Written by Arjun Ray
It takes a hell of a presence to fill the 1200 capacity, bright and gleaming Fonda theatre, and I’m going to try to convince you that a band of two and a band of six can both equally bring the whole goddamned roof down. Xenia Rubinos was suggested to me by a good friend just weeks ago, and I feel that luck has placed her in LA this week (along with her drummer Marco Buccelli), perfectly poised for review by yours truly. The icing on the cake? Her music video for “Hair Receding” feature a little old grandma affixed with 9 GoPro cameras while going about her dailies, and your dear author has an unexplainable weakness for adorable little old ladies (beneath his rugged, stoic exterior). Xenia is opening for Man Man, who have been played on the hit TV show Weeds on numerous occasions. Man Man brings that wild and crazy throwback, gypsy, polka, big band thing that turns large shows into small riots.
TLDR: Just go to the show. Sunday rest is for Puritans anyway.
Xenia Rubinos is infectiously charming and all it took was her and drummer Marco Buccelli to paint that git smile on your face. Don’t even try to hide it. But why is the music so effective? What about the deconstructed, nearly-glitchy riff on R&B tickles our ears? It’s simple. Cohesion, emotion, and mastery, at every level. Xenia’s music occupies a paradoxical space where raw sound collage mixes agreeable with fully-realized song craft. It’s as if she took the canon of R&B songwriting, flash froze it in liquid nitrogen and smashed it against the floor, only to pick up some of the juicy morsels and paste them back together like a magnetic fridge poem. In short, she’s constructed a musical language of her own, she’s fluent in it, and to your surprise, you understand it perfectly. For a sound that is unapologetically experimental, the music is so well conceived that you don’t notice the individual moving parts for many listens. But they are there – a voice that must be trained in jazz, a drummer at home with breakbeats and polyrythyms, and keyboards that add sophisticated harmonic color. The range of emotion in her voice never strains with effort. Xenia transitions through playful, coy, pleading, seductive, and fresh imperceptibly to the critical ear, with a voice so naked and honest that I’m almost convinced the microphone and her mouth are in symbiosis. As a cynical old punk, I never say this, but this music is truly original. It’s more than the sum of it’s parts. It’s synthesis not addition, and the magic is in that _____ you can never describe with words (like these). In other words, stop reading. Go listen to this now. You won’t be sorry.
Photo by Johnny Gomez
Imagine a band of hardtack sea folk locked in a room with a collection of instruments, left to work out their land-locked angst like caged animals. That’s what Man Man sound like. Their albums are full of feral howls and screeches over rudiments of song, played dirge-like on a veritable menagerie of instrumentation. The manic troubadour reels audibly within the bar room cacophony, eliciting primordial moans when words fail him, as they do regularly. The stories he manages to tell are apt described as ‘tales’ and ‘lore’. If you miss the similarities to Tom Waits, World Inferno Friendship Society, or even The Squirrel Nut Zippers, go fill your downloads folder with some excellent music, please. If circuses had resident bands, if polka were the realm of strange-o twenty somethings, then Man Man would find their loving public beneath the high-spired circus tents of Central Europe……-an pirate ships.