Monday, February 3, 2014

Gypsies, Tramps and Cheese

Ipanema said it first. "You know what this Superbowl needs? More tambourine."

As luck would have it, the Richmanian Ramblers were playing there tonight, thus giving some of us somewhere to go that didn't involve a screen but promised a tambourine.

The band had doubled in size since I'd first seen them, now up to eight musicians, with singer Antonia looking devastatingly beautiful in a black dress with red belt, red earrings and red scarf on her head.

The miracle of it was that all eight of them were somehow able to fit in that tiny front space to which bands are relegated for the monthly Live at Ipanema show.

Perhaps it was the absence of amps.

And while I have seen the Ramblers many times, I've also discovered some really interesting bands for the first time through this stellar series.

It was a small but mighty crowd (with a few jerseys worn) who came out for Romanian folk music set to multiple accordions, upright bass, clarinet, drum/tambourine, guitar and two violins.

Frankly, after a weekend spent in my own company, I'd come not just for the music but for some conversation with whomever I found.

I empathized with the sax player whose car had been towed last night not long after I saw him driving down Broad Street at 12:30 a.m. and chatted with the musical couple who'd just come from performing at a folk mass to a small, Superbowl-ravaged congregation.

It was while I was eating a slice of red velvet cake, or at least all the parts directly attached to the icing, that the band decided to introduce themselves, noting that they'd chosen "ramblers" as part of their name because, according to bassist Nate, "It was the cheesiest name we could have picked.'

Beginning with a wedding song, they moved on to a Croatian song about having dinner with your sweetheart, although not a particularly fancy one given the meal: potatoes, brown bread and scallion.

Nate said that they'd added Croatian and Serbian songs to their repertoire to make things harder on himself and Antonia when they sang.

Well done, sir. 'Cause singing Romanian wasn't hard enough.

We heard a song about how wine tastes better when you drink with attractive people and bad when drinking with ugly ones, necessitating Antonia saying, "My wine tastes good!"

Drinking must be a common theme in eastern Europe, because we then heard, "Little Bottle" with Nate shouting "ha ha!" periodically and a Serbian dancing song where the singer's partners have a different name with every verse.

"I wouldn't be cool with that," Antonia stated for the record.

There was a song about crossing the river, not on the ferry, but on your girlfriend's back ("Which is kind of awesome," she enthused) and one she described as kind of like that song, "I'd Do Anything for Love But I Won't Do That," except in Romanian.

The beauty of the additional musicians was a much fuller sound and more voices for the choruses and inevitable sha-shas and ha-has that seem to run through gypsy music, no matter what the language.

I'd have to say my favorite element was the clarinet, a slithering, sinuous woodwind that wound its way through the other instruments to give the songs a distinctive gypsy sound.

And don't even get me started on the tambourine, the saving grace on Superbowl Sunday.

With only five songs left, Nate explained, "All of these songs have been danced to at some point in the song's history, so you might as well get started on that now."

Sad to say, no dancing commenced.

A song about a young and old man arguing that death was the only cure for life was enlivened by the discovery that the cure for life comes in a bottle. "Let's drink to that!" Nate said and glasses were raised throughout the bar.

After a dirty counting song and the title song of their album, "World, Sister, World" about the cruelness of the world ("Not coolness," Antonia clarified) they ended with a dancing song that still failed to get the crowd dancing.

But it did get them hollering for one more song and the Richmanian Ramblers obliged with a song about a dowry, which may be a romantic topic in Romania because the guy near me put his arm around his girlfriend and cooed, "What about our dowry?"

A smart man would have had her up and dancing five songs ago. Or perhaps that's what they were going to do when they left.

The rest of us happily made do with tambourine instead of pigskin.

Not only was I cool with that, I say let's drink to that. Spoken like a true gypsy.

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