Initially, I'd thought about covering Sun Blood Stories' fundraiser show at the Crux; they're one of my favorite local bands right now, and I wanted to support their efforts to get their new album out. In the end, however, this Neurolux show was too intriguing to pass up. I mean, Phantahex and Fleet Street Klezmer Band on the same bill? I had to hear how that would play out.
I counted about twenty-five people when I got to Neurolux. I counted over fifty when the headliner, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, played. Half of that number chose to hang out on the patio, but that still made for a decent enough audience.
Fleet Street Klezmer Band opened the show. I've seen this group quite a few times and enjoyed each performance, so it surprises me that I hadn't noticed before how good a singer Shlomo Kostenko is. That may be because their Romanian/Russian/gypsy tunes tend to call for a certain amiable roughness; they work better if he sounds like some dude from your village who just got up to sing a song. Certain moments here, however, allowed Kostenko to show the power of his baritone moan--its strength, its range, its sonorousness. Meanwhile, the rapport between his rock-steady strumming, Victoria Kostenko's gliding violin and Matthew Vorhies's jaunty accordion felt especially strong. Drummer Alfonso Sanchez stumbled more than a few times but generally got back on the beat quick enough. Last but not least, Cecilia Rinn pitched in with some pleasant finger cymbal and some lissome belly-dancing.
Phantahex played next. In with the old, in with the new. This set featured Tristan Andreas playing a monochord again as well as a continuation of the tuneful, rhythmic bent of this duo's Red Room set back in January. The jittery, booming beats and the spare, somber melodies made the hisses and screeches stand in sharper relief. Grant Olsen's detached, auto-tuned vocals made the mixture even more haunting. Abrasive yet accessible. Both cool as in brrr and cool as in whoa.
Next up was A Hawk and a Hacksaw. This Albuquerque duo's ersatz, postmodern mashup of various world musics--Balkan, Klezmer, Arabian, a little Buddhist chant and taiko drumming (I think)--helped the pairing of such disparate openers make a bit more sense. I wondered at first if this was all a big hipster joke--an evocation of community and solidarity undercut by a smug, savvier-than-thou obscurantism. Heather Trost's frantic, zipping violin and Jeremy Barnes's scurrying accordion work did little to ease my misgivings, impressive though they both were. However, as the set progressed from a stolid anthem to some lively, buzzing, poly-rhythmic material, they started to win me over. It was as if they wanted to take you from an institutionalized or state-imposed vision of community to the flesh-and-blood experience of it. Or maybe I just appreciate dance-beats much more than accordions. In any case, the crowd was with them right from the start. By A Hawk and a Hacksaw's encore, which they played unplugged among the people on the dance floor, I was with them too.
After the Neurolux show wrapped, I swung by the Crux in time to catch the tail-end of Sun Blood Stories' set. The place was as crowded as I'd hoped, and the performance was as ass-whomping as I'd expected. Some psychedelic montages courtesy of Jason Willford upped the intensity level a notch. What with all the painted faces, all the roars of applause and all the used clothes, books and tapes on a table in the back, the band hopefully made enough money to get their new album, The Electric Years, out. But even if they did, you should go to their web store and contribute because dammit, their very presence here makes this town twice as sexy.
You can find info on these acts on Facebook and elsewhere online. If you like what you've read and would like to help keep it going, click the yellow "Give" button and donate whatever you can. Even $5 would help. And special thanks to Tristan Andreas for looking up A Hawk and a Hacksaw's cimbalom and stroh violin on his smartphone.