a one-chord jam in 9/4 with solos all around capped off by a precisely sprinting one from trumpet. Trost sang a slow, steady Turkish tune with a plaintiveness from much further east, then they picked up the pace with a stomping, shapeshifting dance that was all but impossible to keep up with, but it kept the crowd going. At the end of the show, Barnes pedaled a chord and built it to a murky river of sound that slowly flooded the entire sonic picture – and then Trost leaped in, and the stampede was on again.
Goth-tinged, keyboard-driven art-rock band Dark Dark Dark headlined, all methodical, mostly slow-to-midtempo High Romantic angst. They’re perfectly good at what they do – as the band is now, they’re a gateway drug to Marissa Nadler and Edison Woods. With piano, guitar, bass, drums and accordion, their musicianship was purist and tasteful, especially the drummer, who gave the songs a stately, understated grandeur. And in the wake of A Hawk and Hacksaw’s ecstatic intensity, there was no way it could have been anything but anticlimactic. It would have made more sense to have them open the show (not the fault of the venue – the three bands on the bill are touring as a package deal). The whole bill is at Drom tonight: if this lineup is any indication, A Hawk and a Hacksaw should hit the stage around 9.