Thursday, November 1, 2007

golem w. rasputina @ music hall of williamsburg, 10/31/07

halloween with klezmer and victorian cello rock. ooh, spooky!

to tell you the truth (if the title didn't give it away), i was there for golem. it's no secret that i've been enjoying the excellent fresh off boat all year long, and their captivating live act is what turned me on to them in the first place. as i missed their last show in new york, in september, i was definitely not going to miss them here for halloween! golem waltzed onstage, proud members of the living dead, to what was a very disappointingly small crowd, which was destined to not grow much bigger. in april, golem was greeted with cheers and manic dancing, electrifying bowery ballroom with their trademark "eastern european folk punk," but they couldn't score the love in their own backyard. a shame that, because golem, despite their gaping wounds and bloodied faces, tore through their set with a furious energy.

golem opened with a song i didn't recognize, a disappointment that became a trend throughout the set. some were old, like the set closer from homesick songs, golem's second album, and some were new, songs so fresh that they didn't have names, from golem's next release, with a hopeful 2008 release. fortunately, golem quickly segued into "warsaw is khelm," their ostensible single and most famous song. what makes "warsaw is khelm" really distinctive, beyond the fierce charm and dance-friendly upbeats, is that it is one of golem's only songs in english. golem virgins (of which there were plenty at the show) definitely needed golem's standard bilingual introduction, delivered by accordion/vocalist annette ezekiel and tambourine/vocalist/count dracula aaron diskin. ezekiel and diskin, speaking in short bursts, answered the unspoken question "what the hell were they speaking?" it isn't english; it isn't german; it isn't even hebrew - it's yiddish! golem's lingua franca originated in eastern europe, the language of displaced jews, who also gave the world the marvelous form of music known as klezmer, from which golem draws not a little inspiration.

the two previous times i've talked about golem, i've been seriously impressed by their lack of electric instruments - while no great shakes in the klezmer world, it is a novelty in indieland, and, from my perspective, a major force in shaping their sound. however, i'm not going to talk about that today (even i know when a dead horse has been flogged enough); the issue at hand is how skilled golem is at their respective instruments. this isn't really a surprise, considering how virtuosic fresh off boat was, but even that doesn't hold a candle to their live performance. trombonist curtis hasselbring and violinist alicia jo rabins soloed in nearly every song, their arms blurs as rabins' bow raced over strings or hasselbring punched the air (with his trombone) in exhilaration. bassist taylor bergren-chrismas and drummer tim monaghan also enjoyed their time in the (metaphorical) spotlight, especially on "charlatan-ka," which will henceforth be remembered as the song when all the lights went out, and stayed out. power failure? accident? who knows. golem played by the light of cell phones, and the song went on without a hitch.

showmanship and quality are often inversely related - the flashier a band less, the less they want you to concentrate on their sound. this is not always the case, of course, and golem handily juggles the two, sacrificing neither. i feel strongly that monaghan's face, gripped in wild-eyed delight and contorted into bizarre expressions signifying the raw excitement and intensity of golem live, could be their most valuable (or inadvertent) stage spectacle, but it is really just one piece of their performative charm. ezekiel and diskin share singing duties in well-practiced harmony, but diskin is golem's real eye candy. jumping and gesticulating wildly, in time to the music or not, diskin manages to catch eyes. aaron diskin performed one of the most outstanding feats of boozingi have ever seen - or would have, if there had been actual cognac in the bottle he downed during a particularly fierce drinking song. but his actual intoxication is beside the point; diskin's pantomime was the perfect accompaniment. how else can you perform a drinking song, other than with drinking? dressed as a convincing jewish dracula, diskin wore a black cloak with red lining and was presumably caked in talcum powder, which irregularly came off him is great dust clouds. for "bublichki," one of fresh off boat's finest songs, about, according to ezekiel, "an orphaned boy...with a fucked up family." oxymorons aside, "bublichki" was one of the set's best musical moments, though it's finest spectacle came during golem's sexy song, the name of which i actually don't know. i saw it in april as well, as song that sounds rude to my non-yiddish ears, and is probably even worse if you understand it. here, ezekiel and diskin's chemistry is perfected, mocking and passionate, lascivious and absolutely kosher.

golem are not merely an excellent studio band, proven beyond a shadow of a doubt with fresh off boat, but superb in concert, visually and aurally engaging, especially in white and black zombie makeup. yet the most important part of any great concert is the excitement of the fans, and golem's music couldn't coax them into dancing (or, possibly, comprehending its amazingness). there are several good reasons why no one danced, with complete ignorance probably at the top of the list. however, golem is staking their claim, playing impressive live shows and releasing solid albums, and i doubt many will remain ignorant for long.

so, rasputina? i never warmed to them, even after a friend made me listen to thanks for the ether, but i can't deny that i was intrigued to see what they were going to do for halloween. how do neo-victorians play dress-up? i was hoping they would all come onstage in modern attire (i would've laughed), but their costumes seemed only barely distinguishable from their standard ones. frontlady melora creager was dressed as a native american guide, complete with feathered headdress, though her outfit was somewhat incomplete and only made sense when she explained what they were all dressed as. fellow cellist sarah bowman was "edgar allan crow biotch," whatever that means, though drummer jonathon tebeest earns kudos as rasputina's best dressed member of the night. mostly naked from the waist up, tebeest was a very convincing "god of the deep sea cucumber," bedecked in shells and beads, and resplendent in a plastic crown and trident. rasputina's penchant for costuming was clearly in effect, though not quite as glamorously as i had expected it to be, especially on halloween.

i won't lie: i left before rasputina's set was over. i just couldn't get into their sound, which seemed more a muddle of cello and effects pedals than any semblance of songwriting. rasputina played at least three covers last night, opening their set with a version of "all tomorrow's parties" that didn't quite cut it. for me, it didn't get much better. rasputina attempted a cover of belle & sebastian's "fox in the snow," quite stripped down and spare, though creager was clearly straining a little too much to hit murdoch's high notes. they followed that with "wish you were here," greeted appreciatively by the crowd, but i'd heard enough. especially after golem's furious foot-stamping klezmer rawk, rasputina seemed a little weak - i wanted raucous, drunk dancing, but everyone seemed merely content to stand around and gape.

buy golem's fresh off boat here, and rasputina merchandise here.

golem - "bublichki"

No comments: