Metroland (Albany) – Concert Review

Let’s Polka!
Brave Combo, the Chandler Travis Philharmonic
Washington Park Lakehouse, July 24, 2000

by Shawn Stone

Road veterans Brave Combo, who hadn’t been in town since the early days of QE2, packed the space in front of the Washington Park Lakehouse stage with happy revelers on Monday night. Considering that one of their musical goals is the advancement of world peace by means of the polka, they must have been especially pleased with this response.

The Denton, Tex., band reeled through an array of styles designed to induce dancing: There were genre-benders such as the salsa number that interpolated “Pipeline” into the arrangement, and there was a hiphop “Hokey Pokey” and a truly bizarre reggae-polka version of “The Poor People of Paris.” They also played it straight, with traditional polkas (“Wooden Heart”), swing classics (“In the Mood”) and a muzak waltz (“Skater’s Waltz,” which evokes the roller rink and the dentist’s office in equal measure). They even brought on a guest: Local music-scene vet Joe Pasco contributed some dexterous spoon work to Brave Combo’s self-described theme song, “Do Something Different.”

Considering that the evening turned into a joyful dance party, it’s interesting to note that it started in a quite different tone. Brave Combo opened their set with a mean, funky version of “La Bamba” and a serious, traditional Polish polka (“Violins Play for Me”) about a soldier in the trenches dreaming, as the bullets fly, of the band in his local pub. The music jumped, but the crowd didn’t catch on immediately that they were supposed to dance and have fun. The guys had to instruct the audience, explicitly, to “come on down” and boogie.

There were no such misunderstandings with the Chandler Travis Philharmonic. With the front man wearing pajamas, the drummer in drag and the trumpet player sporting bunny ears, any audience would be capable of discerning a decidedly frolicsome attitude.

Chandler Travis (ex-Incredible Casuals) is a successful eccentric. Any old clown could combine a taste for green pajamas and gold lame with a gift for amusing patter into fine entertainment; it takes good taste, however, to rummage through the 20th century’s musical dustbin and arrange the treasures retrieved into an engaging, idiosyncractically coherent presentation. This was a very neat trick, as he and the band delivered credible ’30s swing, ingenious Zappaesque pop parodies, mock Latin crooning and classic elevator sounds with a democratic fervor. (I could have done without the ’70s-style rock numbers, though.)

The Philharmonic enthusiastically accompanied Chandler on these mental and musical excursions. Living up to their mock-grandiose name, the Phil are a seven-piece monster of a band, and they produced a big, raucous sound. As with Brave Combo, who featured a killer reeds-and-brass duo (Jeffrey Barns and Danny O’Brien, respectively), the Philharmonic had an outstanding horn section (trumpeter Keiichi Hashimoto, in particular, contributed some hot solos). The cacophony was seriously energizing.

Reprinted with the permission of Metroland

Metroland (Albany) – Concert Review