Rasputina | 11.12.05

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Having done very little research (to dispel possible bias, natch), we didn’t quite grasp the term “cello rock.” (The extent of our cello knowledge, on the whole, was limited to what Gretta Cohn has done for Tim Kasher’s Cursive, which gave us a slightly more optimistic point of view.)

Pop's, Sauget, Illinois
or: Two Teens Survive Hazing in a Sauget, Ill., Night Club

Initially convinced that our first assignment, a live review of New York City–based neo-Victorian cello rock outfit Rasputina, was PLAYBACK:stl’s idea of a journalistic initiation, we skeptically journeyed to Pop’s on Nov. 12. Seeing that Pop’s isn’t exactly our favorite place to see music, we maintained our theories of bad omens. Our reasoning for this aversion to the venue is not of the caliber of sound journalism, however. Sandwiched between two strip clubs in the heart of Sauget, Ill., the only music you’d expect to hear through these speakers would be of the boom-chicka-boom-boom variety—anything but a cello recital. Still hesitant, we were greeted at the door by a crowd we didn’t expect: just large enough to screw us out of a table close to the stage. After weaving through the corset-clad congregation, we claimed a bird’s eye view from the balcony and…waited. And waited.

Feeling rightfully out of place, we wondered and discussed for the next few hours: “What’s so special about Rasputina that would draw such an obviously adoring fan base?” Having done very little research (to dispel possible bias, natch), we didn’t quite grasp the term “cello rock.” (The extent of our cello knowledge, on the whole, was limited to what Gretta Cohn has done for Tim Kasher’s Cursive, which gave us a slightly more optimistic point of view.) We did understand, however, the allusion to historical figure Rasputin, the altogether unhygienic spiritual adviser to Russia’s Nicholas II.

Opener Dame Darcy appeared onstage with only a banjo and a tambourine, announcing that a set of bluegrass tunes was to follow. (We naively questioned how the gothic crowd would react. The response was warm, with an obvious “If it’s good enough for Rasputina, it’s good enough for me” attitude.) In a pure voice, Darcy began with a string of short, folk narratives. Her onstage persona was shy, but not delicately so. Endearingly childlike, she stomped about stage at appropriate points in her performance. Double D stumbled through song titles and even lyrics; at one point stopping mid-song with a frazzled “Oh, shit,” causing her to consult the lyrics she had written on a sheet of paper below her. About halfway through the set, Darcy ditched the banjo and opted for the ever-Beatnik tambourine. Now accompanied by only the cling-clang of the tambo, Darcy added an element of avant-garde drama, showcasing a similarity to the “performance art” of Rasputina. The stage lights turned from yellow to a cold blue as Darcy crooned through Cab Calloway classics of the 1920s. Met with roaring applause and a little kind-hearted laughter, Darcy appropriately curtseyed off stage.

The minute Darcy left, the anticipation began to mount; the floor of Pop’s now filled, a sea of black. Without much ado, Rasputina waltzed onto the stage. First was Zoe Keating—dark, dreadlocked hair and a tulle ball gown, sitting to the left of the stage in “ready position”—then Melora Creager—blonde and charismatic, the focal point for the entire show—and last, the drummer, Jonathon TeBeest, who laughably resembled the aforementioned dirtball Rasputin.

Before striking a single chord, Creager greeted the audience. While we struggled to understand her quick-tongued banter and oddly unidentifiable accent (later to find she hails from Kansas…?), the fans cheered and laughed along. Her quirky but delicate speaking voice was soon overshadowed, though, by the haunting blues sounds coming from Creager’s cello. The almost vegetative TeBeest provided a subtle beat, followed closely by the two groaning cellos. At times, the cellos’ tones were almost too electric, finally convincing us of the “rock ’n’ roll” element—this is classical rock. (What else could silence an entire room of drunken, quasi-Goths?)

The carefully constructed set list created theatrics in every shade of the word. Each song picked up where the last had left off, and to the untrained ear (ours), these orchestrations sounded like different variations on a single theme. Other than the left-field cover of Heart’s “Barracuda,” each song contained a moment where instrumentation ceased as Creager’s voice filled every empty space. At one point, we closed our eyes to halt any of the “unnecessary” senses outside of pure sound. Following these “solos,” the instruments again filled in and built up into a seemingly teasing crescendo, ending all too abruptly. The end of each tune yielded an overwhelming crowd response, soon halted by Creager’s quick Shakespearean wit. Soon we were convinced she’d either stepped out of a) a time machine or b) a spaceship. In either case, we, as well as the rest of the adoring crowd, were entranced by what became an intellectual’s comedy routine over cello music.

By set’s end, we were ultimately engaged with the trio, turning to each other sympathetically, asking, “Is it weird that I really like this?” Brave and unforgiving, Rasputina introduces an intelligent, complex performance art that is nowhere to be found in other rock music (or any other music). In conclusion, if indeed this was hazing, the joke’s on you, PLAYBACK:stl.

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