Caravan of Thieves @ The Living Room (08.31.10)
Live music!! What would our lives be with out it? For live music lovers, and I think I can speak for most of us when I say this, we look forward to new and unusual sounds coming up out of our scene. Once in a while, a group comes along that pushes the boundaries of their musical talent. They push the boundaries of what is popular and what might be. They push the comfort zone of our ears, our listening pallets. I can say, without hesitation, Caravan of Thieves if just one of these groups.
Caravan of Thieves graced Manhattan with a month long Tuesday night residency at The Living Room in New York City’s East Village. The brain child of husband and wife duo Fuzz Fuzzman (Deep Banana Blackout) and Carrie Sangiovanni, Caravan of Thieves not only brings to the scene a uniquely vibing, gypsy jazz sound but more importantly, their performance is rich with fun and flare. Flat out awesome gypsy rage.
Gypsy Jazz & Gypsy Swing was made famous in the 1930’s through the musical styling of Django Reinhardt, a name synonymous with the style. I wager not many people have ever heard the name, let alone heard the beautiful music that came from this innovative European guitar player who changed music forever. I can’t think of anyone who has brought this musician to the forefront of my mind until I heard this performance. Fuzz Fuzzman is Django-incarnate.
James “Fuzz” Sangiovanni – Voice + Guitar
Carrie Sangiovanni – Voice + Guitar
Ben Dean – Violin
Brian Anderson – Double Bass
Special Guest: Bruce Martin (Tom Tom Club)
As I walked into the back room of The Living Room, through the heavy velvet curtains, I was greeted with a packed room, dimly lit intimate tables and a stage covered with what appeared to be a music group pulled right from the 1930’s. With Victorian flare, they wore page boy caps, Fedora hats, suspenders, ripped stockings, corsets, vests, thin ties…their image a direct reflection of their dedication to style of their sound.
The first thing that stood out from their wonderful image was the lack of a drum kit. The second thing, no electricity at all…full acoustic, which I was looking forward to after a heavy week of electric raging from other various performances.
Sadly, I missed the first song (I Don’t Wanna Be) but walked in as The Caravan raged into a phenomenal cover of Queen‘s Bohemian Rhapsody. Carrie held to the vocals as Ben Dean covered the underlying melody with the night’s first solo to my ears coming from the violin. As Fuzz sung, “I see a a little silhouette of a man…,” the crowd joined the four Thieves and a sing-a-long ensued. Fuzz pulled out a ripping solo bringing the song to an end.
The third song cemented the Gypsy style into my ears with I Can’t Behave, a love song marked with dilemma. This would be the first time the Thieves had performed this song in front of an audience and the banter before hand was comical. “There’s something nice about a First Time!” says Carrie, as she gazed jokingly at Fuzz. The end of the song raged forth chaos which brought to mind Russian’s dancing the Kozachok. Perhaps there was a Gypsy dance that would fit this song.
Then there is hitting. Lots of hitting They all start hitting things placed around the stage. And with the introduction of Bruce Martin (Tom Tom Club), Shim Sham Honey began. Bruce was playing all kinds of instruments throughout the evening, presently raging what appeared to be a turkey oven rack. The sound was unique yet so richly rooted in times past. Exactly what I would consider a traveling gypsy jazz circus band to sound like. Pulling the sounds from their surroundings by utilizing such primitive or unique items in addition to the traditional instruments. Sadly, there is little footage of this show so here is the song performed in 2009. It’s great 🙂
Butcher’s Wife was up next which had Fuzz and Ben Dean battling it out with their bows. I can’t fail to mention that the character that each member of the Thieves attempts to portray goes way beyond just playing their respective instruments and dressing in period clothing. The vibrant, whitty banter and the impromptu comedic happenings that takes place on stage brought the musical set to life and added an entirely new dimension to the performance. A soft, yet raging flare came out of Ben Dean, the violinist, during Butcher’s Wife. A slow, lovely song with tantalizing violin teases. Bruce Martin on Accordion changes the sound considerably, bringing a hint of a keyboard being present. Carrie’s voice matching so well while she harmonized with Fuzz.
The Talking Heads Psycho Killer rang out over the audience and yet again, they killed another cover in such an unusual style. This cover was particularly poignant as both Bruce and Fuzz are members of the Tom Tom Club, a group founded by husband and wife team Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, both members of The Talking Heads. My friend Eric was at a earlier residency performance earlier in the month and was able to grab this snippet of the song.
The next song was called Candy, a metaphorical song about addiction, and as Fuzz described the meaning behind the song, ironically, I was popping Jolly Ranchers in my mouth and passing some out to those around me. As the juices ran down the back of my throat, the main Thieve asked us to yell out our favorite candy, Josh and I both scream out “Reeses‘” and my Jolly Rancher spits out. The chorus for Candy was so pretty. Fuzz picked a lovely acoustic solo on his gorgeous guitar, his top hat tilting to the side. Ben’s violin solo was next, expressing both the loveliness and darkness behind the song.
The next song, a mash-up of You Are My Sunshine and Singing in the Rain, started with some banter between the guitarists. Bruce, Ben and Fuzz start into a flighty singing “Please don’t take my sunshine away,” and then the bass player and all other members completely wig out on stage. They began screaming, flailing about, crying, throwing things…it got SERIOUS up in the Living Room.
It was at this point the true flare of the bass player came alive into my focus. He reminded me of Christian Bale and I did some mental wrong doing in my head with him and his stand-up bass. Screaming things like “I’m so sad!” and “You Cunt!!,” he was the most verbal and out-there element on the stage with his antics. At this point, various members of the Thieves have made their way back to the floor, faking tears, still screaming and things quiet as it’s almost as Fuzz steps forward to proclaim a service announcement. “Look at these sorry sobbing saps. Is this how you want to be? We don’t want you to be this way.” “We are moving ON” states a serious and dramatic Fuzz. And it was back into a happy bounce vibe, a calypso-style rage of Singing in the Rain.
Bouquet, the title of their first studio album and a song about “bouquets of thoughts” was meticulous and full of flare. Lead off with the violin and then into silence. Fuzz explains that the next song is a medley of Beatles tunes, Girl/Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite. Fuzz was very verbal in his explanations of the meanings behind every song. A true testament to the validity and authenticity of the style in which the lyrics and story telling play such a crucial part in the compilation of a group. The meat of the song showcased Bruce on what we were told was an Angklung. I imagine his home/studio to be an arsenal of odd instruments. Again, the following video is not from tonight’s performance, sadly, but great all the same.
Then it it was time for band intros: Fuzz on everything, Bruce on all kinds of things. There was talk about this being the last night of their Living Room residency and how much fun they had over the past month. I silently cursed myself for missing the previous shows but was SO thankful for making this one last minute, as I had almost missed this one as well.
And as Fuzz screams, “Where the freaks at?”, it turns into an all out percussion jam. At some point the entire band has dipped to the floor and audience members are up dancing. “I’m going to eat you, you are my desire,” sing one of the Thieves. And as Bruce raged his Angklung, Fuzz raged and scatted, Ben was beating on the bass all while Carrie’s soft female voice filled the air. And finally, the Percussion Jam where they all just manipulated and beat the instruments and structures around them until they couldn’t anymore.
What can’t be said about this band? They are fun with elegant compositions. They are witty, they are sincere, they are talented musicians. It is dramatic song writing that backs some dramatic acoustic music…the list goes on and on. Be sure to check out their schedule and catch one of their shows immediately:
Setlist: I Don’t Wanna, Bohemian Rhapsody, I Can’t Behave (debut performance), Ghostwriter, Shim Sham, Butcher’s Wife, Psycho Killer, Candy, You Are My Sunshine/ Singing in the Rain, Bouquet, Girl/ Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, Eat You, Freaks/ Percussion Jam
Encore: Raise the Dead
Sadly, there was no recordings made, or found at least, of the Tuesday residency. However, I can’t leave you with out a taste of this wonderful, playful group. Only catching a few minutes of their act, I was privileged enough to see Caravan of Thieves at Gathering of the Vibes this year. Here is their set: