The accordion has to be a lonely instrument, relegated to oompah bands that play the Oktoberfest circuits and TV shows that resemble an SCTV sketch with no punch line. It was an instrument that was once the sound of the world. The squeeze of it drew images of cultures that were remote to the American experience. It was the sound of countries like France, Italy and Germany. The accordion has been sheltered as national instrument of Deutschland, as well as the Bayou country of Louisiana Parishes. Thankfully the accordion has not been lost in the swell of Americanized Oktoberfest; Brave Combo shows America and the world that it is still a vital instrument.
Brave Combo invaded St. Louis once again, bringing its joyful, enthusiastic and world-spanning music with it. There was no need for an opening act as these Denton, Texas musical renegades took over the Old Rock House with two hours of polkas, rumbas, tangos, twists and other assorted sonic ear candy. With their expansive array of genre defying sounds they kept the dance floor twisting, gyrating and moving in a polka frenzy and turned this rock club into a sweltering biergarten the night before America's independence celebration. This group of musical renegades truly represents America by bringing together genres and styles that make up our national heritage, and all done with drums, bass, guitar, woodwinds and, of course, accordion.
They launched into "Swingin' Shepard Blues" and it was the perfect opening to a night that touched at the bluesy music that is the heart of St. Louis, but done in a way that only Brave Combo could. In their hands the sound became a musical landscape that rested somewhere between the realm of zydeco and the shuffle of their home state of Texas.
"As everyone here knows, we play polkas!" leader Carl Finch announced in an enthusiastic tone that landed in the ears of the audience with the exuberance of rock and roll. The stein touting oompah band leader Finch and his merry band of minstrels have taken the traditional sounds of polka, cha-cha, rumba, tango, salsa, cumbia and many others and have given them a new relevance with a rocking attitude.
A night with Brave Combo is a night of surprises, anything can happen. Halfway through the show the audience was lead to the patio of the Old Rock House by Finch, woodwinds mastermind Jeffrey Barnes and the sultry Ginny Mac and the three put together a quiet moment, without the house PA and into the mugginess that is St. Louis summer, and it felt like a night in Paris. The trio moved from one end of the patio and out the patio gate to serenade those passing by the venue.
Each member is of the highest caliber of talent. Finch is the mastermind, playing guitar, keyboards and accordion and leads the band through a boisterous selection of songs that spans their career. Barnes, Finch's longtime conspirator, brought his winding array of woodwinds that weaved and bobbed from inspired rhythm, blues and jazz to perverting such traditional phrasing that it afforded his horns the chance to create something completely new.
Little Jack Melody is a bassist possessed by groove. He seamlessly moved from style to style without flinching, staring into the crowd and bouncing his head with each movement of his fingers. Alan Emert sat stoically behind the drums as if he was Max Weinberg and was given the chance to break out into as many genres he could lay his sticks to. But, Ginny Mac is a sight to behold: a seductive vision of sheer talent and beauty. Standing in her high heels with the accordion strapped to her, she weaved and bobbed through the music creating some of the memorable musical moments.
It was a night of fan favorites, new songs and requests that included "Do Something Different," "Tattletale Twist" and "Clarinet Polka." But there was one more crowd pleasing song to come and it required participation.
"This is a dance that you have all done, but not the way Brave Combo does it...It's time for the HOKEY POKEY!"
With that scream the band launched into what has a signature, funk laden groove that re-imagines the song and transforms it from the traditional wedding dance into a sound that restores the original cultural relevance.