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Secret Chiefs 3 & Sleepytime Gorilla Museum @ La Tulipe

Posted by Susan / March 14, 2007

It's hard to trust a white boy with a sitar.

It's just been done. We've been there, we've worn our daishikis. If it's been Beatled, it's fair to say that digging it up is simply going to put you in the company of countless garage bands who misinterpreted Ringo's iron-handed drumming to mean that anyone could make good music.

Unless, that is, you dig it up good.

The beauty of Secret Chiefs 3 is their amazing ability to take pastiche to a new level. Damn straight they're using a sitar. And they're using it in the same musical breath as surf city guitar twang, cinematic violin, and prog rock beats so unpredictable that your head bopping starts to look like someone threw a stone into a blender on high speed.

This ain't just kitsch; it's kitsch redux.

20070314_SecretChiefs3.jpg Secret Chiefs 3 is lead by former Faith No More member Trey Spruance and...well, a whole bunch of other people. Which people sort of depends on what day it is.

Spruance has apparently been into some pretty amazing reading on mysticism, and the philosophy has definitely influenced the band's style. This is magic spelled with a K. This is piano work that sounds like a soap opera score in your nightmares, if the cast of Days of Our Lives were all zombies. The show at La Tulipe on Tuesday night spanned so many genres it began to take on the personality of a cluster of Batman leitmotivs on crack.

But as compelling and entertaining as all of this was, I missed the singing. The instrumental focus of every song was a bit overwhelming. While words are never a completely adequate, they add to the expression of a song. And while I'm sure I'm inviting the wrath of the adoring crowd that came out to see Secret Chiefs 3, this was one show where the opening act proved darn tough to follow.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum took the stage with incredible energy, and wailed on their instruments - some of which they made themselves, including a haunting bass harmonica - and just wailed in general. The sharp soprano of violinist Carla Kihlstedt pretty much blew me away. Frontman Dan Rathbun catapulted through falsetto, rhythmic scream, and belting rock.

Perhaps the most memorable was his turn at the old Death Metal growl, which he used to sing lyrics he took from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. The idea of putting to music a text that was written in an inscrutible mix of languages and jibberish, and singing it in a voice that seems designed to mask words beyond any hope of coherence, was a kind of artistic synergy that gives Lit nerds like me the warm fuzzies.

You can see why I craved the singing.

All this probably wouldn't have been so affecting had it not been at La Tulipe, one of my favourite venues. What can I say, I have a weakness for pretty theatres that have seen grander days. And apparently, so does Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's guitarist.

"Isn't it so nice?" he gushed to me after the show. Laughing, he confessed that "when we walked in today, it was so beautiful I wanted to cry!"



Andrew / March 14, 2007 at 12:29 pm
I was at that weird and rockin' show. Fine bands, great crowd. And a cool review! I like the photo of the tour bus :)
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