Tribecastan Rocks the NY Gypsy Festival

by delarue

The New York Gypsy Festival is still going on: there’s a ton of pretty wild, eclectic stuff happening through the end of the month, most of it at Drom under the loose rubric of Romany music. Tonight’s show featured kitchen-sink instrumentalists Tribecastan, who have four albums to their credit and literally span the globe, stylistically speaking. But onstage, the massive ten-piece band came across as a high-voltage circus rock act, driven more by horns than by the layers and layers of exotic stringed instruments they employ in the studio. What’s the likelihood of seeing Matt Darriau two nights in a row in two vastly different places? Not bad, if you know where to go. He was onstage here, playing clarinet and alto sax alongside a trombone, cornet, bass, drums, multi-percussion and multi-keys, with the band’s flamboyant frontman, John Kruth, firing off sizzling runs on electric mandolin when he wasn’t on mandola, banjo or flute. The other member of the band’s brain trust, Jeff Greene, stood nonchalantly in the corner, switching from a banjo-like lute that he sat and bowed, to what looked like a cajon with keys, to vibraphone (and was sadly not very high in the mix throughout the show.

They opened with a vigorously vamping soul organ groove and wound up with a couple of long, hypnotically funky, distantly Central Asian-tinged jams, the latter with a mantra delivered ecstaticaly by Kruth as he fervently egged on his bandmates to take the song completely over the edge. It took the festival’s prime mover, Serdar Ilhan, to finally give an emphatic signal that it was time for the next band. As psychedelic as all of this was, the songs in the middle of the set were the best. A similarly hypnotic, flute-driven waltz featured a rap interlude that didn’t go anywhere, but the tricky, reed-driven Macedonian-flavored dance afterward did. They followed that with an unexpectedly quiet detour and then an absolutely haunting, brooding bolero, Darriau’s alto sax hitting a big crescendo early on, Greene’s flute against fluttering, interwoven reeds as Kruth anchored it with his spiky banjo lines.

Greene open the next number with a droll jawharp solo, then the song built to an anthemic disco groove, something akin to Hazmat Modine (a band these guys often resemble) destroying a song by Chic. They took that vibe to the Balkans with a reggae-ish pulse, then hit the show’s high point with The Road to Koprivnica, another brooding but lively bolero with some sizzling clarinet from Darriau and even more sizzling, spiraling, intensely Middle Eastern electric mando from Kruth. The drummer broke his snare on the woozy but hard-rocking surf song Communist Modern – a standout track from the band’s latest album New Songs from the Old Country – then went as deep into the funk as you can go in, say, Uzbekhistan. Which is the irony of this band: if they actually were from Uzbekhistan instead of New York, all the blogs would be going nuts over how postmodern and paradigm-shifting this band is. Where this band needs to be, if they can afford it, is the jamband circuit and some summer festivals, where the hippie kids would go nuts over them as well.

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