Most "show" bands face an uphill battle when they release an album of music: how do they convey the energy and visual power of their live performances when they have only one sense to work with?
Portland, Oregon's Vagabond Opera are definitely a band with a show. If you haven't had the chance to see their pre-post-modern/vaudevillian/circus freak-out you owe it to yourself to check them out the next time they're playing anywhere near you. They are *damned* good.
So how do they tackle the challenge of converting their visual extravaganza to recorded output? With the same key that makes their live show so intense: VARIETY.
You never know quite where Vagabond Opera are going to pop out from next. Sure you can see the circus and vaudeville/cabaret/music-hall elements a mile away (and hear them on every song on "Sing for Your Lives") but the key to circuses and cabarets and music-halls is that being in the audience was like flipping through channels on a TV. It was all about variety, about keeping the audience's attention by never letting them get bored.
"Sing for Your Lives" never gets boring. The band gleefully plunders old world music styles and mixes them into potent brews of musical adventure played with artistry and energy. Check out instrumentals like propulsively danceable "Tough Mazel" and "King of the Gypsies" or the more sanguine and lovely "Lullaby".
This is music that young fans of musical theatre, gin swilling bar patrons and 80 year old grandmothers can all feel moved by.
But it isn't just about cutting a (very) old school rug.
The band is all about fun and humor. The collection opens with the voyages extrordinaire theme tune "Red Balloon" (lead by Robin Jackson), then there's the sexy & absurdist number "Beard and Moustache" featuring Ashia Grzesik and the Erik Stern penned "Coimbra" and the album's title track which makes you smile but also recalls the creepy work of The Tiger Lillies.
The real power of the band lies not just in the variety of sound and in the virtuosity of the performers: it is in the fact that Robin doesn't just sing on a song or two or that Ashia makes "guest appearance", they are all songwriters as well and the talented band gives each song and each performer their due.
I'm sure there are ego clashes behind the scenes but you can't hear it in the music, you don't see it in their performances. They make their differences work, every band member (regardless of songwriting credit) brings something special to the table and that something is respected and fostered and focused.