A Hawk and a Hacksaw is not, in any certain terms, the type of band you yearn to see live. The outfit plays Eastern-European infused music with hat-tips to Middle Eastern and klezmer-inflected music with vigor rarely matched, but certainly not sought after, at a venue like the hi-dive. At least, that's what you'd think.
The night kicked off with The Tanukis playing in a slightly tainted form with some members missing; the usually robust group was dwindled down to just two. Rather impressively, the band still managed to sound full with just a piano and a guitar. Musically, Tanukis bring a very rootsy sound to the table, with clear influences from Russian folk music. The group manages to retain that sound while coming off as a bouncier, more diverse version of Joanna Newsom with better range -- folk music with a gothic, experimental twist.
After The Tanukis' relatively short set, Radical Knitting Circle took the stage. I'd been meaning to check these guys out for what seems like an eternity. I'm still a little unclear of exactly what they are supposed to sound like, actually. Throughout their set the act hopped genres and sounds, never fully committing to any one vibe. At one point it would be in the middle of a drunken polka, at another it would be playing a King-Crimson-esque prog tune.
Overall, Radical Knitting Circle teeters between a sleezed up lounge act, bossanova and something far more interesting and experimental, but again, the band didn't sound like it's willing to commit to anything decisively. If it did commit, it would not only be more cohesive, but probably better for it in the long run. They're certainly a solid group of musicians with good ideas, but the lack of consistency was a bit confusing.
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While I was waiting for A Hawk and Hacksaw, I suddenly realized the crowd at the hi-dive wasn't exactly as I expected. A Hawk and a Hacksaw has never struck me as the type of band to play at the hi-dive to begin with, but the crowd in attendance was even more confusing. Where I expected a collection of bearded, skinny, thirty-somethings who take sitar lessons on the weekends, instead I found twenty-somethings, chatting idly in the background, perhaps bopping their heads from time to time, but never really fully committed to the music. That's not to say nobody was into it -- there were certainly a lot of people clearly happy to be there -- but it was a far cry from my expectations. Not that it was a bad thing, it was just a thing.
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When A Hawk and a Hacksaw took to the stage, the outfit left little to the imagination, playing each track cleanly and clearly, with the pulsating, occasional duel accordions making it difficult not to start stomping around. The band was incredibly solid throughout, and most of the members rarely broke eye contact with each other -- it was clear the music wasn't a set piece to be played, but a performance that could change on a dime if need be. There was no banter, hardly an introduction and rarely a cough amongst any of them.
The bulk of their set was spent cruising through instrumental tracks featuring a variety of instruments popping in and off the songs throughout, but with the violin and accordion always being at the forefront. I'm not going to pretend like I've seen a lot of accordion virtuosos in my life, because I haven't, but I can say that watching Jeremy Barnes play that thing for forty minutes was a sight to behold.
In fact, the band as a whole was rather mind blowing in its performances. While the live show wasn't especially remarkable, nor was it filled with any surprises, it was solid, well-played and great to listen to. The sound might be best suited for spring afternoons on a nice pair of headphones in the park, but the group still pulls it off live in a way that leaves a good impression.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I've adored A Hawk and a Hacksaw since its debut album in 2003, but I have consistently missed the act every time it's been in town. Random Detail: There were at least two top-hats in the audience. By the Way: The accordionist, Jeremy Barnes, was the drummer in Neutral Milk Hotel -- y'know, if you're into the family-tree thing. Also, his moustache was totally epic.