Saturday, September 27, 2008

Panda and Tchotchkes

I told myself perhaps a year and a half ago, when I first saw Panda & Child, that I'd have to catch them whenever I reasonably could. I didn't anticipate this could one day mean "four times within a month or so," but that's how it's worked out, and I've held myself to it, dammit.

Saw Panda & Child again on Thursday (Sept. 25) at Cafe Nine, with Joanie Loves Tchotchkes and a shadow puppet show by Kim Mikenis. If it wasn't the most relaxed Panda & Child show I've ever seen, it was the most intense. I've blogged before about what they sound like, but there was a special electricity about their set on Thursday. It felt less performative and more personal than any point in the past when I've seen them. Some weird emotionality bubbled forth. Their engrossmen in their own sound and chemistry was forceful enough to suck the listener in, right to the center of it.

I've known Kim Mikenis casually for some time and have known of her work as an artist and puppeteer for years, yet this was the first time I'd seen her do the puppet thing. She enacted shadow puppet skits about a talking building, an evil liver that grants wishes, and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. Her skits were rife with hyperlocal references -- if you're not from around here, you might not know why it's funny that a dude from East Haven would exclaim "Yo, fuckin' awesome!" and wish for a hot car and hot girlfriend, that DeLauro's appearrance would be punctuated by a handful of gauzy scarves being tossed at the audience, that anything would transpire behind West Haven fried-foods mecca Chick's, that a rollerskating gorilla would be spotted atop East Rock (I immediately thought of PLAY New Haven and fomer New Haven Advocate writer Craig Gilbert's penchant for appearing in public in a gorilla suit). Yet one didn't need to be a local to catch the absurdist hilarity of these ostensible fables in which there is no clear moral.

Joanie Loves Tchotchkes is a local supergroup of sorts (Sean was in the excellent garage-pop band The Battlecats, Kris is in country-punk band The Danglers and roots-rock band The Hickups, and Dave is in tuba-rock band The Gene Gnomes) whom I've been following since inception (as listings editor at the New Haven Advocate, I even helped create a consistent spelling of "Tchotchkes"), and they were really firing on all cylinders. Their set veers from early rock'n'roll to punk rock to country-rock, and nowadays they're fiery and consistently deliver the kind of hooks demanded by the classic pop structures of their songs. It's hard not to like a band that plays a country Christmas song in September, or a song called "Nazi Robots from Outer Space," no matter whether or not people keep handing you beers all night.

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