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Hit Pick

In 1993, Dave Willey's seven-month-old orange tabby killed a squirrel -- a big, black one with pointy ears. The incident provided inspiration for "The Cat Song" and further motivated Willey to flesh out ideas he had gathered while busking across the Eastern Bloc. Almost a decade later, the Boulder-based multi-instrumentalist (and ex-member of Baldo Rex, Big Foot Torso and the Denver Gentlemen) is still cooking up the wildest-tasting stews imaginable: blends of accordion-driven Slavic folk music, jazz, prog rock, modern classical, improv, country-western, klezmer, zydeco, techno and beyond. Led by Willey and trombonist-keyboard player Jon Stubbs, the frisky, Front Range jamboree known as Hamster Theatre performs Saturday, February 10, at the Mercury Cafe with some of the area's top-drawer musicians: wind-and-reed phenom Mark Harris, bassist Mike Fitzmaurice, drummer Raoul Rossiter and Thinking Plague's instigator/guitarist Mike Johnson. Immensely entertaining, the Hamster's sound straddles the line between "serious" and "popular" while taking more sharp turns than a figure-eight track. Reference points and pit stops (don't blink -- you might miss 'em) include Bernard Herrmann, Miles Davis, XTC, Erik Satie, Henry Cow and Lars Hollmer. The band's second full disc, Carnival Detournement, does its new Cuneiform imprint proud with what Willey and Stubbs describe as "tinkering away into the wee hours of the morning, seething with antisocial iniquity, scraping on a cheese grater, stamping on the floor, rattling nails in a can of water and worrying history from a distended Chinese violin." It's -- you know -- instrumental. It's also melodic as hell, highly accessible and bursting with more avant-garde flavor and frenetic polkas than the mind can probably dance!
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John La Briola