Blue Rabbit @ The Independent

24 May
Blue Rabbit Onstage 2

Photo by Julie Bernstein, funcrunchphoto.com

Well, gosh.  Last night, I swung by The Independent (as some might recall, my favorite place in the whole city of SF to play a show) to catch a set by the wonderful Blue Rabbit.  You guys – this band is a seriously good time. Picture this, if you will: the stage is lit in deep reds and purples, framed on either side by a trio of feather and masque-wearing mannequins; the back wall is hung with giant silver streamers, and there are musicians everywhere.  A willowy girl is plucking and grooving on a Celtic harp on stage left, cello, drums, keyboards, and violin are to her back. Center stage stand three beautiful women, dressed in a blue strapless dresses, wailing their way through some positively unhinged vocal arrangements, dancing together like some sort of post-looking-glass version of The Supremes, smiling, clapping, and singing, singing, singing.

Okay, now picture that you just ran about a mile at top speed to get to the show on time, you’ve blown in the door right at the start of their set with no preparation for what, exactly, it is you’ll be seeing.  That was me.  My train of thought upon arrival was basically, “Whew, okay, I’m here, getting my ticket, dude is searching my bag, hate that, going in, there they are whaaaaaaa?”  And then I just stood there grinning for about 45 minutes while the band shook the place down.  Cool.

Blue Rabbit is based in SF – they’re led by composer, songwriter, and singer Heather Anderson, who is joined on vocals by Arami Reyes and Sarah Rocklin. None of the three could be deemed the “lead singer,” and there is this chemistry thing going on with them… Heather’s humor, Arami’s huge smile and huger voice, Sarah’s understated style, suddenly busting out with a powerful lead… it really works. Eah Herren is the aforementioned willowy Celtic-harpist, sorta like River Tam with mad harp chops, joined by Kristin Harris in the back with the cello cranked.  Tim Galida and Kevin Weber added some Y Chromosomes (and some great playing) on keys and drums respectively, along with Adam Willumsen on violin and a special guest sax performance (which will always score points with me) by Martin Blank. Considering that the band doesn’t have a bass player, Tim did a great job of filling out the bottom end, and Kevin killed on drums!  I’m not sure if it was his own kit he was playing on, but his bass drum was the size of a backyard trampoline, and added a throbbing, undulating sound that really worked with the band’s vibe.

Okay, so I liked it – here’s the real challenge.  Can I describe the music to you?  Can I dance ever so carefully about the architecture?  Well, hmm. Obviously, the best way to get a feel for what Blue Rabbit is all about is to listen to the tracks they’ve got on their Myspace page, or pick up a copy of their record, Separate. It is getting harder and harder to describe most of the interesting music I’ve seen lately, the paradox being that that music is precisely the stuff I’d love to be able to describe!  The band just doesn’t fit on any universally accepted spectrum… like, if there’s a ten-point scale, with one being “Does Not Sound Like Cat Stevens,” and ten being “Sounds Like Cat Stevens,” then Blue Rabbit would be “Tangerine.”  So I’m going to try to describe their sound a different way.

Ahem. Please bear with me here: Blue Rabbit sounds like the best episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” ever.

Eah Herren

Photo by Julie Bernstein, funcrunchphoto.com

Wait, wait, don’t leave, I swear this is going somewhere better than last time. While watching their set, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was hanging out in The Bronze.  You remember how, on that show, a few times each season, the Scooby Gang would go to that club, and some spooky cello band would be playing spooky cello rock about love and death and other shit that matched up with whatever me-me-me drama Buff was going through at the moment?  Well, Blue Rabbit is like the coolest version of that possible. Like, remember when Aimee Mann played, and then she was all, “I’m sick of playing these vampire towns”?  It’s like that. You remember Dingoes Ate my Baby?  Blue Rabbit is like that band, if their music was completely different and every band member was Oz. Throughout their set, I was half-expecting to see David Boreanaz over in the corner looking broody and tortured.

Okay, back on track. To overuse alliteration, Blue Rabbit’s music is a chaotic but controlled cacophony – vocals fly all over the place, sometimes coming together in harmony, sometimes wandering apart, cartwheeling through the tessitura. I get the sense that a lot of the string and harp parts were orchestrated on the fly, with a minimum of pre-performance scoring.  At the very least, it sounds that way, which speaks to Heather’s mastery of avant-garde arranging. As a writer who is a bit of a control-freak, orchestration-wise, it’s exhilarating to hear a band be so free about it with such satisfying results.  What’s more, the band’s tunes rarely fall into familiar chord progressions or melodic contours – they manage to build their songs to a climax without relying on the standard musical language to do so. I could write some kind of provocative, fake-deep thing here about how dude bands climax in a completely different way than chick bands, but I think I’ll leave that particular depth unplumbed.  Still: interesting.

To watch Blue Rabbit perform is to be perpetually off-balance, unsure of where you are and how you got there, hoping the band will eventually set you back down when they’ve tired of twirling you about. Take a listen to their tunes, and go catch them live – just be sure to bring some garlic and holy water to ward off any vampires who might be in attendance. This is serious music approached with whimsy, loaded with tricksy, idiosyncratic writing and performed with charisma to spare.

They thrill, they charm; their grace disarms. In short: they rock.

Buffy and Angel

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