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And This Bird Can Sing
By Paul Rapp


Club Helsinki, Great Barrington, Mass., Feb. 3

Haale’s Web site says her music is Persian and Sufi-based, filtered with ’60s psychedelia, an attention-getting description if there ever was one. The show Haale and her band put on at Helsinki Friday night was all that and more. A lot more.

New York City-born to Iranian parents, Haale was a combination of Jim Morrison, Nico, Edith Piaf and Selma Hayek, sensuously coaxing emotion out of the largely Middle Eastern-sounding songs, singing in at least three languages, conducting the band, and whomping alternatively on an Iranian setar and a wicked-cool black-and-white Silvertone guitar.

The band consisted of violin, cello, and drums-bass-guitar, and was incredibly sympathetic. The strings (Megan Weeder and Marika Hughes) played contrapuntal melodies reminiscent of George Martin’s orchestral ragas on late-period Beatles records, stabbed rhythmic tattoos, and—occasionally and to great effect—tracked the complicated melodies in octaves. Aram Bajakian played his guitar like a percussion instrument, in the East Village no-wave tradition, shooting sparks rather than notes or chords. Drummer Keith Van Nostrand simply danced on the beats, whether propelling a Persian 6/8 jig or laying down a bed of impossible polyrhythms against an implied, driving backbeat. Bassist Mike Oliverio kept the whole thing grounded, staying at once indispensable and out of the way. The band repeatedly pulled off the ridiculously difficult trick of fading out songs, the essence of a group tightrope walk without a net.

Haale’s voice was playful, sultry, and nuanced; she could wail over the din as well as coax a melody out of her breath. She stood her ground and sang; despite the Sufi roots, she wisely left the twirling interpretive dance routines to others. A rocking ode to Jimi Hendrix’s stint as a paratrooper was a pea in a pod to a rocking version of an ancient Iranian folksong. A quiet mid-set song, with only the strings behind her, was a perfect piece of melodic chamber-pop, without a hint of exotica, but not a bit out of place. The 90-minute set seemed to pass in a blink.

There was something pure and terribly real about the music, and hats off to Haale and company for not taking the easy route and throwing a tedious electronic dance beat over the top of the crafted and meaningful songs. It would so easy for her to become another empty instant superstar for the party crowds in places like Ibiza, but richer and more permanent things are clearly waiting in the wings.

Strum und Bang

photo:Joe Putrock

Keller Williams brought his folky funk show to the Egg on Saturday (Feb. 4). The accomplished acoustic guitarist (he names Michael Hedges as his greatest inspiration on that instrument) wore several hats for this show: straightforward singer-songwriter in the John Mayer vein; bluegrass picker of Keller and the Keels (his recent collaboration with Larry and Jenny Keel); and one-man band, looping guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and vocal sounds through a Gibson Echoplex to create the sound of a real live band. Jammin’.






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