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This St. Patrick's Day Concert was also a release party for their new CD, "Off Kilter (A Celtic Outerlude)". Already owning their previous release, "Habagoola," (reviewed in our last issue), I knew what to expect musically - your basic Celtic/folk/rock/pop/punk/zydeco band. In concert I found that another of their influences in Dr. Seuss. Or at least one of his books: "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins." The front of the stage was littered with funny hats, and each band member put on a different one for each tune. The "Big Blow" in the band's name refers to the didjiridu (played by Tim Whittemore, who doubled on tuba) that holds down the bass on most numbers, and gives the band their unique characteristic sound. (In fact, one of their groupies made his own didj and had it with him in the audience.) Ted Porter is the lead singer on almost all numbers, and even though he calls himself primarily a singer, it is his rhythm mandolin, mandola, and mandolin-banjo playing that gets the band a mention in this publication. The rest of the band consists of Don Plehn (accordian and trombone), Mick Haensler (percussion) and Ted Watkin (sax, harmonica, musical saw, and whatever else they have lying around). Conspicuously absent from this band are any guitars and keyboards (except for the accordian).
This band is quite capable of being serious when they feel like it, and some of the Celtic ballads with didjiridu (and little else) were very haunting. They would much rather have fun, though, and the friend that I brought said that she had not see that much intense silliness for a long time. One of my favorite tunes was the polka "Pair of Dice," which is a clever play on "paradise": "Everyone wants two die, they all want pairs of dice." Another favorite from "Habagoola" was Fiddler A Dram, a slightly abrasive Celtic song with obligato saw. The audience was also treated to an a cappella saw solo by Ted Watkin on Over The Rainbow. On another band number, Watkin was juggling (in rhythm) but always managed to stop in time to fire a cap pistol right on cue. I was impressed.
Two songs that did not appear on either CD were "I'm In A Cubist State Of Mind" (about another band they saw that _they_ thought was very strange), and a cover of the 50s pop song "Istanbul (not Constantinople)", always one of my favorites.
Musically, Big Blow is all over the map, but dispite the intentional silliness, the songs, singing and ensemble playing are all very good. I sat through the entire show with a big smile on my face, and left feeling better than I had all week. I can't honestly say that about most of the concerts I have attended in my life.
The band cuts a dizzying ear-popping swath through ethnic, folk, pop and rock styles on "Habagoola." It mixes poignant chants ("Anything but Pink") and raging rants ("Hey, Healthboy!"), displays great affection for Celtic music one moment and a genuine knack for comically linking jug, polka and punk band traditions the next. In addition to mandolins, tuba, accordion, trombone, congas and other conventional instruments, the group and its guests also color the arrangements with crumhorn, flopophone, musical saw-even flatware-all in the contagious spirit of didjeridoo-it-yourself musicmaking.
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