A while back, I was upset to learn that Swans and Sangre de Muerdago would be in town on exactly the same days. I already had a ticket for the Swans gig on Monday (see previous post), so I’d be missing the Sangre de Muerdago show in Santa Cruz. Luckily for me, there was a mysterious Sangre de Muerdago show in Oakland on Tuesday. I say “mysterious” because initially there was no venue information available. Eventually, I learned that it was a house show, and sometime after that, realized that I’d actually met the person whose house it was (when we’d both descended on Jessica Way’s house to snap up copies of the “leaf” edition of the Barren Harvest LP). I then ran into her at the Worm Ouroboros show (see two posts ago) and she handed me a couple of bookmarks with the show information on them. Pretty cool!
In addition to this, it turned out to be a day show so people could make it to the Tuesday night Swans gig over at the Independent. How thoughtful! I didn’t have a Swans ticket though, so it would be a one show day for me.
The show doubled as a sculpture exhibition, featuring some beautiful, whimsical elfin sculptures by an artist named Charity Romero. Check them out:
There was no P.A. system, and with the exception of the electric piano during Latona Odala’s set, the day was entirely acoustic. The lack of wires and plugs made changeover time easy.
I hadn’t previously heard Latona Odala, and I soon learned that it was a mother/daughter project featuring our wonderful host, Buffy Marie, and her daughter Katrena. For the first couple of songs, Katrena played electric piano and sang, and Buffy accompanied her on gong, rainstick, and harmonium. The only drawback to this arrangement was that it was hard to hear Katrena’s voice over the piano, but this was remedied once she switched to acoustic guitar for the remainder of the short set. The songs were beautiful, as was Katrena’s voice, and it was as if the two bidding us welcome to their abode through the medium of song. Musically, the appealing yearning quality present in a lot of so-called “dark folk” was present. The set was short though, perhaps only around 20 minutes long, and soon then were moving their instruments aside to make way for Noctooa.
Due to it being completely acoustic, this was a very different Noctuua show than the one they played at the Elbo Room the previous week. The absence of a P.A. actually ended up making the vocals sound even better. There’s nothing like getting the sound straight from the source. Microphones and speakers are just middlemen, and in many situations, middlemen are best dispensed with. The set list was similar though, concentrating on their one release, “Adaptation”, but the informal outside setting and the fact that it was entirely acoustic made this set an entirely new experience. If forced to choose, I’d say this set was better than the one they played at the Elbo Room, but since I’m not forced to choose, I’m going to officially state that I’m glad I saw both. Their songs seem to have been called forth from cavernous depths, and the abyssal, resounding smoothness of their vocal delivery was a delight to hear on an Oakland patio while surrounded by kindred spirits.
Blackbird Raum was up next. I saw them play with O’death three years ago, and had been impressed by their raucous brand of acoustic punk. For this set, Buffy had mentioned that they’d be doing something a bit quieter (because of the neighbors), so I was excited to hear what they had planned. They did indeed tone it down a notch or two, playing as a three-piece and featuring accordion, harmonium, musical saw, mandolin, banjo, and violin. The music and lyrical stance occasionally reminded me of early Chumbawamba, which is a good thing. During their short set, they played one of my favorite songs, Belmont, from their latest release, “False Weavers”, which doesn’t surprise me because it’s one of the quiet ones. There were some spoken word bits too, the contents of which escape me now, since nearly two weeks has passed since the show (curse my aging memory and my tendency to procrastinate). My overall impression of their set was very favorable though, reminding me of the early eighties UK punk bands I’ve always loved. Great mix of instruments too.
Here's an awkwardly shot video (I was watching the band, not my hands - you can hear the music though, and that's what counts):
The neighbor’s dog did his best to join in with some singing of his own.
I wasn’t previously familiar with Ekstasis, but was told that I’d like them, and sure enough, I did. They performed as a five piece, with Johnny DeLacy and Ray Hawes on guitar (one of the two did most of the singing, but I’m not sure who, since the information I found online doesn’t clarify things), Mara Winter on flute, Mae Kessler on violin, and Pablo from Sangre de Muerdago filling in on percussion. Everybody chimed in on backing vocals, often to absolutely beautiful effect. The vocals were mostly deep and clear, but with an underlying promise of something harsher, like a bank of black clouds on the horizon. The mix of instruments was perfect, and I especially found myself drawn to Winter’s beautiful flute melodies as they swirled over and beyond the other sounds.
After their set, I had to buy their CD.
Galician band Sangre de Muerdago have been one of my favorite new bands for the last couple of years. Their fireside set at the 2012 Stella Natura ranks among my favorite performances over the same amount of time, although to be fair, at least some of what made that performance so special was the surroundings. Needless to say, I was very much looking forward to seeing them again.
This time out, their line-up had expanded, with Pablo C. Ursusson on classical guitar and vocals, Webi on cello, Marit Schmidt (also of Vradaizei) on viola, Asia Kindred Moore (of Will O' the Wisp) on Celtic harp, and Maya Winter (of Ekstasis, for those of you with short attention spans) on flute. For this set, Winter switched out her classical flute for wooden ones.
What followed was musical perfection. It occurred to me early on that I have yet to see Sangre de Muerdago in a traditional venue setting, but if the two times I’ve seen them are anything to go by, I’m completely happy to always see them around campfires or in backyards. The addition of Winter and Moore to the line-up was a good move because their contributions made the already excellent songs even better. As they played, the sky darkened, wrapping the already crepuscular sounding music in another layer of meaning.
Pablo was nice enough to explain some of the songs, since the Galician lyrics went over the heads of the majority of the audience, although my friend Lara, who understands Portuguese, was able to appreciate them without the explanations. Here’s a song from the set, with explanation:
They played a couple of new songs, both of which were excellent. I wish I’d recorded them because I want to listen to them over and over again. The songs, both old and new, have the same kind of hypnotic effect on me that the music of In Gowan Ring does (which is a bit of a coincidence, because the last time I attended a house show, it was to see In Gowan Ring), but Sangre de Muerdago are far from copyists. The folk melodies that weave their sinuous way through the songs have a distinctly Spanish feel to them, at least to my ears.
What strikes me most about the music of Sangre de Muerdago though is the powerful sense of yearning embedded in the songs. For me, the songs call for a return to elegant simplicity, a reforesting of souls clearcut by the whirling blades of the electronic age. Their music is a quiet glade safe from harm, and despite the fact that I don’t know the language, it brings me to tears. I can’t think of a higher compliment than that. Once again, they may have delivered my favorite performance of the year.
By the end of their set, the sky was appreciably darker and candles glowed. Some of the audience (including my brother and my friend Stacy) had left to make it to the Swans gig in time, but even if I’d had tickets for that, there was no way I would have left until it was over.
Check out Sangre de Muerdago on Bandcamp too.