“A Tim Burton soundtrack meets Jewish music meets Freddie Mercury meets pirates,” I thought as I watched Bella’s Bartok last weekend at The Middle East, Upstairs. My friend described their sound as “bar mitzvah meets carnival” and they’re self-described as “Vaudevillian folk punk” and “Bohemian Klezmer Punk with pop sensibilities.” I’d also add in that their sound is folky, ska-ish, sometimes gothic/horror-esque, and even waltzy, like in their song “The Strigoi Waltz.” Yeah, they pretty much don’t fit into any singular category. They’re far too eclectic and interesting and pulsing with life to comfortably sit in one genre. They transcend that noise. AND I CANNOT GET ENOUGH OF THEM.
First of all, their sound (s). Not being a musician, I can’t speak intelligently about their musical tricks or instrumental skills or whatever it is that musicians discuss about music, but what I CAN say is that it was impossible for me to stay put in The Middle East — Bartok’s sound forces you to jump up and down, to waltz, skank, sway, and do whatever else one does on a dance floor. And their sound(s) utterly transported me. At one point, I felt like I was in 19th century Eastern Europe, next a Fellini-esque circus scene, next a 16th century British pub, next a pirate ship, a Tim Burton film, and the list goes on.
And what a SPECTACLE they are live. Their sound(s) create an entirely new world, fantastical and magical, and the band members are characters within that world. Standing (or dancing, rather) in the middle of the sweaty, drunken, jumping crowd, I distinctly remember thinking how they created a soundtrack and performed for it. They don’t just make music, they perform inside it. Bartok’s Lead Singer, Asher Putnam, is a character reminiscent of The Princess and the Frog’s voodoo witch doctor, Dr. Facilier. As he performs, he stretches his eyes wide open and ominously stares into the audience. He wears dark eyeliner and facial glitter, sports a Dali-esque mustache, and makes the Italian gesture that wards off evil — and points it in our direction. I don’t mind it. Chris “Fancy” Kerrigan, Bartok’s Guitarist, Clarinetist, Vocalist, and band physicist (?!) wears green eyeliner and facial glitter and black and white nail polish. He uses his hands as if to enchant us. It’s pretty phenomenal.
Please experience them.
An aspect to their spectacle is their fascinating level of energy. They scream, laugh, and jump up and down enough to make a stage nearly tear in half. And when they’re not jumping up and down, they tell jokes and spit historic fun facts. Bartok taught me that in the time of Genghis Khan the Mongols killed the enemy once by placing them under a dancefloor and having a dance party on top of them, squashing them to death. Interesting, eh? And strange. And creepy. Oddly fun? And really punk. Kinda like Bella’s Bartok itself.
For more info on Bella’s Bartok: http://bellasbartok.com/
For upcoming show dates: http://bellasbartok.com/shows/
Image: “Bella’s Bartok Band”. Berkshireonstage.com, Larry Murray, April 12, 2016, https://berkshireonstage.com/2016/04/12/powerhouse-band-bellas-bartok-plans-cd-release-masquerade-show-at-colonial-with-dj-bfg/.