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Rasputina - Windmill, Brixton, 28/1/2008

  by Anthony Dhanendran

published: 16 / 2 / 2008

Rasputina - Windmill, Brixton, 28/1/2008


New York art rock trio Rasputina consist of two cellists and a percussionist and have released six albums to date. At their first ever show in Britain at London's Brixton Windmill, Anthony Dhanendaran finds their eccentric and mystical music an absolutely unique experience

Rasputina make weird and, yes, wonderful music. The spine of the band is Melora Creager and Sarah Bowman, two women with cellos, along with the brilliantly named Jonathon TeBeest, a percussionist. Six albums in, they’re hardly a household name, even in their native New York, but in the 16 years the band has been going (albeit alongside a large cast of former members) they’ve had plenty of time to practice their schtick. If rumour is to be believed, and in Brixton it usually is, this show tonight is their first in the UK. Tomorrow, they’ll be playing before Robyn Hitchcock in the altogether more impressive surroundings of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the south bank of the Thames. Tonight finds them in Brixton to play for us at the less grand Windmill, a converted estate pub. The Windmill has hosted plenty of great gigs in its time, but it’s still strange to hear these songs in this place: the new album, ‘Oh, Perilous World’, contains songs involving both Fletcher Christian and Osama Bin Laden, and as you might imagine, a band led by two cellists packs a majestic sweep when it hits you. The ladies and Mr TeBeest are impeccably dressed, although again it’s somewhat out of place in the shabby surroundings (the shabbiness is very much part of the Windmill’s charm, but it feels a bit like a costume drama has decided to slum it for the night). It’s part of the charm of their magisterial, epic music, which is all the more impressive given that there are only three people playing it tonight. Most of the tracks from ‘Oh, Perilous World’ get aired tonight, the standout ones from there remaining the most impressive live. ‘Choose Me For Champion’ takes as its lyrical starting point the translation of one of Osama Bin Laden’s recent videotaped speeches, and makes a strange, compelling, mystical brew out of it, while ‘1816, The Year Without a Summer’ is as entertainingly mysterious as its title sounds. That new album is a fake soundtrack to a fake (eponymous) film, which is in turn adapted from a fake book (‘The Files of Thursday Christian’). That kind of affectation would be fatally precious in the hands of many bands, but Rasputina avoid that through Creager’s considerable charm and lyrical talent. She gets plenty of laughs from the audience tonight, particularly when relating the circumstances of composing some of the songs, such as the aforementioned ‘Champion’. There are catchy tunes too, such as the current album’s Fletcher Christian story ‘Cage in a Cave’ In addition to the slew of ‘Oh, Perilous World’ tracks, each of the previous albums gets a couple of songs each, and there are a few covers sprinkled in, including a remarkable version of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’. The encore takes shape with another cover, this one entirely unexpected. In fact, it’s hard to imagine many bands choosing to cover a tune by the female hair-rock band Heart, but Rasputina’s version of that band’s rocking 'Barracuda' is quite something. While much of their music relies on amplifying their cellos and feeding them through overdriven amplifiers and effects pedals, it’s on this tune, normally led by a couple of Fender Stratocasters, that the distorted cellos come into their own, in a truly majestic fashion. More in keeping with the vaudeville side of Rasputina’s nature is their choice of closer, a cover of the 1930's standard ‘If Your Kisses Can’t Hold the Man You Love’, which featured on their 2004 release ‘Frustration Plantation’. Rasputina really ought to be playing a bigger, more spectacular venue than this, as entertaining as the Windmill is, and of course tomorrow night they will be. But for tonight, we can chalk this up as another great gig at the Windmill.

Picture Gallery:-
Rasputina - Windmill, Brixton, 28/1/2008

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Interview (2011)
Rasputina - Interview
Lisa Torem speaks to Melora Creagar, the founder of cello-driven New York-based band Rasputina, about her band and her fascination with the Victorian era

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