All the way to Reno
Canoofle and The Molehill Orkestrah
Reno is currently enjoying something of a musical renaissance. There are more bands and a wider diversity of styles than ever before. Local music fans are getting more adventurous, and it seems that word of this burgeoning scene is attracting ever more eclectic touring bands. Next week, The Molehill Orkestrah, a band of Gypsy desert dwellers from Tucson, fuses the folk music of several cultures at Liquid Lounge, while Oregon forest frolickers Canoofle write songs on demand at The Zephyr.
Any (original) requests?
Canoofle’s M.O. is to ask for a song request (a song that doesn’t exist) from the audience, then they make up the proposed song.
Canoofle has five multi-instrumentalists, Abigail Grush, David Gilde, Jamie Walsh, Curtis Settino and Liam McNamara (who won’t be joining us in Reno). Besides the obvious bass, drum set and guitar, members also play less common instruments—accordion, glockenspiel, Casio keyboard, banjo, melodica and apparently anything else they can get their hands on.
Though the idea of an improvisational group may lead some people to expect free jazz or yet another group of neo-Deadhead noodlers, Canoofle could not be much further from those genres.
“That sort of drippy-jazz-hippy thing is an element … but we don’t rely on it or necessarily like it,” says Settino.
The goal is to spontaneously create songs, not to improvise on pre-established riffs.
“We’re not a jam band,” he says.
Settino cites as influences punk rock, Frank Zappa, XTC and the Minutemen. Actually, to get some idea what Canoofle sounds like, try to imagine a cross between Zappa, XTC and the Minutemen.
Though Canoofle’s live shows rely on audience participation, they have recorded studio CDs, usually thematically organized, such as their Unorganized Flying Object, a “true sci-fi mini-epic,” and Matrika: an Animated Alphabet, which consists of 26 songs about animals, arranged alphabetically.
Heat and dust
The Molehill Orkestrah’s music has a cinematic quality that’s reminiscent of having been through the desert on a camel with an unpronounceable name.
The band has performed with belly dancers and fire performers, so it’s music of voluptuous sensuality and hair-singeing pyrotechnics.
“Our music has such a visual quality to begin with that if we play with a visual performer it really brings that to the forefront,” says Molehill mandolinist Michael Dalzell. But even without a gyrating navel or rotating flame to accompany, The Molehill Orkestrah evokes moonlit desert narratives.
The band pulls off the nice feat of simultaneously sounding ancient and contemporary, combining Middle Eastern and Gypsy music with touches of Klezmer, chamber music, jazz, mariachi and who knows what else. The sound is a colorful, hand-woven Persian rug rather than a patchwork quilt. The material is highly structured but with plenty of improvisational sections.
“We have songs that are built around recurring melodic themes—but, during our performances, it’s always different how we get there,” says Dalzell.
This “Orkestrah” is actually, to be precise, an octet. The instrumentation is, as one would expect, eclectic: cello to accordion to trombone. And the musicians’ backgrounds are likewise eclectic: mariachi to punk rock to New Orleans jazz.
The group initially came together for a Día de Los Muertos celebration under the Tucson sun, which must be the key to that fiery desert sound. As Dalzell says, “In Tucson, the heat and dust bake right into you.”