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Hawk and a Hacksaw

by Archives September 22, 2009

Hailing from New Mexico and self-described as a combination of classical opera, freestyle, healing and easy listening, A Hawk and a Hacksaw is the creative apparatus of percussionist Jeremy Barnes, of Neutral Milk Hotel fame, and violinist Heather Trost.
At the time of recording the new album, Délivrance, the band had a total of twelve members. The touring ensemble varies, but is typically a group of four, including Ferenc Kova and Mark Weaver.
The band lists several eastern European countries as influences, along with The Kinks. In fact, they lived in Budapest for several years.
“There are so many good bands from those countries,” Barnes explained, “that we just listed the countries instead.”
As for The Kinks, “Ray Davies has been my favourite songwriter since childhood.”
So how does an eastern European-styled folk band fit into the mariachi band-dominated music scene of New Mexico?
“We don’t, really” stated Barnes.
Likewise, there is no typical AHAAH fan. “Maybe that’s the nice thing about it,” said Barnes. “There are lots of different types. Older people are nice, they buy the CD’s. Hipsters,” he said gesturing around the room at Il Motore, their venue last Thursday night, “download the music for free.”
AHAAH are currently on a North American tour, featuring only two Canadian stops.
Openers Damon (Krukowski) & Naomi (Yang) formerly made up two-thirds of the ’80s shoegaze band Galaxie 500.
The beautiful harmonies from this blond and brunette boy/girl duo set the mood for a seated set. Fanned out in front of the stage, couples leaned into each other with a tenderness that echoed the intimate vibe of the setting. Picnic blankets and the haze of an afternoon sun would not have been out of place at this show, where one might expect cookies to be passed around and perhaps a secret to be shared on mic.
The set ended with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire.
“It’s kind of scary to play [Cohen] in Montreal, but he’s so good,” said Yang.
Damon & Naomi’s sorrowfully-toned drone rock style was a sharp contrast to the almost completely vocal-less uppity eastern European inspired polka-folk of AHAAH. This was reflected by the audience, who stood up abruptly, gathering close for AHAAH’s first song.
The band came out moustachioed and bearded – the notable exception being Trost – to start setting up strange-fangled instruments of string and horn, drum and tambourine, and of course, Barnes’ accordion.
The Stroh violin, Trost’s speciality, is amplified through a metal horn which creates a sound louder in volume but grittier in tone than the standard violin. She played an entire song by seemingly manipulating the bridge with a broken string, creating an eerie and haunting, breathy sound. It was a sombre moment in a high energy set which featured jovial footwork and frenzied dancing by the crowd.
“Mr. Sound Man,” Barnes beckoned to the technician between songs. “If you could just mute the whole thing, like unplug it.” He wasn’t kidding. “We’re a folk band, we don’t need electricity!”
The musicians let their cords fall to the stage as they marched into the centre of the crowd. There, in the dimness lit only by the floor piping used to distinguish the upper level from the lower, they finished their set. A few couples spun and skipped as though they were in a dance competition, albeit one with no training required.
“I’ve never been at a show similar to that,” one show-goer confessed to his friend afterwards. “It was weird!”

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