There’s a big crowd gathered toward the back of the room at Fat Baby on Rivington Street Saturday night. “You can get closer, you know,’” Fable Cry frontman/guitarist Zach Ferrin tells them. “But maybe you might not want to,” he adds with a hint of a sinister smile. Then he and a four-piece edition of the Nashville circus rock outfit – Jo Cleary on violin, Scott Fernandez on twelve-string bass and Rachel Gerlach on drums – launch into the lickety-split noir cabaret shuffle Onion Grin. Zach tells the crowd that this particular number is about getting too cozy for safety’s sake.
Fable Cry’s songs cover topics like making Frankenstein babies, and the kind of things that happen when somebody forgets to lock the gate at the mechanical monster park. Symbolism or just bizarre, creepy storytelling? Whichever – the band kicks ass. Ferrin fires off phantasmagorical flourishes when he’s not vamping out on a suspenseful two-chord minor-key groove while Cleary mashes up Romany and bluegrass licks. He’s got the eyeblack, the Halloween pirate getup; she’s more demure in overall cutoffs and black stockings. Both go out into the audience with their respective axes and get in everybody’s face. Funny thing is that the more they do it, the more people gravitate down front: they want to get in on the action.
Speaking of axes, Fernandez’s is huge. It’s about half the size of a harp and must weigh a ton, but he’s a big guy and it doesn’t seem to phase him. And instead of Chapman Stick-ing it and playing a million notes where one would do, he sticks to the groove and adds slinky leads on the middle strings when the guitar and violin are fluttering ominously and vamping out. Gerlach swings hard and she can play a mean Texas shuffle, but when the music gets darkest that seems where she likes it best: it wouldn’t be a surprise if she had a background in artsy metal.
Three of their songs tonight have a rapidfire, surrealistic hip-hop edge to the lyrics: Ferrin rips through them before they have a chance to settle in. The Train Song is the bluegrass/circus rock mashup; The Zoo of No Return is the missing-monsters-run-amok scenario. From Myth to Moon has a little Celtic edge; if memory serves right, they either close or come close to closing with the catchy Fancy Dancing, one of the numbers with a touch of hip-hop. Technical difficulties onstage on the part of the club limit the band to just a tad over half an hour onstage; it would have been fun to see what they could have done with a longer set.