STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN: HAVERFORD MUSICIANS PLAY A GIG AT GALAPAGOS
On the last Friday in September more than a dozen current Haverford students and recent graduates gathered at a fashionable new space in Brooklyn for a few drinks and a show. What separated this gathering from the countless other such gatherings taking place every weekend across the country was the night's entertainment: two generations of Haverford musicians, and two generations of the Bauer family, were performing. Our own Johnny Divine and the Straight Nines, consisting of Lewis Bauer '06 and alums Greg Greenberg '05, Caleb Jaquith '05, and Aziz Khan '05, played their first show outside Lunt's basement as the opening act for Dagmar, the latest musical sensation from Jim Bauer '78. And the evening was, by all accounts, a complete success.
“It was like running my nerves through a blender,” said Greenberg as he compared the feeling of playing Galapagos, one of Williamsburg's up-and-coming venues, to the band's previous shows on campus,“but the set itself was as tight as we've ever been.” This was certainly true, and the band has come a long way from its first show in the spring of 2004, when it premiered under the name Splatterhouse with a different lineup and style. The initial band was the product of jam sessions with Bauer on guitar, Greenberg on bass, and Kevin Mooney '04 on drums, and they played long, informal songs without lyrics. Haverford's reception was positive, however, and the band added Khan on keyboard and changed its name to Set Kittens to Stun for their final shows of that spring. A further step took place the next fall, with the addition of Jaquith on drums and the debut of lyrics written by Bauer under the band's current name. Johnny Divine became a staple of the Lunt music scene, with popular shows every few weeks, and the group continued to practice and perform after most of its members graduated. The Galapagos show was their second performance of the fall, and the band was tighter and more focused than at any previous performance. Songs had shortened, lyrics were completed for each, and the diverse influences of all of the members had been fully integrated into a single sound.“Our personal influences are widespread and insane,” observes Khan,“and honestly, we've no cohesive sound or any real excuse to be a band, save that we're all remarkably good at listening, at playing with each other, and not just all making noise in the same key and time signature.” Their sound is eclectic, driven by Greenburg's heavy bass lines and Jaquith's resonant drums, with emphasis and movement provided by Bauer's guitar and Khan's keys, but remains engaging as it swoops and plummets, turning back on itself through songs about love, loss, and chemicals.
The audience that night definitely agreed, and there was an exceedingly warm reception extending beyond the Haverford contingent. Though the band went on early, by the end of its short set the room was packedâ€”including people who had come in off the street to see what was happeningâ€”and the final song was met with cheers and calls for an encore. The“beauty and energy” of the music was captivating, says Jim Bauer, as was the band's“poised, charming, unassuming Haverfordian stage presence,” and the crowd was unified across generational lines in their accord.“At this stage in my life, when I'm fast becoming a very disillusioned, bitter old man,” continues Jim Bauer,“it was uplifting and somehow reassuring to team up with my son, 30 years younger, to entertain people and give them something to smile about, each in our own way, with our own music.” And while the sounds of Johnny Divine and Dagmar might seem to make an odd combination for an evening's bill, they were brought together by their passion and charisma on stage, to say nothing of their positive reception.
Dagmar began a few years ago while Bauer, who majored in music at Haverford, was working on another project called the Weimarband, a combination of German cabaret and the Texas country music of his youth. It was an experiment in what Bauer affectionately calls“Sturm n' Twang,” and Dagmar is a continuation of that experience, but more free of constraints and definitions.“The music has no particular, pre-planned destination,” he says,“It simply takes you. Open-ended. It wants to travel.” The band's set is a musical narrative, sung by Bauer (who also plays guitar) and Meghan McGeary, a soprano with a background in theater, and backed by four other members. The story revolves around a young man who has retreated from the world and refuses to leave his room until he's visited by a spiritâ€”who shares a name with the band â€” with a penchant for insects, who drags him out of bed and forces him to go out. The presentation is certainly theatrical, including a set of glimmering wings that McGeary dons at one point, but what anchors the band is the singers' voices: his is weary and experienced, hers is hauntingly beautiful, and they play back and forth over a soundtrack that is equal parts rock fury and jazzy resignation. Their energy, even as they sing about wanting to stay in bed all day, is contagious, and Dagmar picked up the audience right where Johnny Divine left them before an interlude of two short percussion and spoken-word acts.
Even if there is a striking resemblance between the guitar-playing singers of both bands, that certainly had nothing to do with the extremely positive reception to both bands that evening. The venue received such a good response, in fact, that both Johnny Divine and Dagmar will be playing another show at Galapagos in late January. And the members of Johnny Divine aren't letting their success in the real world go to their heads: they have a show scheduled late this month in Lunt basement.
For more information about Dagmar or the upcoming show with Johnny Divine, head on over to www.dagmartheband.com.
â€” Brian Richichi '06