Photo By Skepticle (Skepticle.com)
Rasputina with Jana Hunter and Pitch Mass
07.14.07 @ Suede in Park City
This was my first visit to Suede, and I was pleased to discover that it was more laid-back and cozy than I’d envisioned. With two bars, a low stage, and a capacity of about 400, it’s reminiscent of a slightly smaller version of Club Vegas in downtown Salt Lake. Notably, though, Suede is on the second floor, and features a wall of large glass windows and doors that open onto a patio with a spectacular view of both the stage and the lights of Park City.
A comfortable booth offered a perfect view of the first two bands. The unadvertised local openers, Pitch Mass, displayed instrumentation inspired by Neurosis and vocals influenced by Tool. Though mildly intriguing, they seemed a little incongruous on this bill. The support act, Jana Hunter, was a bespectacled girl in a button-down shirt who played her acoustic guitar while sitting on a chair. Her simple vocals were lovely, but this chanteuse would be more engaging with the addition of some visual stimulation, such as a cocktail dress or movement. Rasputina’s prelude music included a selection from The Wizard of Oz, and frontwoman Melora Creager added to the Oz theme by wearing a large flower on each side of her head, like Princess Ozma. Uncharacteristically, she was not wearing a corset as she sat at her cello, but she was still anachronistic in Bohemian ruffles. “Second chair” cellist Sarah Bowman is a recent addition to the band, but she (along with about a dozen audience members) kept with Rasputina’s tradition of corset-wearing. Rasputina’s third member, the bearded drummer Jonathon TeBeest, wore a Victorian-looking vest with tight plaid pants and a straw cowboy hat.
Melora’s between-song patter is like surreal vignettes, delivered with a wide-eyed innocence that makes them all the more charming when it becomes clear that she’s being ironic. As she introduced a song I didn’t recognize, she announced, “I believe that this song will prove that the events of 9/11 were a conspiracy perpetuated by George Bush. When I first started saying that, people used to cheer. But now they are quiet, just as you are being quiet, because now they’re used to it, so it’s okay.” Any doubts about a cello’s ability to rock were eliminated as Melora and Sarah sawed at the strings in furious rhythm to the beat of Jonathon’s drums. A strange magic seemed to be at work, as the cellos occasionally mimicked electric guitars; Sarah added harmonies to Melora’s vocals to create choruses that sounded as full as if they were being sung by choirs; and the trio’s entire performance seemed almost impossibly tight and coordinated.
One of the first songs they played was a deliberate, precisely syncopated version of the band’s breakthrough 1996 hit, “Transylvanian Concubine.” Later, Melora commented, “When we were young girls, we wrote songs about vampires to try to be scary. Now we write songs about the weather.” They then launched into the new single, “1816, the Year without a Summer.” Like most Rasputina material, the song gives a whimsical account of historical events. It describes how a volcanic eruption resulted in frequent summer snowstorms in America and Europe, which caused crops to fail and Mary Shelley to stay indoors and write Frankenstein. One of Rasputina’s charms is the ability to seamlessly blend fact and fiction, but this particular song appears to be historically accurate. At other times during the band’s performance, Melora’s timeline wandered a bit more through alternate realities. She explained that the song “Choose Me for Champion” is her translation of a speech by Osama bin Laden, and at first, the words did sound like something he might say. However, it seems unlikely that he ever talked about Mary Todd Lincoln being the queen of Florida and launching an army of blimps.
Near the end of the performance, Melora explained that Rasputina’s material is normally very tightly controlled, by her, but that she had recently taken a class to learn how to improvise and jam, and that she was going to try it now. The band then launched into their 2004 song, “Saline the Salt Lake Queen.” Afterwards, Melora showed her awareness of her surroundings by commenting, “That is a Salt Lake reference. Do you relate to that? Is it you?” Judging by the cheers from the appreciative crowd, it was.