Luminescent Orchestrii | 02.22 | Virginia

Words & Images by: Josh Klemons

Luminescent Orchestrii :: 02.22.09 :: Iota Club and Café :: Arlington, VA

Luminescent Orchestrii :: 02.22 :: Virginia
The Luminescent Orchestrii took the stage early on a Sunday evening at the Iota Club and Café. The crowd was not immense, but it was excited. The four players, all strings, were dapperly dressed and fooling with their instruments. There was tuning and arranging going on, water was being poured. Then, Sxip Shirey, their resonator guitarist/melodica player/guy with the crazy hair, told us, “The Luminescent Orchestrii is a dance band, but you can just stand there if you want.” And with that, the quartet was off.

If the Eastern European delegation at the UN were having a party and was looking for a band to hire, there would be no ensemble more suited for the task. These guys play music spanning many time zones, cuisines and cultures. With lead violin and viola, they are clearly influenced by the Celtic traditions, but from there they just move east. Throughout the night, they introduced songs as being from or influenced by the following places: Macedonia, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Greece, France, Albanian, and that is not to mention the pirate song that they encored with. And those are only the songs where they specified origins. These guys sing in many of the aforementioned languages, along with Yiddish folk songs and Turkish jigs. They never settle on a locale, and their audience never has to settle for two songs drawn from the same vein.

They opened the show with several songs off of their new album, Neptune’s Daughter. Each song is a music lesson and a history course in a matter of minutes. Then, they played Shirey’s “Nasty Tasty” and let the crowd know that they have a sense of humor as big as their sound, and that their own songwriting abilities are as solid as their influences are varied. “Nasty Tasty” is a hip-hop inspired track about all of the different foods that Shirey is willing to eat. It was preceded by a story about being in France and choosing between steak and duck hearts. He claimed to have chosen steak only to find out that one “must never choose steak over duck hearts!”

Sxip Shirey :: 02.22 :: Virginia
The bowed section is made up of Rima Fand and Sarah Alden on viola and violin, respectively. These ladies are all class. They bow in unison, they pluck in harmony and they sing together like they were of one mind. They have clearly been working together for years. Bassist Benjy Fox Rosen adds a sensibility on the upright bass that is both driving and exciting. He is a schooled musician who brings many traditions with him onto the stage.

At times the band does four part harmonies, at other times, they are all singing different, overlapping parts. And bear in mind that they do this in languages like Romanian, Albanian, French and Yiddish – not a simple feat for a group of folks with English as their first language.

If you want to understand Sxip Shirey, picture Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon. Then move him from Colorado to New York, take away his washboard and teach him to play a rousing and original to-the-point-of-absurd melodica. Shirey plays a resonator guitar like just about anything but a resonator guitar. He plucks the ends of the strings beyond the bridge, takes folk ideas and blends them with punk sensibilities, plays anything but open chords and constantly keeps you wondering what might be coming next out of this little guitar with crazy low action and a hubcap in the middle. Then, he pulls out a “water trumpet,” which is what it sounds like – a children’s toy that looks like a plastic trumpet and is full of water, on which he plays surprisingly intelligent melodies that sound like they are taking a bath. Once or twice in the night, he pulled out a clown’s horn and took a faux-DJ solo on it. Shirey is definitely a character, but the music clearly always come first; this guy is a killer guitar player. Towards the end of the night, they played “Kombucha Monster” off of the new album. The song may not be about Shirey, but you could have fooled me.

They closed out the set with their “Greek song” titled “Militsa.” They were done for the night, instruments heading into cases, the house lights on, but the crowd wouldn’t hear of it. It was Sunday night but no one was leaving without an encore. So, the band obliged with the title track off Neptune’s Daughter. It is a pirate song that recreates the sounds of the sea and the whales, or perhaps sirens, which inhabit it. It starts with a sailor kidnapped by pirates telling his tale. He swears that he will come back one day with his own ship. The song is his lament; the end of the song was ours. We all had to go home and face the end of another great weekend.

Luminescent Orchestrii tour dates available here.

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