Black Prairie at The Triple Door – (Seattle, WA 9/20/2012)
I have to admit I came to this band via the backdoor. Most people know of Black Prairie via The Decemberists. Musicians Jenny Conlee-Drizos (accordion), Chris Funk (dobro), and Nate Query (upright bass) all come from that successful group. Conscripts Annalisa Tornfelt (violin, vocals) and Jon Neufeld (guitar) fill out Funk’s vision of a band that originally intended to be strictly instrumental but evolved to include Tornfelt’s amazing vocal talents. However, Neufeld’s Monday night gig at Portland’s Laurelthirst Pub, with his gypsy jazz band, The Kung Pao Chickens, was my linkage.
All that aside, last night’s show at Seattle’s Triple Door was stunning! I brought some friends along, who had never heard of the band (and let alone The Decemberists or the Kung Pao Chickens!), and they felt like they were privileged to something special. It might have helped that we were in the first row of booths in front of the stage.
The songs played felt like nothing else being done these days. Funk’s humorous confession of measuring the dramatic content of their songs against watching the HBO series, Game of Thrones, does an awful lot towards describing their string band sound. Acoustic Heavy Metal? If by virtue of the energy of the music, perhaps. However, there definitely is this strain of maybe Eastern European or Gypsy or maybe even Armenian musical threads winding through everything. In the end, their performance did transport one like how a movie soundtrack can be pivotal in suspending the audience’s sense of disbelief. Ironically, the excellence of the show left me in a state of disbelief over the sheer awesomeness of Black Prairie’s performance.
All musicians played as if they had been forever together. Tornfelt, whom Chris Funk referred to as their “not-so-secret weapon,” sang like her voice was an extension of her violin, soaring like the instrument and, alternately, harmonizing with like a twin-headed sonic adiabatic wind blowing down hot off a mountain range. Conlee’s accordion provided this rich body to the music, like a ship’s anchor or a flamenco dancer’s hips giving axis and weight to the arabesques of the rest of the body. I could go on and on, as all musicians provided individual articulations that joined with others in moments that seemed alternately random or brilliantly planned. It was a solid night of WTF?! musical awesome moments.
Hell of a show, though Jon’s guitar could have been turned up a touch. In the meantime, I’ll be exploring the rest of the band members’ catalog. They all bring some very serious business to the stage. Good reason to explore. You should hear Neufeld cutting some serious gypsy jazz guitar licks with The Kung Pao Chickens. They have two or three albums out. He also plays with bluegrass band, Jack Straw, and indie-band, Dolorean. Annalisa is also plays with the bands, The Woolwines and Bearfoot.