Le Chat Lunatique: Brian Setzer in sepia

Le Chat Lunatique
Downtown Bar, Pueblo, CO
March 16, 2011

It’s [single-digit] am. Where: Your Town. We’re probably breaking some parental rule of some sort, like not eating our broccoli or reading under the covers when we are supposed to be in bed. And musicians are having communion. The kind that usually is reached at 5 am, but it’s much earlier than that, because this is that kind of place, where the groove happens immediately, surrounded by the trees and twinkly lights of Alex Szyleyko’s art installation. Slatted wooden chairs are used as güiros and tip jars are high hats. It’s the after-party, where impromptu jam sessions are the only constant. At one point, there are two fiddles, a guitar, a banjo and countless singers and percussion instruments being played, everyone taking turns shaping the theme, or just joining in. My stock conversation starters: Name your top 3 albums of the week, or all-time greatest influences. Has anything interesting happened on your tour so far?

Fernando Garavito and I met earlier in the night, me mistaking South America for South Africa as his home, but he says should have said the country Colombia, instead of the continent. I thought the show started at 7, but it turns out the change of venue also meant a change in time, so I have 2 hours to be restless. He’s soft-spoken, and I keep hearing a Celtic accent, though it isn’t. All of his aside, he takes his assignment very seriously and gives me his three flavors of the week (trail mix). No, greatest influences: pianist Aaron Goldberg, Fela Kuti, the godfather of the afrobeat (Fernando is the drummer), and don’t talk about Ringo Starr. That’s the day his parents disowned him for insulting them when he said he wasn’t impressed with Ringo’s abilities, we joke. His third, his standard last-resort answer, is jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown, who died at that magic age of 27. “Interesting is subjective. Our tour started today, and here we are in this pretty fucking cool place, unknowingly, being questioned by you about these ideas.” Something he says reminds me of a lyric in the Great Lake Swimmer’s song “Moving Pictures, Silent Films.” He’s never heard of them, and this is what communion is to musicians, sharing, learning. Another song lyric shoots through my head, “I don’t go to church on Sunday, I go each and every day. Ain’t no crucifix, just the music that we play.” God’s House, Grant Sabin.

Le Chat Lunatique is like Brian Setzer’s Orchestra, shot in sepia, with a bluegrass punctuation. They play covers you can’t quite place, they are so semantically different in style. They cringe when they say it, but call their style gypsy swing, but not exactly. I’d be surprised to find many other gypsy swing bands that sing songs in Japanese. They keep swearing THIS is their LAST song, but the crowd is having none of it. There are the hipsters in their plaid, the hippies and their dreads, tattoos, butch gals from the Pirate’s Cove next door, Philly kids, and Zuit Suit Riots, all together on the dance floor. Only here in this town. “We don’t play no white trash music, just euro trash!”

Blast this! Straight Up (Right-click to download, or click to play.)

Jared Putnam, the upright bass player, is easy. He shoots off his top 3 of the week. Chromeo. Metallica (the Master of Puppets album, stolen from Fernando). Jake Shimabukuro, a ukulele virtuoso. Muni tries to hijack Jared’s portion of the interview, while loading up equipment after the show, and Jared defends his time, insisting that Muni cower behind the dumpster. Muni refuses, spouting off what are surely curse words in a language I can’t recognize. He speaks French, Spanish, Arabic, either Sinhala or Tamil-his parents are Sri Lankan (it is probably this language I heard earlier). And shitty English, his bandmate interjects. “I am not going to lay down in that dumpster. Again.” I won’t print what else they are talking about, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I knew what they were used for.

Muni Kulasinghe, AKA “Moonie”, takes his communion with two-string harmonies on his fiddle. Despite his sweet serenades now, earlier he and his fiddle had the eclectic crowd both slow skankin’ and frenetically boot-stompin’ in the speakeasy. I finally pin him down in between songs in the dwindling jam session, and there are 2 influences. Stéphane Grappelli (cohort of Django Reihneart), and the polish gypsy he met traveling. He had no legs and was totally crazy. Oh, and Fernando. He says this tour is different: his girlfriend has made him deal nicely with himself and everyone else, because she makes him laugh like crazy, and so he has stopped riding everyone like bitches for their little fumbles. I have to think this must be a typical Muni-ism.

Johnny Sandlin thinks long and hard about which question he wants to answer. In his guitar lessons, he is introduced to new things by middle school and early high schoolers. One week it’s Taylor Swift, and the next week it’s Skillet. He’s excited about the upcoming Cake album after listening to an interview on NPR. From this, he is interested in the veteran’s perspective, and also the contributions of style on the guitar and trumpet. His latest discovery is Zoltán Kodály, a classical composer he stumbled onto while needing something non-fluffy to do his taxes to. Zoltan is a cello virtuoso, a Bulgarian, with early 20th century influences, like Debussy. His all time biggest influence, he hesitates to say Django Reinheart, and instead it’s his revivalist Paul “Tchan Tchou” Vidal, bouzouki player. This sparks a discussion about Devotchka, and how they haven’t played Albuquerque since Little Miss Sunshine was out. Touring the southwest is hard, any drive is 5 hours long at minimum.

Transportation is a logistical nightmare for smaller touring bands. Choices are flying, then renting a car, or driving around in a larger vehicle (conversion vans, mini-buses, rv’s), towing a trailer, or cramming people, equipment and luggage into a minivan, which is their current method. All have pluses and minuses. Les Chats once did a tour by rail, on the Southwest Chief line from Albuquerque to Los Angeles. They quickly earned a reputation among the train operators when they slept in a sleeper car they hadn’t paid for, and snuck beer onto the train. He wishes that they could do it again, and only play at venues a block from the train station like they did in Truckee, CA, so they don’t have to rent a car to haul their gear around once they step off the platform. I tell him that Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Fields just announced a similar idea with their Railroad Revival Tour, though it appears they chartered their own train. It’s an idea that we both hope spreads amongst musicians, venues and transportation authorities.

As I leave the performance venue on my way to the after party, heated discussions about nuclear power continue at the bar. Ahhh, the sweet life.

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