These are dreamy music makers. Beyond dreamy; Requiem for a Dream dreamy. A mess of insanely well-modulated vocals, viola, upright bass, harp, piano and drums, Jaggery produces delicate tunes that leave you somewhere you weren’t quite expecting to be. Midway through their “The Road Awakening Tour,” Jaggery played The Red Palace in DC, and it finally felt appropriate that a band from another time (it seemed) was playing a stage that frequently supports burlesque dancers.
Not ones to understate their motives, Jaggery swathed themselves and their keyboard in black cloth. One wooden harp protruded from the front of the stage like the prow of a ship. There was much serene wailing and more than a few shivering viola solo parts, sculpting these thematic soundscapes, the theme mostly being otherworldly sadness (don’t take it from me, they’re releasing an EP “loosely based on Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.”). “7 Stone” with its driving piano, minor key melody and occasionally terrifying viola strokes sound like something out of a horror movie in 18th century England. Although the song specifically riffs on the theme of an eating disorder, if you could not understand English, you would still know would be longing and loneliness and violence. Jaggery’s onstage personality is much different than their presented one.
They laughed and joked together, often asking for more reverb. Said singer Mali Sastri: “Reverb is a science and a math, for some of us.” “Elfin Arrietty” was a highlight at their Red Palace show, harp plucked prettily and gentle vocals breezing over their revelers. The lyrics were inspired by Sastri’s mother’s dog, “my little marshmallow.” During the last few songs, Sastri not only rolled around on stage, she climbed down and sauntered on Red Palace’s floor, riling the crowd, and ended in a full split.
Second group up was “post-orchestral” band Strange Victories. They dressed in their Sunday best: dresses, suits with elbow patches. The seven arranged themselves onstage, tuning up: viola, cello, violin, flute, french horn, drums, guitar and second guitar (played by the drummer, who also sang). As one would expect from a classically trained bunch, wonderful overtures abounded, ones that would remind you of walking triumphantly through a field after a conquest (over what is up to you, listeners). There was some effort to let every instrument have a turn, which gave many opportunities for crescendos, but not for an individual voice to stand out and take the music in an intriguing direction. To their credit, the songwriting is narrative, almost musical-theater ready. All it needed was a voice.
The first band was the brainchild of Thomas Stanley AKA Bushmeat, who makes “the doors and windows of music.” Stanley sat at a computer on a long folding party table while Mark Cooley and Casey Ray toiled at the guitar and other instruments (electronic equipment and a very tiny wooden piano sat onstage). This combination synth /sampling/guitar noise/ambient outfit worked at a volume so low and a pace so slow it was difficult to listen, not because we couldn’t hear, but because the sounds were minimal and it was impossible to hold on to them for more than an instant: sounds of whispers, crashing waves, electronic whirring, maybe a word, I can’t be sure.
There was a full guitar chord every now and again, followed by yards of feedback. I wondered if the track changed or if it ever would. It was appropriate for Jaggery; it was an atmosphere where nothing feels particularly right, or particularly wrong. Stanley told us to remember there are political prisoners in this country, and that if we participate in the economy we are supporting war, and that we did not look like war-like people. Stage set? Check.
- Strange Victories