A pop of soda and a few handclaps…

Pulp and Circumstance has a new reviewer, my kitties! Hailing from Massachusetts and currently a sophomore at Tufts University, Sara Harari will bring you her vibrant, fresh perspective on all types of gigs happening in and around the city…no the matter whether she has to get her college ass out of bed the next morning for some class I surely would never have even been allowed in during my schooling days. She’ll juice all that musical pulp for you on those few hours of sleep the youngins can get by on…so welcome her kindly, and you shall think of her fondly.

Last night, Sara had her first gig review. She caught up with The Phenomenal Handclap Band at the Paradise, chatted with founding member Sean Marquand, and generally had herself a ball during headliner Bajofondo…all while sipping that cool, refreshing charm of underage-dom: Diet Pepsi. So here’s her caffeine and bubbles fueled review…

The floorboards of the Paradise (if you could have seen them under the crush of boots and loafers) danced with the thumping beats of two very different big bands last night. My friend and I got to the club a few minutes before the Phenomenal Handclap Band took the stage. We were maybe two of twenty people milling around and sipping drinks, (although possibly the only ones drinking diet Pepsi).

The lights changed and with little fuss the eight members of Phenomenal Handclap Band filed on. When I introduced myself to one of foundering members, Sean Marquand, after the show, he explained that their album is an amalgamation of many talented musicians, but only the eight “core” members were on tour. The band’s first melodic strain took the crowd by surprise. Each member of the band looked like they came from a different time period, with 70’s, 80’s and modern haut couture outfits checkering the stage.

Their crazy mesh of styles speaks to the origin of the band’s sound. A little bit of everything that comes together in their music to make something unique. In one song, the band mixed harpsichord with electric guitar and sultry vocals. And it was amazing. A seamless blend of disco music, club music and rock. And they could all sing, even the drummer.

Once they started playing, it was impossible to stand still. The crowd started bobbing their heads, you could tell they were thinking, Hm, this could be interesting. By the end of the set, we were all moving to the throbbing beat with abandon to match the enthusiasm of the group members. The band loved their music and loved sharing it: crazy keyboard slides followed wild tambourining, and electric guitar slides. Sean told me that the group had originally set out to duplicate their studio sound onstage, but once the tour got underway, the songs took on a life of their own.

When the band started their best-known song, “15 to 20,” the crowd went wild. The catchy lyrics make for the perfect song for summer driving with the windows rolled down. I heard one girl near me shout to her friend, “Wait, who are these guys? They’re good!”

This may be the geek in me speaking, but I swear one song incorporated intergalactic space war sounds into the booming beat and constant tambourine that threaded throughout the set. The song was like a modern version of a soundtrack to one of those eighties space movies that you watch over and over again just for the music. (Or is that just me?)

The Phenomenal Handclap Band closed their set with “I Been Born Again.” Though it carries religious undertones, Sean explained that the is more about being part of a community. It seemed to me the lyrics described their music, a re-birth of the disco style, left at the wayside. This group parties on stage, completely in love with the music they were making.

I had one last question for Sean: Who’s the phenomenal handclapper? He laughed and, assuring me that this was the true story behind the band name, explained, “Handclapping is a specialized skill. We have different techniques and like to switch it up with claps right before or right after the beat [as opposed to on it].” The band started off focusing on this, but as the idea for the band changed, the name stuck.

And so the Phenomenal Handclap Band filed off the stage and roadies began to re-arrange equipment for Bajofondo, a group that is redefining tango music.

Bajofondo’s set opened with a stirring violin solo, quickly followed by an eclectic mix of strings, accordion, turntable and visual effects. The band’s eight members are from Argentina and Uruguay and sing in Spanish, when they sing at all. The crowd was mostly Spanish speaking and as my friend noted, Spanish speakers love to dance. They love to move, they love to catcall and they love Spanish guitar.

Bajofondo’s music was set against a projected backdrop; a mesh of images that changed with the beat and energy of the music. A violin that laced through all of their songs, even over the thumping bass, was the soul of the music, and the violinist, seeming to sense this, rarely opened his eyes. At the end of each song, the band courteously accepted the crowd’s adoration. They tipped their hats and smiled.

The band would periodically take a break from the dance-music and each artist had a chance to showcase their instrument with an acoustic song or two. They jokingly commented to the audience that they’ve been playing together for five years, and still don’t know how to describe their music. To me, their mix of tango and club is the essence of modern Latin music.

As a non-Spanish speaker, I just followed the flow of the people around me. My friend, on the other hand, is fluent and loved that everyone around us was speaking Spanish. Unfortunately, we had to cut out early, as I had an 8:30 class on Differential Equations the next morning, but both of us emerged from the Paradise with new favorite bands.

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