The Music Tapes at The Workman’s Club | Review
The Mechanised Organ Hand-Cranked Tower is an odd little fellow, and the first band member we are introduced to as Julian Koster takes to the stage with The Music Tapes. It’s not the first inanimate-yet-decidedly-animated and personable object we will encounter during tonight’s performance from the one-time Neutral Milk Hotel musician, nor is it the only time we will wilfully accept one of these anthropomorphised inventions as fully-fledged band members. This is less a gig than an all-inclusive theatre performance for children of adult age, and ones that gleefully hand the reins over to Koster for the duration.
Dublin’s Crayonsmith are first up, playing a ream of new songs from their forthcoming ‘Milk Teeth’ album. The three men line up stagefront either side of drummer Wayne Dunlea, both guitarists switching to keys and back as the need arises – bassist Richie O’Reilly takes duties for Let’s Split Up, and again on White Dwarf, with the vocal harmonies from the rhythm section adding depth to Ciarán Smith’s go-it-alone intro. The drums unobtrusively add texture throughout with Dunlea letting loose every now and again to propel the songs, and then rein them back in. They go for it on the final number, heads down, a rousing end to the set. Most may have been unfamiliar with the songs, but they are well received, enough so for some inquisitive heckling mid-performance to find out the band’s CV.
It’s The Music Tapes’ first visit to Ireland, and the fine weather and previous night’s Galway visit seem to have left a good impression on the three-piece that enlivens tonight’s Workman’s Club. The stage is adorned with curious objects and instruments aplenty, and the aforementioned mechanised organ tower leads us in. The horn player tirelessly cranks the cylindrical machine, whose hands emerge at the front to slap a small keyboard as the organ music plays. Koster plays musical saw in the background, and as the organ speeds up, so does he…but all defer to the organ tower.
He sings through a megaphone during The Dark Is Singing Songs, before the first of many anecdotes that punctuate the music. This one details a record company bigwig from Dublin who courted Koster’s high school band, complete with Irish accent and salty punchline. The setlist is mainly drawn from the band’s latest album, ‘Mary’s Voice’, and 2008’s ‘Music Tapes For Clouds And Tornadoes’ with Koster switching from saw to bow-played banjo while one busy colleague variously switches from tuba, to trumpet, to trombone. At one point, Koster leaves the stage, “without amplification”, while the horn player opens an old record player to the side of it. With one finger on the spinning turntable, he sings through a gramophone horn to crackling, mesmerising effect, with a few well-timed comedic pauses. Koster hovers in the background, providing some gentle saw accompaniment to what is quite a unique moment.
Neither is it the only time Koster breaks the fourth wall, as he puts it. Two lit-up birdcages that sit stagefront turn out to be more than just ambient decoration, as Koster directs the crowd in a game of Fireflies. The small candles that fill the birdcages are taken by willing participants and balanced on three fingers on an outstretched arm. Two people opt to be Catchers, and chase these newly-formed fireflies around the darkened venue, recapturing the candles – this should seem a bizarre endeavour, but it’s embraced wholeheartedly by all as an entire room regresses in one unifying moment.
One lengthy anecdote sees the band leave Koster alone for the telling, a touching tale that’s “kind of private, but I’m gonna tell you guys ‘cos it’s Ireland.” We’d like to tell you, but it’s private; a now-poignant Spare The Dark Streets follows as the band re-emerge. A new band member is unveiled as Static The Singing Television appears from under a sheet to sing The Television Tells Us, his smiling face flickering benignly along with the backing track as the band plays. This incomparable set ends with Takeshi And Elijah, with the keys and tuba eventually joining Koster for one last hurrah. “We actually can’t do any more songs ‘cos there’s karaoke” Koster informs us as the demand for an encore goes on; it’s such a ridiculous – yet true – reason that it’s perfectly in keeping with what has just transpired. The Music Tapes delivered one of the most unexpected, good-natured and captivating shows we’ve seen in a while – between Koster’s tales, the mostly-sentient players and the uniquely-orchestrated songs, this band is really is something you have to experience for yourself.