Thursday, June 12, 2008
The Clown Car Cartel: Indie Rock Hits the Small Stage
In a place where the climate flips from frigid to searing in a matter of days, the month of June, like a full moon does to werewolves, signals the amnesiacs to emerge. Those who bemoan the frost from November to mid-May forget the cold and abhor the heat. Tortured chants of “It’s so hot” arise as predictably as the sun.
It was in the nascent stages of the Manhattan furnace that Joe’s Pub, the most urbane of the city’s semi-haute music houses, hosted the CD release party for KaiserCartel, a Brooklyn-based indie duo. The pair, Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel, celebrated the birth of “March Forth,” their stripped-down debut, to what must have been a record-setting crowd for a Tuesday night.
Folk-clad and spare, with elements of T-Bone Burnett and KT Tunstall, KaiserCartel proved themselves something of a clown car cartel, with anywhere from two to six musicians crowding Joe’s Pub's diminutive stage during a given song. The crowd sat patiently as the Cartel worked out the spacing: before most tunes, tambourines, guitars, and xylophones were maneuvered to make way for personnel.
An unfolded accordion, in full plumage, stood behind glass to stage right, mirroring the graceful serenity throughout. With sweaty bodies in every seat, couch, and standing space—and near-tropical condensation on every glass—the Cartel’s easy listening calmed the folks inside. Without a bassist, and reliant on mostly airy instrumentation, the subways rumbling underfoot thundered more significantly than anything produced on stage. The band played through “March Forth” in its entirety, their coda a well-timed serenade, with Cartel following Kaiser through the crowd with an acoustic guitar as they harmonized one last time.
The evening’s most unpleasant turn was the venture outdoors following the performance, at which time most bars in the area were broadcasting David Cook’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the NBA Finals in Los Angeles. This season’s American Idol winner, Cook embodied the gaudy bombast so spurned by KaiserCartel. The contrast was striking: inside Joe’s Pub, both temperature and troubadour were cool; outside, the climate and Cook were overwhelming. As Randy Jackson might say, they were, “Hot, dog. Really hot.”
Stay Simple, Folk-Pop
MC March Forth