Show Review

Rasputina, Live at the Beachland

Samantha Bako
Last Tuesday, New York cello legend Rasputina hit the stage at the Beachland Ballroom, continuing their 2011 Sister Kinderhook recital. Opening for them was goth-folk-acoustic rocker Voltaire, whose act seemed more comedy than music. At one point it seemed to take him over a minute to begin a song, as he kept interrupting himself with jokes about nudity and Star Trek conventions and a few little jabs at the culture of Goths and geeks. The further you went back from the stage, the more prevalent the grumbling became over his tendency toward spending more time on comedic interludes and merchandise pushing than actual singing – but the musical portions of his act were certainly entertaining and recognizable (including “Brains”, written for the cartoon show “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy”).

Once the black-clad top hat bedecked gentleman removed himself from the stage, the demure and modest trio of musicians took over. Known for their Victorian-era affinity, Rasputina embraces the spirit of the era by veiling naughty debauchery in prim and proper taffeta and lace. The trio, consisting of Daniel Dejesus on second chair cello, Dawn Miceli on drums, and founding songwriter Melora Creager at first chair, played for an hour and a half. The second song of the set, Holocaust of Giants, was more than appropriate for the location with delightfully swinging lyrics about growing up in Ohio and finding giant bones.

They selected a wide variety of songs, ranging from Sign of the Zodiac, The New Zero and The Old Headboard from earlier albums, to the popular and well-done cover of Heart’s “Barracuda” and a haunting rendition of Morrissey’s “How Soon Is Now”. They also performed music from their newest album, Sister Kinderhook, including “Kinderhook Hoopskirt Works” on banjo. The mid-set interruption to switch to banjo was well handled, though it always seems awkward to watch musicians on stage with nothing to do, since the two banjo songs didn’t have much use for drums or cello.

Daniel Dejesus lent a hauntingly thick and heavy vocal harmony to many of the songs, and certainly stood up to the expectations set by previous female members of the group. His voice handled high and low tones incredibly well, with a silky smoothness that was an unexpected surprise. Dawn Miceli’s drumming was fitting, though there was an impression of anti-climax, as she appeared to be ready to burst forth with heavy, raw beats that simply never came.

All in all the show was very tightly performed, and Melora’s occasional introductions to the songs were succinct and amusing, in her typical dry, Victorian-inspired ingénue-ish wit. The crowd seemed simultaneously docile but excited, crowding the stage like so many well-attentive cattle. Rasputina possesses and embraces a sexual tension, highlighted by the corsets and torn Victorian-inspired garb that appears to have been borrowed from well-dressed affluent corpses, as well as the basic position of a cellist, legs splayed and curvaceous instrument balanced between the knees. Though the music is demure and somewhat quiet (the tours are, after all, referred to as recitals), the threesome is an undeniable powerhouse of skill and talent. Vocal harmonies soared hand-in-hand over complicated cello-runs and native-inspired soft but deep thumping drum beats. Melora’s vocals delicately emulate her own cello playing with heavy vibrato, like a bow drawn across her vocal chords. The group certainly puts the instruments through their paces, used as percussive instruments, at moments sounding like a calliope, in addition to the classically-inspired bowing and addition of rough distortion when appropriate.

While the show lacked an element of head-bangage and brutality altogether, the music, as always, was as intricate and appreciable as fine Victorian lace.