Thursday March 17 – Saturday March 19
L’Orchestre D’Hommes-Orchestres is a four-piece of multi-instrumentalists, often described as four one-man-bands, augmented by a duo of percussionists, singers and deadpan comediennes, The New Cackle Sisters.
On a theatrical set of found instruments (a suitcase opening and closing) and quirky circus-fare (bowed saws) where a table-top is suddenly a drum-kit, an old gramophone provides ambient backdrop as well as being part of the set-design and a guitarist could, at any moment, don a helmet where the bell on the top is struck by someone else standing behind him we get to see and hear and feel, almost instantly, that anything can – and probably will – happen. This French-Canadian troupe offers what is a essentially a cabaret show, very nearly a circus act, and as I steadied myself, thinking that Tom Waits’ songs were being trivialised, nearly mocked, the talent on stage takes over.
Sure, there might not have been quiet the ferocity in the vocals, and so it starts to feel a bit like training wheels, like backing paper being laid atop the tunes and the crayons are out, but what this band does manage, which is incredibly faithful and accurate, they tap into not only the sources but the humour. So it’s all at once the Weimar cabaret and the Brechtian-via-Burroughs surrealism as one of the members begins pounding on a plank of wood with boxing gloves, while wearing a gasmask. And by avoiding most of Waits’ really well-known songs it becomes less of a tribute and more about building a world.
It’s clear these musicians – all of them wonderful, often miraculous, are having a blast, dressing up and living out the fantasy that Waits conjures with his oft-quoted, “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things”. L’Orchestre D’Hommes-Orchestres created and lived in a world where pretty, quirky and clever melodic treatments were conjured up around some of Waits’ dark, dystopian, insular stories. And it was magical while it lasted.
This review first appeared in The Dominion Post and online at Stuff here