Lady Parts hosted its CD-release party over the weekend amongst a group of musical friends, including Doo Crowder, who opened the evening's proceedings with a further evolution of his solo act. He had all his electronic sounds set perfectly, and he had his looping technique down, so that he could perform as he's always seemed to have wanted. With the first song, Crowder created some modest percussion by looping his beatboxing, and then played over the top like Karl Blau might do -- a kind of hybrid of hip-hop and folky indie pop.
Crowder's sonic range was fairly broad throughout. He made great use of a drum machine, and, along with a variety of guitar textures, his set never seemed of a piece. He closed with what turned into a spontaneous dance party at the front of the stage, with a few people getting up, including a father and his daughter. The song morphed into another and then became a transformed but surprisingly faithful cover of "California Love," by Tupac Shakur.
Samantha Doom Blows Up the Band was up next. Not a band proper so much as performance art, the quintet consists of two "members," blow-up dolls named Missy Misfit on guitar and Norm on drums, with everyone else dressed up a bit like an ironic "new wave" band that might have appeared on The Pee Wee Herman show, with a similarly humorously demented presentation of everything.
Before the music started, Angie Martin, with a bright blue wig on, used an air pump to "inflate" her bandmates, John Nichols (keys and real guitar), Samantha Doom and Denise An (drums -- who wore a white and red lucha libre mask). Musically akin to a toned down Plasmatics and a less bombastic Alice Bowie, the group displayed a Tubes-like penchant for absurdity played with a straight face.
Samantha's singing voice was a little bit Lene Lovich and her admonishing "Norm" with a "Shut up, Norm, you're hairy" was almost surreal. The set ended when Angie came on stage dancing to Michael Sembello's "Maniac" and she deflated the human members of the group with the same pump she used to blow them up.
The trio Maudlin Magpie may not have been as overtly colorful as the previous act, but its earnest songs were performed with a kind of expansive spirit that belied the name -- or at least revealed it to be a bit of poetic exaggeration to beat the critics to the punch. Katie Gold of Lady Parts joined in on piano and backing vocals, while Jason Horodyski played guitar and sang lead vocals for most of the songs and Robin Walker played drums, glockenspiel and did both backing and lead vocals, as well.
Excellent three-part harmonies graced many of the gently executed melodies. Horodyski's lyrics were perceptive and impressionistic yet not vague and helped to create and recreate images and feelings inside you without having to hit you over the head with false cleverness or cheap wordplay. Overall, Maudlin Magpie was wistful and charming rather than dire.
Becky Christian and Katie Gold thanked everyone who helped to hand make each of the Lady Parts CDs for the evening. Indeed, each was hand-stitched and looked like a beautiful book in its own right. Katie told us it was her niece's fifth birthday, and later in the show, she brought Alexandra up on the stage and had the room to sing "Happy Birthday" to her. And that's the kind of show it was. Nothing pretentious, warm and welcoming and brimming with good will. For this show, Christian and Gold brought Esther Hernandez on with saw and flute for much of the show to bring those irreplaceably ghostly sounds into the mix.
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Starting off with "I Don't Fit In," Lady Parts played the kind of music that suggests travel and images of movement are present in the lyrics themselves. Gold and Christian's beautiful harmonizing coursed over the chilling quaver of the saw and the deep current of sound provided by the cello. During "Space Baby," Gold's vocals were reminiscent of Sarah Cracknell of St. Etienne -- plaintive and bordering on the otherworldly.
Nearly halfway through the set, the band performed a new song called "Shirley Templeman" and the luminous, slightly countrified guitar, coupled with the cello accents guiding the melody, conjured images of rivers and fog enshrouded landscapes. One of the high points of the show was the performance of "Allspark," with its sweeping, soaring pace being the musical embodiment of flight itself. The cello glided over the song like fast moving clouds in spring, letting in snippets of sunlight in the form of piano and vocals. Someone making a movie of John Crowley's Little, Big should pick this song up for the soundtrack.
After some mysterious technical difficulties, Gold and Christian graciously and gracefully pulled things together completely in time for "Turtle Soup." The show ended appropriately enough with the deeply affecting strains of "The Key to the Heart of Icarus." It's the type of song that breaks and heals your heart at the same time.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I knew people in all the acts. That's what happens when you've been going to shows more than once every other week for over ten years. Random Detail: Ran into Sonya Decman (Smoothbore) and Adan Hernandez (Des Tours and Buf-Alo) at the show. By the Way: The Merc upstairs actually does have great sound.