LIVE: Dust Bowl Faeries @ Club Helsinki, 3/6/16
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Ed Conway
It’s hard to know where to start in describing the Dust Bowl Faeries and their music. If you’ve never seen them, well, they’re unlike any band you’ve ever seen. Lately, they’ve come to describe their sound as “ethereal gothic folk,” which certainly applies but doesn’t quite tell the whole story.
“We specialize in tragic tales,” the captivating Ryder Cooley told the full house at Club Helsinki following “The Sea,” the Dust Bowl Faeries’ second song of their CD release concert in Hudson earlier this month.
Later, Cooley introduced their first set closer “Hazel” as “a dark hybrid love song,” to which lap steel player Karen Cole wryly added, “Unlike anything else we do…” And during their second set, after Cooley described “Zebra” as “another tragic tale,” Cole shot back, “Yeah, we’re full of ’em.”
Yes, a Dust Bowl Faeries concert is something like a deep, dark mystical-musical tragi-comedy, often centering around extinct and/or endangered members of the animal kingdom, which Cooley began exploring with her prior solo projects, “Animalia” and “Xmaltia.”
During DBF’s two 30-minute sets at Club Helsinki, Cooley – the band’s songwriter and enticing lead vocalist – played accordion and ukulele. She also sported mile-long eyelashes and wore a taxidermy ram’s head on her back throughout the evening. That’s Hazel, and as the animal-spirit/mascot, she’s every bit as much a member of the band as Cole, guitarist Jen DuBois and percussionist Joann Stevelos.
In concert at the CD release party, the core quartet was bolstered by bassist Pete Toigo (who anchored the rhythms, alternating between electric and acoustic bass throughout the night), Raputina’s bandleader/cellist Melora Creagor (who played throughout the first set, particularly sparkling on “Seasick Moon”) and pianists Cameron Melville and Luis Mojica (who switched on and off keyboard duties). And while it was intriguing to hear the songs bolstered with a fuller sound, sometimes in fact less is more, and the bigger line-up occasionally stole some of the intimacy from Cooley’s original, sparse, delicate arrangements.
And don’t think that the night was all gloom ‘n’ doom by any means. The ode to the city of Hudson, “Hudson River Shanty,” and the jaunty vaudevillian climate-control ode “The Great Whiteish Bear” brought out Cooley’s pitch-black sense of humor.
Dust Bowl Faeries aren’t likely to crack the mainstream, but the best of the songs – the captivating second set opener “Dark Ride,” “Hudson River Shanty” and especially the somber show-closer “The Field” (featuring a whistling solo by Cole) – deserve a wider audience beyond mere cult status.
If you’re looking for something different – something substantial and different – check out Dust Bowl Faeries’ self-titled debut disc. Better yet, catch them live when they next roll around, like their upcoming gig at BSP Lounge in Kingston on Friday, April 22.
Wally Hughes opened the show with an equally indescribable performance – starting out with an old school a cappelkla rendition of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” followed by an array of cat jokes and finally, a surreal vaudevillian sketch about the 1965 Academy Awards Show showcasing a parade of celebrity impersonations from James Cagney to Lena Horne and beyond… way beyond.
DUST BOWL FAERIES SET LIST
The Great Whitish Bear
Hudson River Shanty
The Candy Store Song