Well, I hate to break it to you, but you really missed out by not seeing The Bakes and Katzenjammer last night at Schubas. The Blakes opened—two grungy / hipster ultra-skinny jeaned brothers on guitar and bass (and occasional awkward tambourine) and a happy, curly haired guy going to town on the drums. It was good, although a little melody light for my tastes. Great rhythm, and really good guitar playing, fun and fast.
But then Katzenjammer came on! Four Norwegian women, all bright-eyed and full of energy, all wearing amazing (and diverse) dresses, all with fantastic (and unique) hair. They had great stage presence, full of wit and excitement. Mostly, they just seemed incredibly happy to be performing.
They opened with a song that involved guitar, bass balalaika, piano, and trumpet. Maybe you missed that, so I’ll mention the bass balalaika again. It was painted to look like a cat’s face. Also I don’t know if you’ve heard a trumpet solo at Schuba’s before—it is pretty fantastic. (Note to non-Chicagoans: Schuba\'s tavern is not a very large venue, and trumpets are quite loud!)
Did I mention the bass balalaika?
Then everyone got up and switched instruments—a different person took the balalaika, the trumpeter sat down behind the drums, the pianist took the guitar, and the guitarist brought out a mandolin. They continued this pattern throughout the night—not a single song involved the same people on the same instruments. They used the balalaika in every song, but it never had the same player twice in a row. In addition to the mandolin, guitar, balalaika, trumpet and drum kit; before the night was done they also played banjo, accordion, harmonica, glockenspiel and kazoo. For one song in particular someone was playing the glockenspiel with her right hand and pumping the accordion bellows with her left while playing harmonica at the same time!
But I don’t mean to imply that they were a gimmicky band—all four had incredible voices, and one of my favorite pieces was simply them singing together in four part harmony. There were a bit of drums, but no other instruments.
More importantly, for me, was their enthusiasm. I continually found myself thinking that this was the kind of band I wanted to be in—in every song they all sang with the kind of full-throated every-fiber-committed passion that I love most in music. Especially Marianne Sveen. I really don’t know how to talk about it or express it, but it’s the quality that I love in Janis Joplin (there’s a recording of Piece of My Heart I have, somewhere, where it really sounds like she just got dumped a few minutes prior) and also in Kid Rock (Bawitdaba).
Contemplative music is great, and the pure beauty of (for example) Joan Baez is nothing to sneeze at, but there really is a part of me that thinks that \"real\" music should be 100% experiential—raw, primal, and powerful.
So, anyway, by this point you may have stopped reading. If not, you might well be wondering what kind of music it was, what genre. The best I could come up with was \"bebop country\", which isn’t right at all. Cat called it \"zydeco vaudeville\", which is much closer. There are definitely some gospel notes (which is probably what made me think of Country) as well as a lot of scat and hot jazz. Here’s three tracks, but there’s more on Grooveshark, and youTube.