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The Irrepressibly Fun Bombay Rickey Return to Barbes This Saturday Night

Bombay Rickey are one of the funnest and most individualistic bands in New York. They mash up surf rock, psychedelic cumbias and Bollywood into a constantly shapeshifting, danceable sound. They’re playing this Saturday night, Sept 24 at 8 PM at Barbes. Then they’re at Brooklyn Conservatory of Music the following night, Sept 25 at 7.

They played a couple of Barbes shows over the past couple of months At the first one, frontwoman/accordionist Kamala Sankaram was battling a cold, although she still hit every note in her four-and-a-half octave range, useful since she and the band did a whole bunch of Yma Sumac covers. It was a dress rehearsal, more or less, for an upcoming London show, and since Barbes doesn’t have a dressing room, she word several outfits on top of another. One by one, they came off, but by the time she was down to the final shiny dress – you know how hot it gets onstage at Barbes in the summer – she was drenched.

At the second show, last month, she’d won the battle and was back to her usual exuberant, charismatic self. The group opened with a brisk, ominously bouncing surf tune, Sankaram hitting an arioso high note and squeezing every ounce of drama out of it, saxophonist Jeff Hudgins adding a moody, modally-charged solo that disintegrated into hardbop. Sankaram scatted takadimi drum language as the song shifted shape behind her, hit another operatic surf interlude with a Drew Fleming guitar solo that could have charmed a snake, Hudgins taking it further up and outside over Gil Smuskowitz’s blippy bassline.

A coy mambo gave Sankaram a rare chance to show off her low register – as it turns out, she’s just as strong there as she is way up in the stratosphere. She might just well be the best singer in all of New York in any style of music (unsurprisingly, she also sings opera and jazz). Then the band took a turn into spaghetti western territory,Fleming spiraling while drummer Sam Merrick supplied a boomy drive on his toms in unexpected 6/8 time

Sankaram chose her spots for goosebump-inducing vocalese on the next number, a wickedly catchy blend of Bollywood dramatics and surfy bounce. They followed with a slinky, ominously Ethiopian-flavored tune over a clave groove, sax prowling uneasily over the guitar’s reverb-drenched resonance. Then they took a long, even more unexpected detour into vintage JB’s style funk.

Sankaram then broke out her sitar for what sounded like a 60s Vegas psychedelic pop number on Vicodin, until a purposeful, stately sax solo that echoed Coltrane’s Giant Steps. After a similar one from Fleming, the band took a long climb upward. They brought some funk to a version of Dum Maro Dum, the famous Bollywood weedhead anthem, and finally broke out the chicha for an undulating Yma Sumac hit, Fleming’s spiky solo skirting skronk and postbop. Then they went back to surfy Bollywood. Couples were dancing; so can you, this Saturday night at Barbes.

Bombay Rickey Plays Amazing Psychedelic Bollywood Rock at Barbes

It would be reductionistic to the extreme to describe Bombay Rickey as a psychedelic, Bollywood-influenced surf rock band. Their show Saturday night at Barbes was an example of the best kind of results a band can get blending literally dozens of styles from around the world, including ideas from American rock spun through the prism of other cultures who transformed them and then blew them back at us. That was apparent from bassist Gil Smuskowitz’s first few notes: he was playing the riff from Sonido Amazonico, the Peruvian chicha classic that the Barbes house band, Chicha Libre, immortalized on their 2008 debut album. That was only the beginning. Alto saxophonist Jeff Hudgins took the song, a rock arrangement of a Bollywood theme, deep into the shadows with a sinuous, noir solo, frontwoman/accordionist Kamala Sankaram adding a contrastingly boisterous, playful edge with some rapidfire, staccato vocalese over the jangle and twang. She’s probably the most powerful singer to play [fill in the name of your favorite venue – if she’s been onstage there, it’s most likely true]. Yet her mighty coloratura soprano is only part of the picture. When she sang off-mic, she was the loudest instrument in the band; when she went on mic to color the songs with minute, more subtle shades, the effect was no less exhilarating. Later on in the set, they did a Yma Sumac song as a psychedelic cumbia and Sankaram made hitting all those stratospherically high notes look like just another day at work.

Their most intricate number was a joint homage to Steve Reich and Ennio Morricone, intertwining a spaghetti western theme into a blithely circular indie classical accordion-and-guitar riff, Hudgins’ apprehensive, microtonal atmospherics building the suspense to breaking point. They followed a takadimi arioso surf song with a Mozart aria done as a jaunty bolero, the pinpoint precision of Sankaram’s upper-register swoops wowing the crowd. A weedhead hare krishna theme translated to English as “take another toke,” Sankaram explained with a grin. Then Hudgins sang a spaghetti western ballad driven by Drew Fleming’s ominously jangly reverb guitar, with a long, hypnotic interlude that Fleming finally took up with an off-center menace. A little later, Hudgins and Sankaram duetted on a torchy, pensive chamber-pop song that was a dead ringer for another Barbes band, the Snow: “Midnight comes when you least expect it, and spring will never come again,” Sankaram intoned with a wounded poignancy.

Another number started out as a spaghetti western theme, then went in a Beatlesque direction, then picked up with a klezmer-ish series of sax riffs and soaring, powerhouse vocalese from Sankaram. They closed with Tuco’s Last Stand, a pensive bolero galloping gently along on percussionist Timothy Quigley’s mysterioso groove. Folks, this is the future of music: every style, from every spot on the world is fair game. Bombay Rickey just happens to have more of those flavors in their fingers than just about anybody else. They’re at Branded Saloon on Ft. Greene on August 24 at 10.