Rasputina | 07.21.11

“Holocaust of Giants” contains a raucous solo that usually makes me want to don feathers, petticoats, and motorcycle boots and jump on a bed until it breaks. This time, though? Meh.

 

 

Old Rock House, St. Louis

I’m a longtime Rasputina fan. In particular, I am intrigued by the cello-based band’s commitment to their weird art. Something about frontwoman Melora Creager and her ever-changing crew is always a bit off—they are too kitschy or bubbly or just plain pretty to be Goth, too macabre and industrial to fit into a genre with Juliana Hatfield or Joanna Newsom, too earnest and unironic to be hipster fare. But somehow this defiant awkwardness is a huge part of their appeal. For two decades Creager has refused to compromise her bizarre artistic instincts for the sake of marketability. This makes Rasputina loads of fun even when they are cringe-inducingly over the top.

Creager’s onstage persona has always been the perfect example of this. Take 2005’s live album A Radical Recital; it’s chock-full of batshit monologues on government conspiracies and morbid historical trivia, all delivered in a warbling, affected singsong. Rasputina can pull off this next-level nonsense for two reasons. The first is raw talent; Creager’s nimble fingers summon forth sounds you wouldn’t believe a cello could make—from raw, brutal, chainsawing solos to howling, bittersweet swells. The second is total commitment to spectacle. Creager shamelessly owns the theatrics and doesn’t give a flying fuck whether people approve or not.

Which brings me to Rasputina’s performance at Old Rock House last Thursday night. While there was nothing technically wrong with it, the band never reached the level of outrageous camp that fans have come to expect. Watching their uncharacteristically subdued performance was like tasting a recipe that’s missing an ingredient. Melora Creager is mesmerizing with a cello and this fact alone was enough to make for a decent show, but there were moments when Rasputina’s flavors fell noticeably flat.

The band took the stage to “Someday My Prince Will Come” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Decked out in her usual Ren-faire-meets-Betsey-Johnson attire (corset, white blonde Rapunzel-esque hair, stockings, enough makeup to cover the cast of Moulin Rouge), Creager plunged her bow straight into the low, creaky opening notes of “Hunter’s Kiss.” The crowd immediately whooped their approval at this cheeky twist on the Disney theme—the song is an S&M fetishist’s take on Bambi, if you can imagine. Creager commanded every gaze in the room as she carved out the feverish, foreboding melody.

This was a good example of what Rasputina got right that night. With the slower, moodier songs the band’s delivery was pitch-perfect. Creager went for the heart with the achingly bittersweet “Watch TV,” glancing over at second cellist Daniel DeJesus as they coaxed the high notes from their instruments. Her voice was plaintive and vulnerable as she struggled to follow her cello up the scale. In contrast, “1816, the Year Without a Summer” showcased Creager’s rich alto, punctuated by her sultry, deadpan chant, “I will give you my red color / to take away your sickly pallor.”

Unfortunately, not every song was so successful. Despite these highlights, the majority of Rasputina’s performance was underwhelming—if only because Melora Creager is usually such an eccentric, melodramatic force of nature. Creager was gracious and professional, saying that St. Louis was the band’s favorite show on their last tour. She got cheers and applause when she told the crowd that she was born in Missouri, and when an audience member shouted, “I love you Melora,” she immediately called back, “I love you too.” But underneath this blandly sweet banter there was a tired, wilting quality to her voice.

The band’s lack of fervor or ferocity was most apparent on the faster songs. The driving rocker “Rats” was rendered toothless. Even when a few people in the crowd started clapping along, the band failed to pick up on the energy and the claps quickly died out. Instead of summoning her delightfully wicked snarl for “Momma was an Opium Smoker,” Creager barely got above a tremulous bleat. “Holocaust of Giants” contains a raucous solo that usually makes me want to don feathers, petticoats, and motorcycle boots and jump on the bed until it breaks. This time though? Meh. The band’s presentation was by the book, too neat and controlled to inspire much gleeful mischief.

The band capped their set with “The Infidel Is Me,” which showed off their technical skill and ended things on a good note, but the overall performance fell short of what they are capable of delivering. That said, everyone has their off days. Melora Creager has more than proven herself over the years to be a fascinating, talented musician, and I’d still advise anyone to check Rasputina out the next time they’re in town. | Taban Salem

 

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