Mucca Pazza / Baby Teeth / Chandeliers @ The MansionJune 19th, 2008
First, the venue: this show was held in the Stan Mansion, a 1920s greystone in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood that was formerly a Masonic Temple. Not quite Bruce Wayne’s house, but awfully close. On a tree-lined boulevard and surrounded by greenery, it’s the last place you’d expect a concert at (in fact, some people standing right in front of it asked me for directions there). Since the end of music at the Fireside Bowl, Chicago has been short on unique spaces like this for music, so it’s a welcome addition to the landscape (I haven’t yet had a chance to see a performance at South Union Arts, held in an old church with a giant neon cross, but that sounds pretty cool too). Of course, not being a dedicated music venue, there were a couple shortcomings. The “bar” was in a separate room from the music, they ran out of beer early on, and that led to a long line for a limited choice of drinks. The performance space had the temperature, humidity, and odor of an armpit, and stage lighting was minimal. However, the sound was surprisingly good for the cavernous, boxy room. I don’t think they’ve had many shows there (they’re run by the Empty Bottle people), so I’m sure some things will get smoothed out once they have more experience; I’ll have a chance to check it out again soon, since I see Shearwater there on Tuesday.
And, the music: Chandeliers was a drummer and four(!) guys playing keyboards/synthesizers. So pretty electronic sounding, though I think I did see an analog synth or two in there. Nothing too great. Baby Teeth was enjoyable; drums, bass, and a frontman playing keyboards. Good, simple, groovin’ pop songs, including lots of vocal harmonies from the drummer. The singer had an interesting keyboard setup: he almost always played with both hands, but the left hand was on a full keyboard, while the right played a smaller sequencer thing, often creating two quite different sounds. And sometimes I think he might have been manipulating the sound of one through the other, particularly when he’d do bendy, guitar-solo-type stuff.
I’ve wanted to see the spectacle created by the headliners, Mucca Pazza, for more than a year, but this was my first time. Instrumentally, they’re a 20- to 30-piece marching band, but aesthetically, they’re gypsy punk freaks. The lineup is about one-third brass, one-third percussion, and one-third miscellany (guitars, clarinets, accordion, violin, melodica, cheerleaders, etc.) Their mismatched, rag-tag marching band uniforms and their complete lack of marching are strong clues that the music coming out of their instruments isn’t going to sound like a traditional marching band. Instead, it often has a strong Balkan vibe to it, which means that this little-known Chicago band is (independently?) doing something surprisingly similar to little-known bands Alamaailman Vasarat and Estradasphere. It’s been a while since Estradasphere has done their whole ‘circus’, including their Death Metal Cheerleaders, and the guys in Mucca Pazza can’t match the mind-blowing instrumentalists in E-sphere, but they’re clearly drawing from similar influences. Especially since Mucca Pazza even had some “spy”-sounding numbers as well. They come even closer to the wall-of-sound style of Alamaailman Vasarat; although MP doesn’t have the bass-and-distorted-guitar of AV to provide the weight to their sound, they more than make up for it by sheer numbers.
Mucca Pazza made great use of the space; since only a few instruments required amplification, they frequently infiltrated the crowd, used the balcony at the rear, and one guy even made it up to play his horn out of the little decorative cutout high above the stage. With a band so large, I wondered if it would be difficult for individual members to keep the energy up, since very few of them are ever in the spotlight. But when your band is as large as the audience might be at a lot of other shows, that means that the rest of your band CAN be your audience. And since most of them are surely former(?) band geeks, they clearly enjoyed performing for each other as much as they did for us. So it was a ton of fun for everyone. I don’t know if they ever get this conglomerate on the road (actually they’ll be at Rothbury, along with…Estradsphere!), but if they do, see ’em, because it’s not something that you’ll see every day. Actually, instead of touring, they should just franchise out the concept, since I bet it would be pretty easy to find 30 band geeks in most cities in the country who would want to be part of something like this.