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Tag: steampunk

Frogbelly & Symphony Bring Their Enigmatic, Apocalyptic Art-Rock to Gowanus on May 12

Psychedelic art-rockers Frogbelly & Symphony are the kind of band you want to catch on the way up. They’re like a vintage Jaguar: when they’re firing on all twelve cylinders, their elegant power can be breathtaking, a force to be reckoned with. When those cylinders aren’t all firing in sync, things can get messy. Their latest album Blue Bright Ow Sleep – streaming at Spotify – leaves no doubt as to the band’s ambition and talent. They’re playing Rock Shop on May 12 at around 10:30 PM; cover is $10

The album opens aptly with Minderbinder:

A chance to rebuild
Destruction brings us closer…
All we have is nothing,
But we turn it into something….

announces frontwoman/violinist Liz Hanley in her big, dramatic wail – the song sounds like Siouxsie fronting the Mars Volta. Then Hanley launches into a litany of funny food metaphors, like a hip-hop version of REM’s It’s the End of the World As We Know It. All this and orchestral flourishes in less than five minutes.

The calm jangle and  propulsive drive of Invite to Eternity masks its darkly pensive surrealism; the soaring violin gives it a bite that reminds of another first-rate, kinetic female-fronted art-rock band, the Sometime Boys.

Hanley’s uneasy operatics soar over Ben Trott’s eerie guitar flickers as Ride Off Into the Sunset gets underway: With its mythic imagery, Romany guitar chromatics and keening theremin in the background, it’s akin to Humanwine on blotter acid, or the late, great Norden Bombsight. Which comes as no surprise considering that ex-Norden Bombsight guitarist David Marshall is a frequent collaborator.

Patch of Blue builds out of drummer Ray Rizzo’s Frankenstein sway with sinister layers of vocals into straight-up metal, winding down as bassist Tom Hanley delivers a troubled ending:

Firing a pulley
From the cannons of a knee
It is your moment of clarity
Shackled to a tree

Cola in Mongolia switches to an ambling, jangly Velvets pulse with circus rock theatrics, a subtly snide critique of consumerism. Leyla’s Find has tricky syncopation and looping, aphoristic lyrics: a snarlingly psychedelic rock take on Nina Simone, maybe. The seafaring metaphors of Shingle build an eerie eco-disaster narrative as the band reverts to jaunty, violin-fueled art-rock. It’s a genuinely brilliant song, a smoldering example of how much promise this band has.

The frontwoman’s cynical, doomed hip-hop-tinged lyrics contrast with the slow, dreamy atmospherics of Organism. The album’s big desperate coda is Hazyland, a duet between the Hanleys, which sounds like a more concise Brian Jonestown Massacre. This is the kind of band that ought to be in front of a big festival crowd, delivering their epic cautionary tales to an audience that gets them.

Sweet Soubrette and Kotorino Haunt Joe’s Pub

Did Ellia Bisker, leader of elegant existentialist chamber pop band Sweet Soubrette, make a quantum leap…or did she have those lush, poignant, unselfconsciously brilliant songs in her all along? Her emergence among New York’s songwriting elite dovetailed suspiciously with her joining forces with the more established and similarly brilliant Jeff Morris – leader of latin/circus rock/art-rock luminaries Kotorino – in the murder ballad project Charming Disaster. Whatever the case, the Sweet Soubrette/Kotorino twinbill at Joe’s Pub a week ago had to be one of this year’s best New York concerts, hands down.

Sweet Soubrette have been through several incarnations: the current version, with its terse, richly arranged horn charts and frequent echoes of classic soul music, is by far the best. Heather Cole’s violin dipped and soared over Bob Smith’s nimble bass and Darrell Smith’s jazz-inflected, low-key drums as the horns – John Waters on trumpet, Cecil Scheib on trombone and Erin Rogers on alto sax – provided lustrous, vintage Memphis-inspired, resonant harmonies. Bisker played ukulele, singing in a confident but angst-drenched alto that really kicked into gear in the lows: she’s made a quantum leap as a singer as well.

A coy gold-digger’s tale was an early highlight. On album, the band does Burning City – inspired by the account of the bombing of Berlin in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five – as moodily dancing art-rock, but here it had a more purposeful drive and heavier gravitas. The newest songs were the best: the sardonically pensive waltz Wake Up When pondered how little we retain from what should be life lessons, while Talk To Me explored the futility of breaking out of one’s aloneness and actually communicating. The catchiest number of the entire night, Ghost Ship, bopped along on a new wave Motown bassline, Bisker’s deadpan, staccato vocals building on a sort of catch/release dynamic: it would be a standout track in the Serena Jost catalog. The set wound up with the understatedly venomous oldschool soul-inflected Big Celebrity and its thinly veiled references to gentrifier status-grubbing, then the broodingly balmy, doomed wee-hours scenario Night Owls, and finally some comic relief in the form of a song-length shout-out to Anais Nin. “Let’s find out what’s stronger, my pen or your sword,” Bisker demanded.

She returned to the stage as Morris’ femme fatale foil in Korotino, who killed it, as usual. On any given night, they might be the best live band in town: that they could earn a roaring ovation by closing with a suicide song speaks for itself. While Morris has gone deeper and deeper into his pan-latin side in recent months, this show focused more on the band’s phantasmagorical, surrealist rock catalog. The dizzyingly syncopated, doomed minor-key cha-cha Never Had a Chance was a red herring of sorts, fueled by the devious rimshot drive of drummer Jerome Morris (Jeff’s brother) in tandem with Mike Brown’s sinewy bass and the horn section of Gato Loco‘s Stefan Zeniuk (who switched from bass sax, to bass clarinet and then tenor sax) and lively trumpeter Jesse Selengut. Violinist Estelle Bajou’s menacingly slitherly lines mirrored Cole’s approach in Sweet Soubrette – or was it the other way around?

Morris is another guy who’s never sung better, coming across as sort of an exasperated Joel Grey at the peak of his powers, armed with a hollowbody Gibson, the awestruck, epically shapeshifting steampunk adventure Oh My God giving him plenty of chances to air out his pipes. From there the band made their way through moodily strutting Weimar cabaret rock, building to a dixieland-flavored peak with the horns.The frantically swinging circus rock of Going Out Tonight contrasted with the angst-fueled, eerily misty vocal harmonies of the angst-fueled waltz Planes Land.

The rest of the set worked the dynamics up and down without a respite: it was a pretty wild ride. They opened the droll, artsy new wave-flavored Sea Monster with a chugging ska bass-and-drum intro and built from there to the deliriously balletesque, swirling latin noir What Is This Thing. An especially menacing, nocturnal take of North Star State, Morris explained nonchalantly, explored the simple, everyday chore of breaking your girlfriend out of the nuthouse. They closed with a suspensefully dynamic take of that suicide anthem, Dangle Tango. Kotorino are at Rock Shop on Oct 3 at 8, opening for the even more theatrical Funkrust Brass Band; cover is $10. And Charming Disaster play Pete’s on Sept 30 at 10.

Meet the Ominous, Phantasmagorical Herbert Bail Orchestra

The Herbert Bail Orchestra work all sorts of influences into their careening, carnivalesque, noir-tinged sound: art-rock, oldtime blues, Celtic balladry, gospel and even funk. Bail plays the role of hoarse oldtime blues shouter, part early Tom Waits, maybe part Rev. Vince Anderson. The band is excellent: banjo, accordion and organ figure heavily and deliciously into their sound. Los Angelenos looking for a fun night out can catch their show tomorrow night, August 23 at 8:30 PM on an awesome triplebill at the Satellite at 1717 Silver Lake Blvd. Blackwater Jukebox open the evening with their edgy southwestern gothic punk, followed by Blac Jesus & the Experimentalists, who shift between creepy noir soul and guitar-fueled hard retro funk. Cover is an absurdly cheap $8.

Herbert Bail’s most recent album, The Future’s In the Past is streaming at Bandcamp. The band also has an intriguing Soundcloud page which offers a more current view of the wide expanse of styles they run through, many of them at once. Their latest single, You Are Beautiful (ok, ugh title, but it’s a good song) rises from a sun-streaked latesummer Britfolk intro to an ecstatic, gospel-fueled peak over a jaunty shuffle beat. Radio Tower  opens with accordion over almost a reggae bounce, with a little unexpected hip-hop flavor. The title track from the most recent album is much the same – imagine Cage the Elephant with a scampering circus-rock groove.

The best song on the page is Take Me Down, a wickedly catchy, broodingly swinging tune that’s part Nick Cave, part Walkabouts and maybe part Grateful Dead. The Big Sound brings back the towering soul/gospel intensity, something akin to how early ELO at their most disturbed might have done it. The Nature of Things succeeds where U2 failed to bridge the gap between vintage Americana and stadium rock.The rest of the playlist includes murky boogie-woogie; a Motown/ragtime mashup; a dirge that wouldn’t be out of place sung by a chain gang; a Mr. Bojangles-ish shuffle; and doomed, string-driven Nick Cave balladry. If you’re in the neighborhood, take a slug of absinthe, put on your dancing shoes and go see these guys.

Exhilarating, Eclectic, Gypsy-Fueled Sounds from the Japonize Elephants

The Japonize Elephants have a new record, Melodie Fantastique, just out, and it’s everything you would expect from the well-loved, cinematic circus rock orchestra. As usual, it’s trippy beyond belief, full of sly humor and ferocious playing. Calling them a gypsy band would be somewhat accurate but not completely. There’s also a steampunk streak that runs through frontman/guitarist Sylvain Carton’s songs like a rocket to Mars launched from the 1886 Paris Exposition. In their alternate universe, bluegrass, noir cabaret, gypsy music, klezmer, movie themes and vintage Lebanese sounds all coexist simultaneously in the same song, more or less. There is no other band on the planet who sound remotely like them.

One of the reasons is Jeremy Baron’s banjo, whose fluid frailing anchors the romping, gypsy-flavored tunes and adds a brisk, rustic country edge. Jason Slota plays tersely echoey, sometimes otherworldly lines on his vibraphone alongside the sizzling twin violins of Megan Gould and Dina Maccabee (also of the deliciously eclectic Real Vocal String Quartet). The jazzier passages are carried by the sax and flute of Mitch Marcus and Chris Hiatt. Calling them an orchestra is not overstating the case: there are a lot of people in this band.

A vaudevillian joke and then a nimbly scampering gypsy-rock tune kick off the album. The title track is the most majestically breathtaking of all the songs, a shapeshifting instrumental that’s part noir tango, part levantine overture, part klezmer dance and part bluegrass, and ends in the last place you would expect it to. The Ancient Mariner’s Boat Show follows it, a twisted, menacing bolero, and then a skronky diptych that sounds like the Lounge Lizards covering the Ventures. You want eclectic?

Gould’s intense Middle Eastern violin solo is the high point of the the uneasily cinematic Call the Zagorsky, followed by the surreallistically lovely oldtime country ballad Breusters, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Balthrop Alabama catalog from a few years ago. The Publisher’s Clearing House Special is a gypsy rock update on the Tubes’ What Do You Want from Life, a cautiomary tale for anyone who might want to rent Dollywood for a week

They go back to vaudevillian and sarcastic with the swaying waltz Lord Crin Crin, follow that with a grinning Spike Jones-style interlude and then Whiskey Willie II, a jaunty bluegrass tune about a bum whose life is about to take an unexpected turn (the stories in these songs are frequently too good to give away). La Vida Callejon Rapida makes fun of Mexican ranchera dramatics, while Fiddle Three takes an Irish reel and adds horns and vibraphone as if every Irish band in the world had them. There’s also the faux-lounge theatrics of Swimming Upstairs, the Zappa-tinged, distantly Middle Eastern This Zorlockian Anthem, a LMAO parody of birthday songs, a couple of droll piano miniatures by Marcus and an unexpectedly straight-up cover of Stardust. Is there anything else they possibly could have included here? A baby’s arm holding an apple? This one’s a lock for one of the best albums of the year: serious Top Ten material.

Towering, Haunting Lynchian Intensity from Alec K. Redfearn

On Sister Death, their first album since 2007’s The Blind Spot, accordionist Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores deliver a lushly orchestrated, epically sweeping, Lynchian mix of creepy cinematic themes and towering gypsy-infused art-rock. Redfearn’s rich, often funereal tones blend with the even more macabre swirls and torrents from Orion Rigel Dommisse ‘s Acetone Top-5 organ: she plays the Lynch Girl on this album, and often steals the show. The core of this shapeshifting Providence, Rhode Island band includes Matt McLaren on drums, Chris Sadlers on bass, Clint Heidorn on guitar and the father-daughter team of Jimmy and Hannah Divine on violins along with a mammoth supporting cast. Redfearn has an enormous talent base to draw from, and in concert has been known to bring anything from a stripped-down quartet to a mighty fifteen-piece chamber orchestra.

The album opens with Fire Shuffle, a brisk, murderously chromatic epic, the casualness of the guy/girl vocals downplaying the darkness of the music: “Burn with me awhile, leave the wreckage far behind,” Redfearn and Dommisse intone. Chris Turner contributes a ferociously intense, feedback-charged chromatic harp solo to fan the flames.. The second track, Unawake, reaches for the same kind of orchestral sweep even though it’s over in just over two minutes. The Seven and Six, a slowly menacing 6/8 ballad, has the accordion rising through the mix with an increasingly distorted, gritty texture beneath Redfearn’s mythologically-inspired wordplay.

Terse tremolo guitar and creepy bells gently propel Longreach, a totally Lynchian instrumental, followed by the trickily rhythmic Amplifier Hum, its faux Bulgarian folk vocals (in English!)  a throwback to the band’s earlier days working a more avant-garde vein. Black Ice begins with a solo accordion taqsim and builds to a massive Balkan dance, funeral organ mingling with the accordion and intricately multitracked guitar from Domenick Panzarella. A creepy waltz, Exhumed is sort of a gypsy take on Julee Cruise Twin Peaks noir pop, Redfearn’s baritone uke mimicking a Spanish guitar, Dommisse playing femme fatale once again over an echoey dead-girl choir.

With a more straight-ahead beat, Scratch would be horror surf instead of Balkan rock – Redfearn’s long, searing, minimalist accordion solo out is adrenalizing to say the least. They follow that with Hashishin, a matter-of-factly swaying, trippily macabre Middle Eastern instrumental jam, the baritone uke running through a Big Muff pedal for extra menace. By contrast, Redfearn’s cover of St. James Infirmary gets a skeletal steampunk treatment, ending with a murderous, digeridoo-like drone from the bass pedals on a Hammond organ. The most inscrutable – and least menacing – number here is Wings of the Magpie, with its surreal 70s space-rock vibe. The album closes with a dire, In the Morning, Roger Waters meets the Walkabouts.

Redfearn is a cool guy: much of his fascinatingly eclectic back catalog is available as free downloads at the  Free Music Archive. A punk/metal kid back in the 80s, he taught himself accordion in retaliation against the onslaught of grunge. This might be his best album: nice to see, for someone who’s been making music since the 90s and remains one of the most underrated songwriters in rock, or whatever you call what he does. The album is due out in a couple of days from Cuneiform;  he and the band play a hometown album release show on Oct 4  at the Empire Black Box Theatre in Providence.

Kotorino Stuns the Crowd at Joe’s Pub

At any given time, there are always about two dozen New York rock bands who could be the best in town, and Kotorino are definitely among the current crop. Friday night at Joe’s Pub, Kotorino reminded that out of all those bands, they’re by far the most original and probably the most interesting. They didn’t do their trademark switching off on instruments – the drummer emerging from behind the kit to take a turn on harmonium, for example – leaving only frontman Jeff Morris to alternate between guitar and piano. Debonair and intense in front of the band, he scooched from side to side as he sang with an unaffected but apprehensive delivery that frequently threatened to reach to the level of a scream but never quite went there. That pervasive angst matched to an equally vivid joie de vivre perfectly capsulizes the appeal of this band, part gypsy rock, part noir cabaret, part chamber pop. This was the eight-piece version of the group, with Morris backed by two violins, trumpet, multi-reeds (baritone and tenor sax plus bass clarinet), tuba and bass for extra slinky low-register fatness, and drums.

The most amazing moment of the night, and there were plenty of those, was when the two women in the band put down their violins and joined Morris at the piano, singing eerily swooping, microtonal close harmonies that added a surreal gypsy-tinged menace to the song’s bittersweet psychedelics. “It won’t get better than this,” Morris intoned, making it clear that he meant that in every possible sense. At the end, Jesse Selengut – who was a one-man crescendo army on trumpet, all night long – exchanged bars with Stefan Zeniuk’s bass clarinet until the whole band took the song up and out with an emphatic, ominous stomp. The band opened with what was essentially a dark garage rock number in 7/8 time that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Botanica catalog: “I never had a chance to work it out, never had a chance,” Morris lamented. They followed that Oh My God, a lush steampunk anthem about sailing away in a balloon from their most recent album Broken Land, equal parts exhilaration and dread as the band built to a brief, frantic doublespeed interlude and then reverted gracefully to a distantly majestic sway.

With the harmonies between Morris and violinist Molly White – whose torchy allure made a potent contrast with his pensive, contemplative style – many of the songs evoked fellow Brooklyn art-rockers the Snow. False endings and sudden tempo changes abounded. A couple of the songs kicked off with a reggae beat and then built warily and methodically from there; the creepiest one of the night, at least musically, was a piano waltz with abrasive muted trumpet, a suspensefully atonal, swirlingly atmospheric interlude where Selengut got the chance to unleash his inner elephant and then a big, roaring outro.

It took nerve to close the set with a suicide song, Dangle Tango, but that’s what they did, lighting it up with uneasy clarinet trills and chillingly gleeful la-la harmonies as it built to a towering, manic-depressive sway that finally exploded at the end. As the audience did, seconds afterward, obviously stunned by this band’s unpredictable power. They screamed for an encore and got a rousing but uneasy singalong; they wanted another, but by now it was almost one in the morning and the club staff all looked ready for bed.

Hannah vs. the Many’s New Album Packs a Wallop

If you like the idea of Amanda Palmer but the nerdgirl shtick makes you want to barf, Hannah vs. the Many is the band for you. Their new album All Our Heroes Drank Here is streaming at their Bandcamp site, where it’s onsale for a sarcastic-as-hell $1. Hannah Fairchild’s acidic, unaffectedly malevolent, frequently menacing songs chronicle a bleak early 21st century depression-era New York drenched in disappointment and despair. She sings with a powerful wail, has a laserlike feel for a catchy tune and a worldview that’s something less than optimistic, no surprise given the uneasy, desperate milieu her characters inhabit. Her women drink hard and crash hard when their diminishing sense of hope finally deserts them – imagine a female Jarvis Cocker, or Aimee Mann in a really bad mood, with a harder-rocking band.

Over the roar and the chime of the guitars, Fairchild slings torrents of lyrics:

Looking for your echoes in the melodies I’ve found
There are songs I sing on days you’re not around
Every time the notes are pretty, every time the notes fail me
No kiss is ever more than sugar sweet
No affection is ever more than river deep

she wails, in Muse, the album’s loudest song, a hellbent, galloping rocker. Interestingly, her most opaque lyric is set to the album’s most striking, unpredictably memorable tune, the new wave-tinged Better Off My Way. Yet that one ends cruelly as well, her shellshocked protagonist standing in the harbor up to her ankles, freezing and fooling nobody. The most unselfconsciously beautiful song on the album, and maybe its strongest track, is Jordan Baker. Lushly watery Rickenbacker guitar chiming and mingling with the piano, Fairchild casually yet meticulously paints a picture that was doomed from the start – and it ends ambiguously with what might be a suicide…or maybe just the apocalypse.

Other songs are driven more by frustration and rage than by total emotional depletion. The bouncy, dramatic opening track, A Biography of Cells caustically chronicles a would-be up-and-coming New Yorker’s frustrations in an all-too-familiar milieu that later reaches fever pitch in the corrosive noir cabaret song The Party Faithful. Proof of Movement, a frustration anthem, contrasts a claustrophobic lyric with a bustling, insistent piano-driven art-rock melody, while 20 Paces quietly and apprehensively explores a budding, doomed, drunken relationship. True Believers is a lushly orchestrated art-rock anthem that takes an offhand swipe at a crowd who “came to be seen and we stay for the show, coming together to stand here alone.” The rest of the album includes an apprehensively glimmering chamber-rock ballad simply titled Nocturne, and the lickety-split noir cabaret scenario Hideous/Adorable. There’s a lot to like here – fans of noir rock, steampunk and gypsy rock as well as classic lyrical songwriters from Elvis Costello to Randi Russo should check out this band: solid, purist playing from Matthew Healy on piano, Jake W-M on bass, Erica Harsch on drums, Josh Fox on guitar and Meredith Leich on violin. It’s an early contender for best rock record of 2012.

Kotorino’s Broken Land – One of This Past Year’s Best Albums

Brooklyn band Kotorino play darkly elegant, trippy, gypsy-flavored “parlor rock” with carnivalesque touches. It’s astonishing that their most recent album Broken Land hasn’t gotten more press than it has: there’s a huge audience out there who will love this record (this blog didn’t yet exist when it came out about a year ago). There are other bands who work the same territory – Oregon gypsy band Fishtank Ensemble, in their quieter moments, or fellow Brooklyn chamber-rock band the Snow – but Kotorino’s sound is unique. Often their lead instrument is Stefan Zeniuk’s clarinet or bass clarinet, other times it’s a singing saw. Frontman Jeff Morris’ guitar gives some of the songs a slinky tango vibe; then he’ll play with a slide, adding a rustic, nocturnal, bluesy edge, or switch to pump organ. Onstage, the band members all switch and play each others’ instruments, adding a level of mystery here as to who’s playing what – drummer Jerome Morris on guitar? Could be. Harmony singer Amy Morris and violinist Molly White add to the lush, low-key ambience, joining voices conspiratorially over accordionist Nicki Pfoutz’s plaintive chords.

The album kicks off with a tango vibe enhanced by White’s stark violin accents and a nicely layered horn arrangement. The second track, Little Boat goes for an understated unease which bobs to the surface again and again throughout the album. It’s a metaphorically-loaded escape anthem: “Sitting there with my myserious frown, Mona Lisa turned upside down,” explains Jeff Morris as his craft loses sight of shore, a torchy chromatic harp solo raising the apprehension another notch. Under the Moon sounds like the Snow playing dub reggae; the next track, Hawaii, drenched in dreamy steel guitars, could be El Radio Fantastique covering the Moonlighters. It’s a shipwreck survivor’s tale, with what seems to be an unexpectedly happy ending.

The best song on the album is Sky’s on Fire, an ominous banjo tune with a casually chilling violin solo that underscores its narrator’s madness: “From a butterfly to a hurricane, there’s a sky in my eye, it’s on fire,” Jeff Morris intones quietly. They go back to reggae – and a surreal, woozy carousel interlude – with Paris Underground, then Dangle Tango builds a series of suspenseful crescendos around a would-be suicide’s tale:

Angels are circling my head
Flying sweetly round and round
I feel like old King Kong
As I try to knock them down

The slow, singing saw sway of Oh My God – a metaphorical tale of flying off in a balloon – is irresistibly romantic. They close the album with the title track, a bluesy 6/8 steampunk anthem for a bucolic Brooklyn of the mind in some alternate future. Kotorino choose their gigs wisely: watch this space for upcoming live dates.

A Dark and Stormy Night with Amour Obscur and Copal

After grabbing a surprisingly quick train in midtown following Matt Herskowitz’s show Wednesday night, it was good to be able to catch most of Amour Obscur’s set on a completely kick-ass gypsy punk bill at R Bar. Dee Dee Vega, a small woman with a big, powerful contralto voice fronts the band. For her, cabaret is strictly noir – when she went down to a growl, it was as creepy as it was lurid. A lot of their songs reminded of World Inferno when that band was just coming up, part ska, part klezmer punk, part creepy cabaret. They left no doubt that St. James Infirmary Blues is a funeral march, and turned Minnie the Moocher into the world’s most energetic song about smoking pot. But their originals were the best. Bassist Matt “The Knife” Goldpaugh swapped vocals with Vega on a couple of lickety-split, darkly chromatic gypsy punk stomps while Matt Dallow got some macabre organ tones swirling from his neon-lit accordion, the electric mandolin slashed and skanked and the horns punched in and out like a drunken but still dangerous prizefighter. “Only the whiskey’s coming home with me,” they sang deliriously and defiantly as the show wound out. They’re at the small downstairs space at Webster Hall on Nov 12.

Copal were up next. At one point during their set, the band suddenly went almost silent, interrupting a couple of guys in the crowd who’d been embroiled in a conversation. A couple of people turned around – and the guys immediately shut up. This wasn’t a stuffy classical audience, either. It was a young, drinking crowd who just happened to be transfixed by the band, crowding toward the stage as bandleader/violinist Hannah Thiem and cellist Isabel Castellvi – who also plays in the equally adventurous and eclectic Mivos Quartet – exchanged riffs and built an atmosphere that ranged from hypnotically swirling to downright menacing. With its elegantly rising bass intro and stately minor-key melody, the opening instrumental set the tone for the rest of the night. They picked up the pace with the second tune, a pounding drum intro and cello-metal riff kicking off a tarantella theme. After a solo by guest dumbek player Liron Peled (of Raquy & the Cavemen), a wild vortex of strings rose and then gracefully returned to the theme, taking it out sudden and cold.

The most intense song of many was Into the Shadow Garden, the opening track on the band’s latest album. Thiem’s apprehensive, Middle Eastern intensity was echoed in ghostly fragments by Castellvi over a long, hypnotic brooding levantine vamp contrasting the strings’ tense elegance with the percussion’s eerie, boomy ambience. Once again, they reached a point where the strings leaped into a snarling whirlwind, then back away just a hair, Thiem shadowing Castellvi this time. The next tune was a roomful of mirrors: first the group’s bellydancer moving in unison with Thiem as the two swayed, smiling, completely lost in the music, then Thiem reprising a Castellvi riff move for move, right down to the overtones as the phrase trailed out with a sepulchral chill. The magic continued as the band made their way through more Middle Eastern as well as Celtic, Balkan and trip-hop influenced grooves, closing with an anthemically stomping, trippy tune that had the whole floor either dancing or bobbing their heads. Is Copal the best live band in New York right now? After seeing this show, the answer might be yes.

Bad Buka were next: by the looks of things, everybody stayed, which they should have, since those gypsy punks are a phenomenal live band. But in this blog business, you eventually see pretty much everybody who’s any good. If you happened to miss them, Bad Buka are at their home base, Mehanata, on Halloween around midnight.