Dark and Steamy in the Big Easy
by Mark Rossmore
Four excellent bands and the brassy and bold New Orleans steampunk scene create an event to remember.
August
09
2013
FEATURED ARTISTS

Frenchy and the Punk
Official Site: Click Here

Marquis of Vaudeville
Official Site: Click Here

The Cog is Dead
Official Site: Click Here

This Way to the Egress
Official Site: Click Here

SHARE THIS ARTICLE

 






The night August air hung thick outside Prytania Bar in uptown New Orleans. Beyond the intimate venue's glass doors, the city's steampunk community was resplendent in both its eleborate outfits and its welcoming character.  The event, the Heist of the Century hosted by the crews of Airship Isabella and Adventurers League of Gears, showcased the city's determined, resurgent spirit and its denizens' fun-loving nature.

Music is a binding force in this city. As one walks the streets, it seems to flow from every  brick doorway and down every centuries-old street. It was therefore fitting that an appearance by four national-level steampunk bands formed the event's core.

The first three bands, The Cog is Dead, Frenchy and the Punk, and This Way to the Egress, were fresh off train of the Steamstock Caravan Tour, a whirlwind voyage across the country and back again to July's Steamstock II festival in California. The final act, Marquis du Vaudeville, hailed from Dallas. It wasn't just the bands who'd traveled a long ways to be there. There were audience members from as far away as Oklahoma, Texas, and Florida, several eager to get their first-ever taste of steampunk music.

The Cog is Dead (www.johnmondelliproductions.com/thecogisdead)

During the Caravan tour, the three bands had been swapping their playing order on a nightly basis. This evening was The Cog is Dead's turn to be the pathfinder.

I've always been a fan of storytelling songs, and the band rocked through an acoustic set full of them. Captain John Sprocket gave his vocal range a workout, dipping deep for heavier numbers like "Death of the Cog" and "The Copper War", then swinging higher for tracks like "Doctor Franklyn". Their albums have a whimsical, unpredictable quality in their lyrics and production. Live, even with just an acoustic guitar and drum kit, each song's unique flavor shown through.

Sprocket's an energetic frontman with a good sense of humor. I've been wanting to see his band live for a while. Even sans bassist Christofer Wolfe, he and drummer Tony Seville delivered the goods, regaling us with guitar-driven tales of industrial age adventure, mechanical love, and giant robots. 


The Cog is Dead performing "Doctor Franklyn".

One could tell the three Steamstock Caravan bands had built up a bit of camaraderie during their transcontinental voyage. Midway through his set, Captain Sprocket blew out a guitar string. This Way to the Egress vocalist Taylor quickly lent him an accordion and Sprocket carried on. Meanwhile, Frenchy and the Punk's Scott Helland mended the wounded guitar. Being a member of the steampunk music community, I' ve seen plenty of bands collaborate on albums and in live guest appearances. Seeing it happen under unplanned circumstances really shows how well these guys looked out for each other.

Frenchy and the Punk (www.frenchyandthepunk.com)

I've seen Frenchy and the Punk multiple times at Atlanta's Dragon Con over the years, and they're always a lot of fun. Tonight was certainly no exception. It's always amazed me how much sound these guys put out live, considering they're just two people. Working with a minimalistic drum setup on Samantha Stephenson's side and Scott Helland's layered, looped guitarwork, they played a thorough cross-section of songs from their entire CD catalog. 


The author (center) with F&TP's Scott Helland (left) and Samantha Stephenson (right).

Highlights included the title track off their Hey Hey Cabaret album, and their cheeky tracks "Make Out" and "Yes, I'm French" off of Happy Madness. They also threw in a few tracks I hadn't heard them perform before. One of the coolest surprises for me was their rendition of "Viva La Quinta Brigada", a song from the Spanish Civil War, which Samantha sung in Spanish. The catchy "Rumba La Rumba La Rumba La!" vocals are still stuck in my head. 

Taylor of This Way to the Egress also joined them on accordion for "Le Train", a French tune originally recorded when the duo was known as the Gypsy Nomads. While I don't have the lyrics in front of me, I'm assuming the latter is an homage to their cross-country railroad journey. 

A City in Resurgence

Before the show started, I'd spoken with Erin Crowley of Adventurers League of Gears, a steampunk performance group sponsoring the event. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he told me, many of New Orleans' subcultures had faded away. People simply had bigger issues to handle.

Now, with their city well on its way to being rebuilt, NOLA's steampunk community has paralled that comebcack. The Heist of the Century was just one of many steampunk events they had in the offing. 

I found their community to be both a tightknit family and warmly welcoming to outsiders. There I was, a tourist to the town and a perfect stranger to its steampunks, and they made me feel perfectly at home. It was a night of laughs, good conversation, and excellent music in a no-bullshit atmosphere. I'd attend another of their events in a heartbeat. 

This Way to the Egress (www.thiswaytotheegress.com)

I'd seen the Egress crew's special brand of brassiness at Dragon Con last year, and looked forward to hearing some of the new tracks off of their  new album "The Mighty Seed". They were the largest band of the evening, with Taylor on vocals and accordion, Sarah on vocals and violin, John on tuba, Jaclyn on banjo, and Joe on trombone. With drummer Chet not present, Taylor used a bigass stomp box to add some thump to the proceedings.

There are many words one can use to describe Egress' sound. Dark cabaret? Brassy? Infectious? Jazzy? Bluegrass-y? Americana?  Ol' timey? Drinking music? Yes to all and more. They're just a fun group to see, a back alley party band living on the brink of madness. 


This Way to the Egress performing "Pocket Change"

With their sophomore album Mighty Seed just a few months old, the band's set list was mostly tracks off of that collection. Taylor's lyrics and occasionally crazed vocals paint some dark pictures. The band knows how to write some solid hooks and deliver them live with mad flair and a twisted smile. My favorites included "Pound Yer Bones" and "Pocket Change". The latter, as shown in the video above, was written by the band about their experience busking in New Orleans. 

Burlesque performer Mistress Judith Kali joined the band on stage for "Live Through Your Strings", adding her flair to the naughty little number . The set rounded off with "Show Me the Way to Go Home", a loopy drinking song where each band member gets a hilarious turn at the mic while the rest meander through the audience, 

Marquis of  Vaudeville (www.marquisofvaudeville.com)

This Dallas-based quartet played the final set of the night. Of the four bands, they were the one with which I was least familiar, but after hearing them play, I cannot sing their praises high enough. It was the band's first time in New Orleans, and they made an impression.

In the steampunk music world, a straight-up four piece rock band lineup--guitar, bass, drums, and vocals--is actually pretty rare, so I wasn't sure what to expect from their sound. What I got was an atmospheric hour of songs that ran from cabaret rock to hard-hitting epics.

Vocalist Toby Lawhon's tone is reminiscent of U2's Bono or The Cure's Robert Smith, balancing crisp higher accents for emotion with a smooth lower register for drama. Versatile guitarist Bryan Geddie made creative use of effects to transform his six-string's textures, switching between a sound of palette of distortion, organ sounds, theremin-like sweeps, and more, ensuring variety in the band's overall sonic character.  The rhythm section--bassist Kelly Grace and drummer Phil Helms--ably laid out a tight foundation for the melodies while adding their own character to each track. Occasional backing loops added depth and texture to key moments of theirsongs..   


Marquis of Vaudeville performing "Dear Isabella"

The band's catalog blends dark, progressive rock with catchy hooks. They understand the value of dynamics and contrast, always keeping the music varied and interesting to the ear. For example, their set-starter "The Wild Lost", featured  pipe organ-like guitar tone and lilting rhythms in the verses, shifting into hard rock for the soaring choruses. They followed it with songs like the dreamlike "Bright Star Hope", impassioned "Ordinary Day", airship epic "Dear Isabella", and a hard rocking new track from their upcoming album. 

They immediately followed "Utopian Playland"--an ode to the much-missed Doctor Steel--with an absolutely chilling rendition of The Cure's "Burn" from The Crow film soundtrack. That film is one of my favorites, and I wore the hell out of that soundtrack back in the 90's. Vocalist Toby told me after the show that The Crow graphic novel's creator, James O'Barr, was a friend of his. The band performs the cover in honor of his work. So, to sum up: an amazing cover... of one of my favorite songs... from one of my favorite movies... and I'm now one degree of separation from the story's creator? Very cool.

Outro

It was a six hour round trip for me to New Orleans, and the event coordinators, the audience, and the people all made it worth it.

The event was also a perfect showcase for what I and many others have been saying about steampunk music: it has no defined sound, and it shouldn't have a defined sound. Once you start defining, you start creating boundaries. You start excluding people. Like the great people I met that night, the steampunk music scene should be inclusive and welcoming to new ideas.

This night, we had four bands with four completely different styles of music. All undeniably steampunk. All of them excellent. Check them out via the links above, listen to their music, and support them however you can. There's really something for everyone.

  
Author Bio: Mark Rossmore
Mark Rossmore has released three atmospheric albums of steampunk-inspired music as Escape the Clouds. A multimedia artist who enjoys telling dramatic stories, he has self-produced three acclaimed music videos and is a published author of steampunk short fiction, aviation articles, and music-related non-fiction. Learn more about his music, videos, and writing at: http://www.EscapeTheClouds.com .
HELP SUPPORT SP-M

WHAT IS STEAMPUNK MUSIC?
It means something different to everyone. To see how the artists themselves define it...
LUCK O' THE DRAW
THE POSITRONIC CATS
Pennsylvania, USA
@STEAMPUNKMUSIC FEED