Lucid Culture


The Parker String Quartet and las Rubias del Norte Live in Dumbo 7/9/08

If a band sounds even somewhat good on a bad night, that’s always a reason for optimism. The groups playing the first show of the summer at the old Tobacco Warehouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park Thursday evening couldn’t have found themselves dealing with much more adverse conditions. The humidity was toxic, the kind of night where sweaty fingers typically slip and slide all over the fretboard or the keys. That these two acts not only kept it together, but managed to turn in superior sets, speaks volumes. The Parker String Quartet opened. “I don’t know if you came out expecting to hear classical music,” one of the violinists told the crowd seated on the floor under the big tent, “But that’s what you’re getting.” With the constant rumble of vehicles on the bridge overhead and a police helicopter that wouldn’t stop circling, this wasn’t the ideal sonic setting for anything other than punk or metal, but the four players wouldn’t be stopped. They opened with a very pretty Beethoven quartet (in F, if memory serves right), a piece they seem to know well. The chemistry between group members was apparent from the start, and despite the sauna-like conditions they were obviously enjoying themselves. Next on the bill was a Janacek partita on the theme of the Kreutzer Sonata by Tolstoy. Bearing no resemblance to the Beethoven piece in the story (which ends when the main character kills his wife in a fit of jealousy), it’s a long murder mystery score, all emotional tension, a lot of dark ambience punctuated by dramatic flourishes and innumerable false endings, every one of them perfectly nailed by the quartet. They closed on a joyously crescendoing note with the final movement of the last string quartet by Haydn (“The father of the string quartet,” gleefully noted one of the group). This is an adventurous crew. In addition to the usual concert hall circuit, they play small clubs like Barbes, making them especially worth seeking out if classical is your thing.


Between sets, the Roots of Chicha compilation played over the PA, an appropriate touch since Chicha Libre frontman Olivier Conan, who assembled the album, also plays cuatro in las Rubias del Norte. This time out, the harmony-driven pan-American revivalists left no doubt that all the hype about them is no joke. Like the Moonlighters, their sound is lush and romantic but also groundbreaking and even exciting. Frontwoman Allyssa Lamb – an accomplished accordionist – played melodica, backed by Conan’s cuatro along with electric guitar, upright bass and two percussionists. Her vocal accomplice Emily Hurst (whom Lamb met while singing in a classical choir) also played xylophone. Lamb’s voice is the more arresting of the two, a powerful, crystalline high soprano with just a touch of vibrato that she adds at the end of a phrase if she feels it’s necessary. Hurst’s lower harmonies were spot-on all night. Virtually all of the band’s lyrics are in Spanish, but the duo pulled it off without sounding like gringos.


The set was a travelogue through El Sur, including several cumbias, one a somewhat frantic number about a bad dream, another a cozy Xmas tune. The band also played a bouncy Venezuelan vallenato song along with some darkly swaying Mexican stuff, a piece from a Bollywood musical and a segment from the Mozart Requiem that they’d rearranged and set to a latin beat. Is that cool or what? They also invited the sweat-soaked Parkers to join them on three songs. With the strings and the harmonies soaring together, it was absolute epic grandeur: Electric Light Rubias del Orchestra?  If you haven’t seen las Rubias del Norte (which translates colloquially as the American Blondes) lately, now is the time.


Toward the end of the set, the ominous clouds sweeping overhead finally burst. “Is it raining?” Lamb asked. “I wish it would rain onstage.” She’d said earlier that it was about 120 degrees up there, which seemed like an understatement considering that everyone onstage was sweating bullets. In the be-careful-what-you-wish-for department, the sky suddenly exploded in a massive torrent, rivers of water gushing down the sides of the tent and blowing in through every opening in the sides. Conan discreetly lept offstage in the middle of a song to secure some gear situated close to the deluge, while the band, surrounded by bright electric lights, amps and ten live mics, bravely continued on. But the storm was over almost as fast as it started.

July 10, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

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