Beninghove’s Hangmen Get Noir at Spike Hill
Last year Beninghove’s Hangmen put out an amazing debut album of menacing noir jazz pieces, creepy Lynchian waltzes and macabre surf rock songs. Sunday night at Spike Hill they played a set of virtually all new material that was just as intense, and a lot more diverse. To those who know the band, it might come as a shock that they either would or could pull off a blissfully bouncy calypso jazz song, alto saxophonist Bryan Beninghove and trombonist Rick Parker meandering without a care in the world, until at the end it became clear that Parker had his tongue planted firmly in cheek. But it pays to be eclectic, if you get a lot of film work as Beninghove does.
The rest of the set was as lusciously creepy as their album, driven as much by the guitars as the horns, Ryan Mackstaller (of Little Worlds) handling most of the the eerily unhinged clanging surf lines while Eyal Maoz played a surprisingly low-key but smoldering mix of Middle Eastern and flamenco-tinged phrases. Elephantine blasts from Beninghove and Parker kicked off a furtive surf shuffle early in the set, Maox and Johnson trading increasingly agitated tremolo-picked lines that Johnson eventually picked up with a howling, chromatic intensity, Beninghove following with screams followed by agile downward swirls. Then he put down his sax for a melodica for a swinging two-chord vamp that sounded just a little too happy to be true, and sure enough that was the case when Parker brought in a some mournfully quavery ambience that Beninghove picked up energetically, this time on soprano sax, Parker’s low lurking menace contrasting with Maoz’ R2D2 blips and bleeps.
The album track they played was Roadhouse, a luridly stomping Twin Peaks nocturne featuring a searing noiserock duel between the guitars that finally dwindled to a brief interlude hinting at dub before the horns joined forces with some wry Peggy Lee allusions. Beninghove agilely led the group through a rhythmically tricky, tango-tinged surf tune, something akin to Booker T meeting Bernard Herrmann at the beach at night, with some haphazardly evil leads by Johnson and then Maoz as the horns swooped and dove. The rest of the set included a skronky Marc Ribot-style noir blues, ominously gritty guitar pitted against sultry, smoky sax, and a wild, klezmer-fueled number introduced by a long, chill-inducing Maoz intro that had the feel of a Middle Eastern oud jam. If you’re in New York and noir music is your thing, get out and see them now: they’ve been playing out a lot lately.