The O-town Scene

September 04, 2014

The O-town Scene - Oneonta, NY

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A18 18 O-Town Scene Sept. 4, 2014 Review "We are DakhaBrakha, from Free Ukraine," Marko Halanevych softly announced to fervently-supportive ap- plause on Aug. 21. He was as unassum- ing as the small green sign outside the West Kortright Centre in East Meredith that simply read "Performance Tonight" in gold letters. Inside, the light-brown benches inside its enchanting church-house were thoughtfully warped in such a way that they curved like carved ripples of sound, bending to the shape of the stage, en- couraging engagement. They were like hands cupped to already-attentive ears. DakhaBrakha absolutely demanded your attention, in any case. The band's website translates "Da- khaBrakha" as "give/take" — an up-front hint that its four members are uniformly dedicated to keen — and constant — musical communication. The advertised exchange that DakhaBrakha delivered in such honed and honest abundance was reflected in the relationship they instantly forged with their rapt upstate audience. Their first notes emanated from Nina Garenetska's colorfully-pat- terned cello, grave and cavernous tones that she countered with her own warm, almost mischievous smile. Before very long, she would be seamlessly rapping in Ukrainian, all while still tending to her instrument. Iryna Kovalenko, meanwhile, was thrillingly reluctant to stick to any one music-making device. When one was so foolish as to look away from her, she took the chance to take up yet another tuneful curiosity, re-mesmerizing the listener with one more unexpected, often exotic sound. Kovalenko selected an array of intriguing shapes from atop her piano (which she also played), plucking them down like spices from a rack. She seasoned each song with whatever she felt it needed — a twanging mouth-harp, or a flute that suggested a super-sized kazoo. After employing a contraption that resembled a perfume bottle, she playfully pantomimed spritzing herself with it before setting it aside. It was a re- freshing flourish in the midst of haunting stretches of musical tension. An army of accordions breathed equal amounts of slyness and suspense into almost every pulsing second of the show. The three women in the group all wore huge black tubular hats, giving them an other-worldly appearance. And Iryna Kovalenko could also not always be trusted to remain entirely human. She would channel animal cries like some untamed ventriloquist, thickening an already rural setting into a rainforest, converting a song into something even more strangely alive. At such times, the pleasantly alarmed listener darted eyes about the stage to determine the source of the sudden jungle racket. The band appeared to be governed by both impulse and precision, pas- sion always at the root. When one large drumstick no longer served Kovalenko's purpose, she tossed it aside like an unsuitable digging tool, grabbing two clubs that hammered with the thunder- ous force and rhythm that the moment more urgently required. Olena Tsibulska, however, was the band's most steady, assured source of percussion. She maintained a calm, charismatic intensity, beating and brushing an especially monstrous drum in unerring time, with an appar- ent and winning pride. Tsibulska also supplied some of the show's sharpest vocals, lending DakhaBrakha's searing — sometimes jarring — harmonies an especially scrappy edge. Marko Halanevych, DakhaBrakha's lone hat-less male, sat bearded and slender in a black uniform and boots that suggested a beatnik branch of the military. He could send songs barreling along with the guttural barks of a folk auctioneer, or lead an adorably earnest, eerie R&B chorus ("Baby/Show Me Your Love") that conjured an image of amo- rous muppets crooning in the moon- light. It was only towards the end of the evening that Halanevych produced a concealed harmonica to complement his comical and temporary blues man's growl. The concert could take on the re- sourceful showmanship of a radio dra- ma, as Halanevych at one point busted out a gadget that somehow simulated a gusty night. At the same time, they could also captivate a cappella. Da- khaBrakha's music can make a listener feel solitary in a congested crowd, or keep a pedestrian company should they have to walk home from East Meredith to Oneonta in the dead of night. It wins your heart by chilling it in one beat, and then thawing it out the next. As the concert continued, the strong yellows and greens of the Centre's slender stained-glass windows began to be brightened by the occasional flash of lightning from outside. This is not to claim that DakhaBrakha brought it about. It would be unfair to accuse immensely talented, tireless musicians of climate-controlling witchcraft. Even if they had already successfully sum- moned wind. And even if "DakhaBrakha" strikes one as spot-on onomatopoeia for lightning bolts. Throughout the night, DakhaBrakha struck an unbroken string of surreal bal- ances — between riveting severity and near-irreverence, defiance and celebra- tion. When the voices of the women joined, it could seem to be in sort of joyous argument. These were lines DakhaBrakha walked with lusty poise, thin tightropes that Garenetska would not have hesitated to reach down and pluck, should the sound have struck her fancy. Each individually dynamic artist also fiercely refused to allow the chance to bolster a fellow band member to slip through their ever-active fingertips. Each irrepressibly raucous voice exhorted all the others in their mutual musical labors, which were indeed tremendous. A grate- ful crowd seemed intent on matching DakhaBrakha's generous vitality with their own ovations, summoning the understandably exhausted band back for an encore. Marko Halanevych con- fessed that they had to perform another concert in Cleveland the next day; this, before they all obliged by launching into one more stirring song. Reaching the remote, acoustic mecca known as The West Kortright Centre can require a mild act of automotive faith. The sniveling traveler in question had to remind himself, too, that the intrepid artists that comprise DakhaBrakha had once migrated from so much farther away. During one of their curtain calls, Halanevych quietly cloaked himself in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrai- nian flag. The West Kortright Centre itself is a reminder that the Catskills can be a wonderful place to live. Its hills are often filled with the echoes of other decades, spectral recreations of acts dissolved long ago. (Thankfully, there have been no signs of a tribute to the boy band O-Town so far.) But for those inside the Centre on Aug. 21, there really was no place you would prefer to be than in East Meredith, watching DakhaBrakha perform. DakhaBrakha Mesmerizes at West Kortright Centre By Sam Benedict

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