Michael Musika, Brass Menazerie, Toshio Hirano & DJ Zeljko
March 18, 2011
Better than: Motor-boating a witch's bosom.
The tale goes that Michael Musika was wandering the roads of a far-away land known as Colorado. Suddenly, a coyote crossed his path and whispered words of wisdom in his ear. The coyote's message left Musika entranced. He spent the last several years doing everything within his power to encapsulate lessons learned from that encounter.
Friday night, this knowledge was unleashed up on the world -- or at least Hayes Valley -- via the release party for Musika's latest album, aptly entitled Spells.
The Rickshaw Stop was packed, but it seemed as if there were two distinctly different audiences: hipster-hippies, and the familiar S.F. Burning Man crowd. I guess that should be expected of a show that transitions from Japanese country singer to melodic spell-caster to titillating Balkan dance party.
The first half was filled with the type of mellow souls that typically frequent the Seaweed Sway Showcases. It was kicked off by the Tokyo Cowboy better known as Toshio Hirano. When exploring the songs of his mentor Jimmie Rodgers, such as "Southern Cannonball," Toshio doesn't hold back -- especially when it comes to yodeling. In fact, many members of the audience unsuccessfully tried to hold back chuckles.
The novelty of "that Japanese dude who sings country at Amnesia" eventually dissipated. The front of the audience was left sitting at his feet in Kindergarten story-time fashion. Hirano's voice seems to cary the feelings of someone who has lived many lives -- which is just how country should be.
I don't know what ADHD-victim of a DJ was spinning in the early evening portion, but between Toshio and Musika I heard an array of music from classical piano to prom-dance hip-hop. Finally, amidst my complaining to my housemate about the terrible music being played during set breaks, I realized that the madness had stopped. I heard the sweet relief of horns and percussion.
We both turned around and saw a dark hooded figure make its way though the audience with a slow and powerful procession of brass and percussion trailing behind. Michael Musika wears the hooded cloak to the set the mood for his "spells." But I think he also rocks the druid look to retreat from the crowd and check in with himself. Either way, it works.
Musika was accompanied by a brigade of local talent including Matt Adams (The Blank Tapes), Jesse Olsen (Ramon & Jessica), Dave Mihaly, and more. He started off the set on keys, but later swapped with Dave Mihaly so that he could resume his rightful position, taking lead vocals and guitar at the center of the stage.
During his early performance of "Coyote Recaptures Stolen Jewel," Musika started standing on one leg. At first, I wanted to believe that the flamingo-style perch was part of the show -- it looked funny! -- but then I realized that his guitar strap had broken mid-song. Musika didn't miss a beat.
During the next few songs you could catch glimpses of Musika closing his eyes and retreating to his hood to re-center, but each time he quickly refocused. Crowd-pleasing songs included "The Awakening Spirits Dream a New Day," as well as "The Dictionary is the Book of Love." Both had dozens chanting along.
My favorite song of the night was "The Spellbound Traveler Loses All Possession." It's the tune that made me crush on Musika after watching him for the first time on the Chasing the Moon podcast -- a folksy-hipster's guide to what band is about to blow up in S.F. Even though he was on crutches and it was the day after his birthday, Scott McDowell (Chasing the Moon Co-Producer) hobbled on staged to introduce the next episode of Chasing the Moon, which features Sonny and the Sunsets. It was just a video being screened, but that didn't keep the audience from as dancing as hard as it would at a live show.
Shortly after the podcast was done, the crowd drastically transformed. The Toshio/Musika/Chasing the Moon group moved from offense to defense, and took over the back half of the room. I remained in the front. On my left, I was surrounded by a bunch of white chicks looking like a scene out of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. On my right, I was flanked by a bunch of Eastern Europeans. Welcome to your typical Brass Menazeri and DJ Zeljko/Kafana Balkan crowd. But regardless of your scene, when the Balkan/Romani musical force known as Brass Manazeri powers its way onto the stage, you shake what your momma gave ya.
I've seen Brass Menazeri at Rickshaw Stop about a dozen times. Even though the group had some great new material, I had a hard time staying "in it" because I've witnessed that scene so often. But the group is still incredible, and should be on any musical S.F. bucket list. One of my favorite moments of the night was a cover of a Bosnian hot number called "Izgorjecu, Poludjeco." The song title, originally performed by Hanka Paldum, translates to "I'm Burning, I'm Going Crazy."
After Brass Menazeri wrapped up, the audience was left wanting more. DJ Zeljko scratched that itch by laying it down with some tracks that made bodies convulse. I left the Rickshaw feeling a little high off the spell-talk and the Balkan dance-a-thon. It was a good night.
Overheard in the crowd:
Drunken man with Irish accent #1:
"What are you doing!?!"
Drunken man with Irish accent #2:
"I'm getting naked! You know!?! I'm adding to the live atmosphere!"
(Proceeds to strip off multiple sweaty shirts)
"... You make me happy! I like Mike! I like Mike! I like Mike!...
Both: "We loooooove you Mike!"
(multiple people in the crowd glaring over)
Girl from crowd: "I love you too Mike! ... But not in a creepy way!"