My first concert of the year was a big one – three popular local bands, all touching on the klezmer/circus/gypsy music family. We are blessed with a lot of that sort of music here in Boston, although I’ve never really known why. Whatever the reason may be, in my opinion it’s a very good thing!
The show was at Johnny D’s in Somerville, where I hadn’t been in ages. They recently changed their ticketing system for the worse, unfortunately. You used to be able to buy a ticket online, then call to reserve a table, where you could eat and drink as much or as little as you felt like. With the new system, if you want to get a table reserved, you have to pre-pay for $12 or $20 worth of food, which must be ordered from a limited prix fixe menu. This can make things considerably more expensive, especially since you have to pay fees on the food prepayment amount. On the plus side, Johnny D’s is a pretty decent place to see a concert: the sightlines and sound are both good, and the food is better and less expensive than a lot of similar concert venues.
Cirkestra was the first band of the night, and I couldn’t help but notice that their usual saxophone player was not there. I felt a little sad about that, because she’s one of my favorite things about that band. There was another saxophone player in her place, who I knew I had seen in another band recently, but I couldn’t put my finger on it for a while. Finally it hit me: I saw him play with Amanda Palmer at the Paradise in November! (If you’re wondering why that was so memorable, watch this video and laugh and/or cry) He did a really good job, especially considering that he was apparently a last-minute substitute. Their regular saxophone player showed up halfway through the set and joined them on stage – it was fun having a double-sax version of the band. I’ve seen them a bunch of times before, and they never disappoint – they have lots of energy, and veer from klezmer music to circus music and back again. The core of the band is accordion, violin, tuba/sousaphone, drums, and saxophone/clarinet. I’ve also seen them with a pianist who played both grand and toy pianos. (I can’t help but love a band that incorporates a toy piano.) (Click here to see a video of Cirkestra)
The second band was Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band. I’d seen them before, but only passing by in a parade (it turns out they’re not actually stationary all the time!). So I didn’t exactly know what to expect from a full concert in a setting like this. After seeing them, I think it’s fair to say that no ENSMB neophyte will ever understand what they are getting into until it’s happening! They were hands-down the best band of the night, full of energy and life and surprises at every turn. I have a hard time even describing them – there is definitely some steampunk involved, and circus and klezmer and I don’t know what else. They were great fun, and quickly had the audience storming the dance floor and jumping around with a variety of crazy dance moves. They are a large band (over a dozen people) and had a wide variety of instruments, including some fiddles, saxophones, electric guitar, sousaphone, drums, trumpet, trombone and accordion. (I’m sure I’m forgetting some.) I can only say that I’m really sorry I hadn’t gotten around to seeing them earlier, and I hope I get to see them again soon. They’re definitely being added to my “must-see local bands” list. (Click here to see a video of ENSMB)
Klezwoods was the final band of the night, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I were organizing the concert – they are the most sedate band of the three. They’re really good, but after the insanity of ENSMB, there was a certain let-down feeling. “Oh, I guess we’re all going to sit back down now. OK.” They adopted some musicians from earlier bands (I think about half of Cirkestra was playing with them) and had brought along some belly dancers, so it was pretty fun to watch everything that was going on. For a grand finale, they invited all the musicians on stage who were still hanging around from previous sets, played a really raucous klezmer number, and the belly dancers started leading a growing group of people in a chain dance, weaving in and out between tables and back to the bar and around the whole place. A couple of the musicians who couldn’t find space on stage played while running around the restaurant with the dancers. It was quite a scene! By the end of that piece, just about all of us were on our feet, dancing and clapping along. It was a great way to end a particularly fun night of music. (Click here to see a video of Klezwoods)
I’m looking forward to seeing Klezwoods again at the Lilypad on March 29th, where they will be playing with the Underscore Orkestra from Portland. And while I won’t be in attendance, you can see a Cirkestra concert being live-streamed from the Kennedy Center on Saturday, January 26th, at 6PM EST.