8.19.10 I AM TRYING TO BLOW YOUR MIND
This review originally appeared in the 8.19.10 issue of Metroland
This was so overwhelmingly surreal that I figured at some point I’d just wake up and it would all be over. The Chandler Travis Philharmonic, 9 pieces strong, were playing an unannounced gig on the deck of Zaika’s, an Indian restaurant a stone’s throw away from the Clifton Country Mall. I’d found out only because of a Facebook post where Chandler mentioned a “secret” gig on Saturday following a Caffe Lena gig on Friday. Neither wild horses, nor Wilco, would keep me away.
For the unwashed, or perhaps for the washed, the CTP is from Cape Cod, play there and Boston a lot and maybe once a month in NYC, and once in a couple blue moons over here. Described as stylistically something like “Dixieland on acid”, they have a proclivity for wearing bright-colored pajamas, tag-sale gag hats, being profoundly irreverent, and doing generally whatever the hell they want. For a time in the late ‘90’s, they released a new CD every two weeks. They are to a person virtuoso players, expertly handling Chander Travis’ brilliant pop tunes and various members’ arrangements of oddities from the 40’s to today all whilst maintaining a constant low-level riot onstage. They exist somewhere on the continuum among middle period Kinks, any-period NRBQ, maybe a pinch of Sufjan Stevens, and every Grammy winner in every category in the history of the world. The CTP simultaneously is and isn’t for everyone.
So here we are on the massive and massively cool deck of Zaika’s, overlooking an artificial pond and the mall, with one of the best, weirdest, and most unsung bands in the universe just laying it down, sounding like a million bucks, and looking like happy, disheveled hell. I can’t imagine how an unsuspecting, god-fearing Clifton Park family, perhaps seeking a quiet, restorative summer dinner of vindaloo and nan, would have handled coming face to face with such stark truth and beauty. Oh, did I tell you the drummer is a slender, athletic, and tall transgendered woman, who happens to be the finest pure groove drummer this side of Jim Keltner? She looked fab Saturday night in a zebra print dress. And goddamn can she play.
Off they went, from the stately, heart-rendering “Home” (from their album Have a Pancake) with the horn section slowly building the tender counterpoint refrains, to the push-me-pull-me audience-participation “Fruit Bat” (from their upcoming The Chandler Travis Philharmonic Blows), to an irresistible hard-swing version of Maxine Nightingale’s "Right Back Where We Started From". Every member of the band was mesmerizing to watch. Not the most attractive band in the world, mind you (and, in all fairness, there can really only be one of those) but mesmerizing nonetheless.
Half-way through the second set, just after playing the signature “Chandler Travis, King of the World” (“waitresses and stewardesses love him, especially waitresses”), Chandler announced they would play something they just worked up, something from the film The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, the obscure Stanley Kramer / Dr. Suess kiddie masterpiece generally considered one of oddest movies ever made, and a personal fave of mine since I was, like, 4. Bands, you want me totally in the tank for you? Do that.
Throughout the evening I kept getting tweets and IMs from friends over at Joe Field at MassMoca, folks watching Mavis Staples and Wilco. One said she was at the best place ever, at the best concert ever. Hmmm. Now, I visited Joe Field on Sunday and yes, it’s a bitchin’ venue, and I’m sure Tweedy & Co. were fine, but consider this: I was sitting 15 feet away from one of world’s greatest, most unique and charming bands, playing at the top of their game. I was picking at a spectacularly fine Indian vegetarian platter. The pretty waitress would stop by every 15-20 minutes and ask me if I’d like another beer. (My answer was uniformly “yes, please.”) I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. I wanted it to last forever. I was in heaven.
Or maybe I just haven’t woken up.