Last Sunday was ContraEvolution II
in Greenfield, MA. Steve and I were there.
In no particular order:
1. Firecloud has expanded! ContraEvolution II marked the debut of Firecloud as a trio, with new member Andrew "DJ Nanocannon" Hlynsky (their band debut was January 1, 2012 at Glen Echo; I've chronicled my initial impressions elsewhere in this blog
). The combo of two live musicians and the DJ made the sound seem a lot fuller and this appearance seemed more like an integration of the personalities involved than before. (Also notable: Julie playing techno jawharp, and Andy Reiner singing for parts of the set!)
2. dJ improper
making a contra mix including the viral Korean hit "Gangnam Style." Let it not be said that he doesn't have his finger on the pulse of the current moment. (Alas, I didn't see anybody managing to incorporate the "horse dance" that goes with the song into a flourish.)
3. Face painting and body art with neon paint from local artist Eve Christoph. The paints (and smudges) on dancers' bodies reacted with the blacklight and other lighting effects as the evening wore on.
4. Ed Howe's wandering between the lines with his fiddle during Perpetual e-Motion
's set. On one of Ed's trips down into the masses (it might have been during the waltz, I honestly don't remember), Julie Vallimont took Ed's vacant chair next to John Coté and pantomimed fiddle playing along with the music for a little while.
5. Giant Robot Dance
playing Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" in their set while Lisa Greenleaf was calling. (This was particularly amusing to me because Lisa led a series of contra dances a few years ago to recorded pop songs, and among the notable artists she included in the recorded selection was Lady Gaga.)
To others who went: what were your favorite moments?
Giant Robot Dance (Andrew Marcus, Aaron Marcus, Noah Van Norstrand, Andrew Van Norstrand, Michael Ferguson, and Alex Ferguson) has made their mark with quirky sets that combine traditional tunes with pop tunes and other covers to create a distinct and unique band personality. Their first live album, Live at the Butterball,
featured caller Beth Molaro's voice over their sets; this album, also live and recorded at Contrastock I in Maryland in May 2011 and Summer Soiree in North Carolina in June 2012, omits the calls but preserves the band's music at these two events.
They did not, however, edit themselves out and you can occasionally hear the band's comments akin to "One more time!" and some of the more distinctive audience reactions in the background when the band really gets going, and these sounds remind listeners that this is a live album.
The first track, which per the liner notes combines the traditional tune "Sheepskin & Beeswax" with an original creation, starts out frankly sounding like any other high-energy contra dance band...and then when it switches to the second tune (written by band member Andrew Marcus), it kind of explodes into high energy distortion-pedaled accordion and a fiery fiddle with a kickin' drum solo thrown in for good measure.
The next track, which combines Tchaikovsky's theme from Swan Lake
and Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King," is part of where Giant Robot gets its reputation for having a really varied repertoire. It underscores that alternative contra is not just about pulling from one genre of music -- or even exclusively about pulling from things more modern than the folk Tradition usually encompasses: it can pull from many other genres. What is really interesting about this is that it is handled with aplomb to be deftly made into a set of contra tunes, with the look and feel of contra even as dancers and listeners pick up on the tune from another context entirely.
"Other Andrew's Favorite" very heavily features the trombones and the guitar and achieves a sound that is rather uniquely Giant Robot.
The "Frank's Reel/Firework" track highlights the neat and unexpected quality of GRD's combinations; the former is a spirited lively tune that doesn't seem to share much with a cover of Katy Perry's "Firework," until you listen to the pattern of the backing chords in the climb of the latter song. This seemingly subtle link works to blend the songs into a very fun mash-up. The album then changes gears; "Fly Around" highlights that Giant Robot Dance is not just a gimmick band, and that they have chops on traditional tunes as well.
I am particularly fond of the final track for its variety, between Andrew Marcus's composition "Meridian Hill," U2's "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" with the melody carried on the trombone and the guitar, and Elton John's "Circle of Life," all tied together with the keyboard in a really neat way to finish off the album with a bang...and perhaps a cycle back to the first track for another listen-through. Spontaneous Animation is available both as a CD and a digital download from CD Baby. More information about the band can be found on Giant Robot Dance's web site at www.giantrobotdance.com.
Update, 8/23/2012, 11:46 P.M.: I heard from Andrew Marcus and he pointed out that the tune they had called "Other Andrew's Favorite" on their first album was not, in fact, the same piece called "Other Andrew's Favorite" on this album. Mea culpa. That sentence has been edited; the rest remains as originally posted. -REH
I first caught up with Jack Mitchell
when he called a Contra Sonic
installment in 2011. He mentioned that he had danced with Electric Camel Contra
and called to dJ improper
's sets before, though not with dJ improper himself there, and that he saw some interesting differences between the experiences--at which point I knew I had to talk to him for Contra Syncretist
Last week, I posted part 1 of a conversation I had with caller Will Mentor about calling techno contras. The conversation evolved into a discussion of Contrashock in New York City and Contrastock at Glen Echo last May, two events in which Will's role was pivotal and featured Perpetual e-Motion, Giant Robot Dance, Swallowtail, and was co-called by Nils Fredland. Will is planning to repeat that role when Contrashock II and Contrastock II occur in September, with Elixir, Perpetual e-Motion, and Wild Asparagus.
This video was shot last Sunday at Contrastock near Washington, DC. The band was billed as "Giant Swallow Motion" -- Giant Robot Dance, Perpetual e-Motion, and Swallowtail all took the stage at once for the final set to rock the house. This one was shot by YouTube user joyceyens
and the next one by klmabon
One more: this one was shot of two "chaos lines" (i.e., voluntary partner and gender-role swapping, flourishes galore) at ContraShock in New York, NY (which featured Perpetual e-Motion and Giant Robot Dance on May 20-21):
Speaking of YouTube, go check out the contrasyncretist
YouTube channel which features the weekly Friday Flourishes and footage from the Glen Echo community's Contra Sonic series. Film and upload your flourishes and tell me about them on the Contact
form, and they might get featured on this blog!
Giant Robot Dance (comprised of Michael Ferguson, Noah VanNorstrand, Andrew VanNorstrand, Aaron Marcus, and Andrew Marcus) is probably the only band I know that regularly reinvents pop and rock covers while incorporating an accordion. Even those of us who believe that the perfect pitch of an accordion involves missing the banjo on the way into the dumpster (sorry, old joke) can appreciate the way this band makes both traditional tunes and modern ones accessible. They bridge the two genres almost seamlessly live, and their album Live at the Butterball
is no different. Recorded at Butterball 2009 in Philadelphia, the album captures the energy of the event and the dancers.
What does make it different than other live albums I've heard, however, is that the recording maintains not only the sounds of the dancers' feet, but also Beth Molaro's melodic calling as she calls a rather challenging square and several contras. Whereas on paper I would think this would be a distraction, it actually serves to help transport thr listener to the event, much like other genres' live albums incorporating the patter of the artists between songs. While the album is regrettably only half a dozen tracks, the ones that are there are evenly balanced between traditional tunes, which open several of the tracks (e.g., "Tam Lin," "Julia Delaney") and Giant Robot Dance's signature covers (my personal favorite of theirs, "Smells Like Tween Spirit," is on here -- no, that is not a typo, and no, you have not heard this tune until you have heard it with a trombone and an accordion). The final track is a waltz rendition of "Rainbow Connection," which sounds quite a bit like a cameo by Kermit the Frog in a well-meaning tribute, and "Memory."
Unlike some live albums, this one loses nothing in translation (and I can attest this having danced to them at Dandelion Romp last weekend). I just wish it had more tracks. Live at the Butterball is available for digital download on CD Baby.