Friday, May 30, 2008

Firewater/La Scala/Post Honeymoon; May 30, 2008; Empty Bottle

According to a certain kind of logic, we can thank President Bush for the new Firewater record. Fed up with the current administration, Tod A. left the country in the wake of 2004’s election results. While spending time in Europe, he came up with the idea of traveling to areas of the world that aren’t your usual tourist destinations armed with a microphone and a recorder. The percussionists that he recorded from India, Pakistan, Turkey and Israel became the backbone of his first record of original music since 2003 (a covers record was released in ’04). As the songs formed around the beats he started looking for a label to put the record out. Who would have thought that it would end up at Bloodshot, a label better known for Americana than for world music. Thank you Bloodshot for taking a chance on one of the most exciting and innovative records of the year.

When the time came to tour The Golden Hour Tod was faced with the dilemma of finding a handful of musicians to replicate what he collected from all over the world. Surprisingly enough, he found most of them on MySpace, which explains the diverse group of musicians on stage with him tonight. The only name I actually recognized was that of Skeleton Key, the New York based band who loaned out their bass player Erik Sanko for the tour. I’ve always been fan of Skeleton Key and their eclectic percussionist who would bang out rhythms on everything from a red wagon to a gas tank, and I wasted no time asking Sanko if they would ever be interested in playing the basement. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

The showy percussionist of this band, Johnny Kalsi, came from England where apparently he plays arenas with his 24 piece band and is friends with Angelina Jolie… Tod sure was lucky to get him. Lead guitar and drums were likewise ably handled. But the show was stolen by Reut Regev, a brass player from India (but who calls NYC home now). The horns are nearly as important as the percussion on these songs and she had an arsenal of weapons at her disposal. In addition to the normal-sized trombone that she played on most songs, she also had a soprano version which was absolutely as cute as it sounds. She also brought out a giant-sized flugelhorn for the heavy duty stuff. Her skill was impressive, the horns sounded warm and expressive. Oh yeah, and she was totally gorgeous.

With all of that going on, Tod had his hands full trying to stand out. He managed that by summoning a whirlwind of energy for their too short set. When he wasn’t playing guitar, he was shaking a pair of maracas as if his life depended on it. Most of the time he was just a blur in a super cool T-shirt (which turned out to be from some Asian baseball team). With the time and effort that went into making this record, he can be forgiven for concentrating most of the set on those songs. Still, it would have been great to hear some of the earlier stuff, especially “So Long Superman” from The Ponzi Scheme, the song that got me into them in the first place. This record’s equivalent of that is “Three Legged Dog,” with its classic line “Y'know my father thinks I'm lazy 'cause I ain't got no career
And my mother thinks I'm crazy, and my sister thinks I'm queer,” though I admit I preferred it without the woo hoo’s nicked from “Sympathy for the Devil.”

It had been a long, long wait since their last tour, as Tod says in one of The Golden Hour’s songs, “it’s weird to be back.” Maybe, but we sure are glad you finally made it back. What a strange trip it was.

Openers La Scala were well-chosen if perhaps a little too similar to the headliner. Imagine the offspring of a Firewater/Franz Ferdinand fling and that pretty much nails it. While the combination is entertainingly listenable, I found myself wishing they had their own identity. Chicagoans Post Honeymoon were the witty duo who opened the show, though more than that I don’t really remember.

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