Word association is a powerful thing. Before last night whenever I heard the word ‘tang’ the first think that came to mind was the orange, just-add-water refreshment created for astronauts and kept in business by working mothers for whom the powdered drink was a more practical solution than actual fruit juice. But my mental landscape was changed for good, the meaning of ‘tang’ forever re-established, when I stepped into El Lenador last night. The Barons of Tang had taken stage.
Imagine the scene. The stage at El Lenador is essentially just a platform for the drum kit around which all the other musicians set up. So, around this small stage, you have six musicians in addition to the drummer, and they are energetic, theatrical, and masterful at their own particular brand of off kilter presentation. Between pulling off beautiful duets and solos, the horn section, Anna—alto sax and trombone— and Aviva—clarinet and bass sax—danced and jumped about. Anna jabbed at the air with her instrument as if fighting of some invisible monster. Julian, the bassist and lead singer, slaps his upright and growls the lyrics in his thick Australian accent. Annie bounced from bongos and congas to corbel and an array of cymbals, adding perfectly timed flurries of percussive virtuosity to Sean’s steady thunder on the kit. Occasionally the entire band shouts lyrics slightly off cadence from one another creating the exact kind of riotous cacophony they seem bent on inciting. Carlos’ accordion and Jules’ electric guitar made for a melodic glue for otherwise disparate sounds. In a word, magnificent. It was magnificent to behold.
This is the type of band that breaks up the regular boxes we put music into and makes you ask what exactly you’re experiencing. At one point, I hit the bar and turned to Johnny Vegas, the man behind the mayhem at El Lenador , and asked him “What is this?” A guy next to me overheard. “It’s hipster punk,” he said.
I see where he got punk. The energy of the band certainly reminds you of a punk act doing it well. And there was an element of ‘hipster chic’ to the band’s look and presentation. Still, I didn’t quite agree with his characterization of the sound. There was much more to it than that. There were elements of the big band jazz of the early 20th century, a strong folk influence, bits and pieces of prog rockers like Frank Zappa and Jethro Tull. In short, the music defies simple explanation and conventional labels. The Barons are exciting precisely because they bend and resist the normal constraints of genre and in doing so create something entirely new. On their website (http://www.thebaronsoftang.com/) they call their style Gypsy Deathcore. Something gets lost even in that description though as this music, in my opinion, is accessible to a far broader swath of people than deathcore typically is (perhaps it’s the gypsy part).
The best way to understand what I’ve been rambling about above is to get out and see the band. If you’re reading this within a reasonable time of when I’m posting it, you’re in luck. The Barons of Tang are in town for one more night and they are playing at 9pm at the Black Bear Bakery (http://blackbearbakery.org/), 2639 Cherokee St., St. Louis 63118. Be sure to get out and see them or you’ve missed the show of your life