(Concert Review) Melora Creager and Friends, Club Helsinki Hudson, 11.10.14

Melora Creager (photo Seth Rogovoy)

Melora Creager (photo Seth Rogovoy)

Review by Seth Rogovoy

(HUDSON, N.Y., November 11, 2014) – Melora Creager, best known as the founder and leader of cello-rock band Rasputina, is the midst of a month-long residency at Club Helsinki Hudson, called, aptly enough, “Mondays with Melora.” I caught the second of four scheduled show last night, and I wouldn’t be surprised if what comes out of this residency is more than just an experiment instead of a full-fledged, ongoing musical ensemble.

Living as she does here in Hudson, Creager is familiar to Helsinki Hudson audiences for her solo performances or her shows billed as Rasputina. They feature her unique instrumentation as well as her unusual repertoire – original songs often based in social history or historical events, plus reconstructions of pop and rock songs, most notably Heart’s “Barracuda.”

Melora Creager (photo Seth Rogovoy)

Melora Creager (photo Seth Rogovoy)

While the repertoire last night followed that formula for the most part, Creager’s sound and approach were entirely new. Handling cello and banjo duties, Creager surrounded herself with a trio of creative musicians, including Michael “Chops” LaConte on acoustic stand-up bass; Luis Mojica on keyboard and vocals; and Ryder Cooley on vocals, musical saw, accordion, and ukulele. She even gave each musician a moment in the spotlight, and each one proved worthy of their own eventual headlining show in the process.

In spite of the difficulties of working with a new band, Creager seemed somewhat freed by her new sound and her new collaborators. She seemed to be having more fun than usual; she talked a bit more than is typical for her; and she let down her Rasputina stage persona and revealed a warm and funny artist.

The new colors and textures that the instrumentalists provided also were welcome, as they fleshed out Creager’s material, giving it a new living, breathing context full of wonder and play. There’s beauty aplenty implied in her work, but with this outfit, it’s given fuller expression with the variety of sounds and creative personalities.

Creager played a few songs based on local history (or her version of such), including one about a hoop dress factory in Kinderhook. She played an old Robert Johnson blues and flaunted its “sexual euphemisms,” turned in a gorgeous version of Chrissie Hynde’s “I Go to Sleep,” and played the now nearly obligatory cover version of the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs,” which even at this late date, really does seemed to have launched thousands of rock bands, including this one in search of a name.

Cooley’s solo slot featured her song about the notorious “feral bird child of Austerlitz,” and LaConte took his slap-happy bass-playing, usually heard in the service of honkytonk and rockabilly music, into wholly avant-garde territory in a composition that could easily be performed by new-music ensembles such as So Percussion or Bang on a Can. Mojica also demonstrated himself to be a virtuoso on keys with a powerful, colorful voice, as well as being an awesome beatboxer, which also amply helped to define Creager’s sound and give it an industrial, hip-hop edge.

“Mondays with Melora” continues on November 17 and again on November 24. One hopes it will continue beyond those scheduled evenings.

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