Concert Review: Frankenpine at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 10/14/09
In case you don’t know what a frankenpine is, it’s a cellphone tower designed to look like a pine tree. “There’s one on the Merritt Parkway, and it looks more like a mascara brush,” Frankenpine’s frontwoman Kim Chase scowled as she explained her band’s name to the impressively good crowd who came out to Lakeside to see them last Wednesday. Lakeside gets a ton of good bands, but not all of them pack the place on a weekday like this crew did. The careening six-piece bluegrass group ran through a gorgeously tuneful, diverse mix of originals and imaginatively arranged covers with lots of terse, inspiring solos, all of which they kept relatively brief. The chemistry between the band members was apparent from their first song, where banjo player Matthew Chase handed off his solo to the resonator player – who then fired off some intriguingly spiky mandolin voicings. Nobody steps all over anybody else, and it’s obvious that this crew has a lot of fun – with Frankenpine, the music takes centerstage over anyone’s ego which is an awfully nice thing to see. What they play is the future of bluegrass, not the past. Everybody brings something from another genre to the band – the resonator player knows his blues, the violinist has an effortless, classically-inflected gracefulness and the guitarist/mandolinist might have a background in theatre, considering the comedic style of his songs. There hasn’t been any bluegrass band in town this unpredictably fun since the Dixie Bee-Liners vamoosed for the woods of Virginia and started winning IBMAs.
Kim Chase brought a defiant, uneasy wail to the songs, from the mournful requiem Boatman to a propulsive, upbeat, slightly Southwestern gothic outlaw ballad inspired by the Clint Eastwood film The Outlaw Josey Wales. The banjo instrumental Wolf at the Door was as tense and climactic as the title implied; contrasting with that were two songs by the mandolinist, one a funny number called I Don’t Love You Because You’re Pretty. The covers included a gory Civil War era narrative about battlefield amputation and drinking (which go hand in hand), sung by the bassist (who also doubled impressively on harmonica, and also played the kazoo); a hypnotic fade up into a swaying, psychedelic version of John the Revelator; a starkly rustic St. James Infirmary, playing the gruesomeness of the lyrics for all they were worth, and Dolly Parton’s Memories of You, sung by Kim Chase with a heartfelt wail that matched the longing of the original while avoiding falling into the trap of trying to beat Dolly at her own style (you can’t, and this is the rare kind of band who know that). They closed their set with a soaring original, clanging and plinking with gusto over some tasty major-to-minor changes. If you’re sick of ossified bluegrass bands, i.e. where you’re afraid to take a hit of your beer because you might burp and someone in the band might glare at you, get to know Frankenpine. They wouldn’t mind if you danced. And you could. They’re at Spikehill on Nov 8 at 2 (two) PM and then at Fat Baby on 11/21 at 9.