Friday, May 23, 2008

Guignol: Tour de Force Ethnopunk

Brooklyn-based Guignol (pronounced Geen-yol) weaves together sounds familiar to many cultures to synthesize something totally fresh. The four-piece group consists of clarinetist Peter Hess, accordionist Franz Nicolay, tubaist George Rush, and drummer John Bollinger. Tonight's two-set show at Zebulon in Williamsburg featured guest guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood (of Balkan Beat Box and Sway Machinery) at the helm in Nicolay's place. Each musician is not only able when it comes to their specialty instrument, but goes above and beyond the normal expectations. The clarinet wails up and down gypsy scales and dips pitch seamlessly. The guitarist's stony visage, contrasted by his resonance with the music and ease of playing, through changes and solos, adds depth to the group. The tuba holds up the entire group, freeing Bollinger to fool around with off-beats and mixed meters. Anyone trying to follow his every motion would have surely been baffled and amazed.

The group plays so tightly in even the most obscure harmonic-minor and modal scales, and mixed and changing meters and tempos. This isn't your every day quartet. It is self-proclaimed "ethnic music for a country that doesn't exist." A mix of all their tastes, from traditional to gypsy to 20th century, this music truly embodies individuality while keeping the familiar flavors of Balkan music close at hand.

The first set consisted of a mix of songs from the band's self-titled album as well as new cuts. The musicians burned through the hour-long set, a non-stop tour-de-force. During the interim of the two sets, the younger crowd filtered out. When it was time for the second set, most of the crowd a few more drinks deep, got to the front of the now-less-crowded room and began to dance. This crowd obviously enjoyed themselves even more, resonating in time (and sometimes not in time at all) with the aforementioned obscure rhythmical music.

For someone who's never seen Guignol before, Friday night's gig at Zebulon was quite a treat. Although missing their signature mustachioed accordionist, the group played just about every song they know. That's not something that happens every show.

Sometimes frantic, sometimes tense, sometimes held back, this music always throws you a curveball. Many people believe that music's most important impetus is the ability to control and vary levels of tension throughout a piece. Let's just say that these guy's have got a grip on that. The next time these four get on stage, you'd be foolish to miss it.

According to their website, Guignol is scheduled to play a show on June 30 with The Zydepunks.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Reel Big Fish concert kicks off Springfest

Published in the 5/2 issue of The Racquette.

Springfest started with a bang on Saturday, April 26, when well-known ska-punk band Reel Big Fish took over Maxcy Hall Gymnasium. Many fans got their tickets in advance, and several just showed up at the venue.

The opener, Brad Byrd, an acoustic singer-songwriter, did not fit the bill at all. Some audience members said he was trying too hard to sound like Bob Dylan, and thought that alt-country didn’t belong on a bill with an upbeat ska band. People in the audience rudely booed and chanted “folk sucks.” Singer Brad Byrd has played at SUNY Potsdam before to a better reception from the crowd, but most concertgoers agreed that this opener was simply the wrong feel for the show.

Reel Big Fish stormed the stage to chants of their name. They opened with their big hit, “Sell Out,” off of their most popular album, Turn the Radio Off. The crowd was dancing immediately, though clearly not as hard as they would have liked, with moshing not allowed at the event. Charismatic singer Aaron Barrett, with his signature California style, sang right to audience members to approving screams. Other tracks they played spanned their discography, from Cheer Up! to their new album Monkeys for Nuthin’ and the Chimps for Free. Towards the end of the set, they played more favorites, such as “Beer” and “She Has a Girlfriend Now,” which, by the way, is based on a true story. Several concertgoers attempted to crowd surf, and security guards at the front of the stage promptly removed them from the top of the crowd. Although it was previously stated that crowd surfing was not allowed, these audience members were not penalized, and were allowed to stay in the show.

During a laid-back pre-show interview, the band attributed their success over the years to their dedicated fans. Through the years, the band has gone through a myriad of line-up changes, but the reason they keep making music is that they “don’t want to do anything else,” said lead singer, Aaron Barrett. “Most of the time bands break up because the fans stop coming, but the fans keep coming.” “It’s better to say, ‘hey, let’s get a new [musician]’ than…let’s quit,” Barrett pointed out. The band has no venue preference: they said that they like to play anywhere there are people.

Making fun of themselves on stage also wins over fans, they say. It is that high energy, fun-loving attitude that gets the audience involved. They danced and kicked across the stage, often making crazy faces and dressed in slightly mis-matched garb.

Ska might not be as popular of a genre now as it was in the early 90s, but Barrett liked it because of “the funness of it, and the exoticness of it, and the danciness of it, and the island rhythms…I was always a fan of lots of kinds of music…[in Reel Big Fish] we can take all these types of music and mix them together.” When the band got together in the early 90s, “all the local bands were playing ska.” No Doubt and Sublime were just getting big and contributed to the success of the genre.

After touring for so many years, it’s to be expected that some line-ups and shows played will have been a bit strange. Reel Big Fish played only the night before with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and have played in the past with rapper 50 Cent. They said one of the best line-ups they’ve ever played was their tour last summer with Less Than Jake.

Although members of the band said that they do keep up with current music, they haven’t found anything exciting coming out. On the bus, the band listens to music such as Frank Zappa, Destroyer, Elvis Costello, Rasputin’s Stash, Fugazi, and The Frogs. They cite the ipod as the “best thing that ever happened,” saving them from bringing huge cases full of CDs on tour. Aaron Barrett calls American Idol a “travesty…the most horrible thing to happen to music ever,” with the soprano saxophone as a close second. Other ways of passing the time on the bus include playing Call of Duty, Brain Age, and Scrabble (although they aren’t too good at it.)

Those who simply arrived at the concert when doors opened would have no way of knowing how much preparation and hard work it took the members of Student Entertainment Services and the crew to make the show happen. Load-in and set-up started at 8am, and members of the organization worked non-stop all day to make the event a success.

Reel Big Fish’s latest album, Monkeys for Nuthin’ and the Chimps for Free is available now. They will be touring on the Vans Warped Tour all summer. To hear Reel Big Fish, visit their website at or their myspace at

Photos credited to Ben O’Brien Smith.

Cities Over Seas celebrate the release of National Phantom

Published in the 5/2 issue of The Racquette.

On Friday night, April 25, Cities Over Seas hosted a house show to celebrate the release of their new CD, National Phantom. Opening band The Assless Chaps played a variety of covers that got the audience dancing, such as three of Reel Big Fish’s greatest hits, poking fun at the concert that would happen the next day. They also played party hits like “Shout,” and “We Like to Party.” Although the group was humorous and fun, it wasn’t what the show-goers had come to see.

When Cities Over Seas finally made their way to the front to play, the audience was wholly riled up and ready to hear tracks from the CD. The room was very small and the mix made it hard-to-impossible to hear the vocals and electronics. Regardless, the band used eye contact and cued each other in at the correct spots, guaranteeing that when they got lost they could find each other again. Many people in the crowd didn’t even notice the off-synchronization that happened at times, and were too busy dancing with friends. Clearly, a large percentage of the audience had heard some of the tracks either on the CD or on Myspace, and clapped along excitedly, despite the technical difficulties.

Madstop Records released National Phantom after several months of hard work from the members of Cities Over Seas and the record label. They are primarily an indie/electronic band, with influences such as Radiohead and The Postal Service. The CD is a mix of upbeat songs great for dancing, and darker, more introspective songs and lyrics. The band is already in the process of planning out the next album in their heads, but for now they are focusing on publicizing National Phantom and getting out there to perform.

National Phantom is available now at the College Bookstore. Hear tracks by Cities Over Seas on their myspace,

Photo credit: Amanda Stockwell

The Tryloves Bring Audience-Pleasing Rock To Campus

Published in the 5/2 issue of The Racquette.

One of Potsdam’s newest bands, The Tryloves, has several upcoming on-campus shows. They boast variety of music presented and a high-energy performance. Paul Tryon, singer and pianist, describes the band as “party rock” and then some, exploring many different genres through their music.

The band consists of a whopping seven members: Shane Loverro (guitar), Dan Havranek (bass), Chris Fleury (drums/percussion), Katie Cotterell (singer), Robby Castro (singer), Delia Wohlleben (singer), and Paul Tryon (piano/keyboards/vocals). The singers all contribute to the music; when one has a solo, the others harmonize to fill out the sound.

The Tryloves play an array of songs, from originals written by the band to familiar covers of artists such as Elvis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This promises to include the audience in a way that bands performing all originals cannot.

Some music fans may be familiar with previous projects of members of this band, such as Northern Lights and Grove Shore. Tryon says that The Tryloves differ in that they are dedicated to bringing the audience a consistently high-caliber performance while still having fun.

The Tryloves’ goal in making this music is to get people in a good mood, dancing, and even singing along. “If the audience hasn't had fun, we haven't had done our job,” says Tryon. Audiences can surely expect a fun, high quality performance from The Tryloves, a promising up-and-coming Potsdam band.

The Tryloves will perform on May 1st at Hurley’s and on May 3rd in the Lehman Quad for Bearstock. Check out their myspace at

Susquehanna String Band

Published in the 5/2 issue of The Racquette.

On Friday evening, April 24, quite a crowd filled Hosmer Hall to hear the bluegrass, folk, and traditional music of the Susquehanna String Band. The crowd was composed predominantly of community members and families, though some students were present. The Susquehanna String Band consists of three members, John Kirk, Dan Duggan, and Rick Bunting, who constantly switch instruments. Instruments on the stage included piano, guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, pennywhistle, and hammered dulcimer. This concert was the annual benefit concert for the Community Performance Series, and though admission was free, donations were encouraged. The Susquehanna String Band is no stranger to the North Country, and was greeted enthusiastically by the crowd.

The songs that the group played ranged from American folk songs to traditional music of the British Isles. During some of the more rousing songs, the group taught the audience lyrics ahead of time and encouraged everyone to sing along. Other songs were peaceful, lyric ballads. One of the slower songs was even prefaced by the recitation of a poem by William Butler Yeats. The set was sprinkled with funny and reminiscent anecdotes, ranging in subject from Helen Hosmer of the Crane School of Music to fishing trips.

Crane Students Amanda Hayden, Jackie Cypress, Sarah Bleichfeld, and Meghan Smart joined the String Band as a string quartet, performing a beautiful song called “Trillium Lane.” Hayden played fiddle on several more songs, and the quartet joined the group again later in the program for more playing along. Members of the audience, which included current Crane Students, alumni, and community members, were proud to see some of their own up on stage with such renowned musicians.

The event was very family friendly. It was at times fun, and at other times, poignant and touching. The last song before the encore, “Auld Lang Syne,” caused members of the audience to raise their voices together in song, and even shed a tear or two. Seeing a group such as the Susquehanna String Band perform is a truly unique experience, exposing people of all ages to traditional songs and instruments that they may never have heard or seen before. The audience was enthralled, and gave the group several standing ovations.