Caroliner Rainbow Blumbiegh Treason of the Abyss
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Cafe du Nord
Words and Photos by Jennifer Maerz
Better than: The first time I took mushrooms...well, almost better...ok, pretty damn close.
For the old school experimental music fans in San Francisco, Caroliner is probably old hat: they know how cool the performances get. But last night, as I got slowly (and intensely) immersed in the collective's live show, I was pretty fucking impressed. These guys don't just make an art band, they are an art band, covering the walls, the ceiling, the lighting rigs, their instruments, and themselves with Day-Glo colors and patterns as mind-boggling as the "industrial bluegrass" meets free jazz meets hardcore meets Saturn séance that they perform.
It was totally insane watching these musicians on stage. From the minute they pulled back the curtains, your brain is trying to figure out what the hell is happening. What is background camouflage and what is someone in the band. What is a a face and what is a giant costume head. Since all body parts not under giant bull/donkey/bunny?/skeleton/ disguise are completely covered in black nylon, it's also impossible to tell expressions, moods, genders, or really any of the clues you usually get when watching a normal band perform.
I think the closest things I can liken the show to would be a) watching one of those animatronic Chuck E. Cheese shows, except that instead of the mouse and the pizza guy, everyone comes from Lewis Carroll's imagination after he's taken a sheet of acid...which brings me to b) the show also reminded me of the first time I took mushrooms, because that's the only other time I remember everything that moved also glowed (and vice versa). Everything associated with Caroliner glowed, moved, and came alive under the blacklights they'd spiderwebbed to the ceiling. (My crappy photos, from my crappy camera, don't do their spectacle any justice, sadly).
It was nuts, totally nuts. We were tumbling down their rabbit hole and it was impossible to stop the fall. For an hour straight they pushed into the crowd, tugged at props dressed just like them, signaled to one another, plucked as basses, banjos, drums, and keyboards, and gave the kind of performance that, if there was a last meal of live shows, this is what I think I would ask for.
Caroliner is like nothing else I've seen in two decades of going to shows. I don't think I could handle many copies, but with something this wild, I don't think there can or will be any imitations.
By the way: You can read more about Caroliner in this piece by Ross Simonini for SF Weekly.
You can also check out a short review from the New Yorker of the band here.