What was prophesized to be a “rock and roll show” actually manifested into an event much more akin to “dinner and a show” when gypsy rock outfit Fishtank Ensemble hit SOhO’s stage on Wednesday, April 11.
Usually a sweaty rock venue that herds its under-21 crowd into a corner of the floor and encourages its older patrons to get rip-roaring drunk on the patio outside, SOhO was transformed into a fairly adorable saloon-style lounge on the cold, spring night. The venue manager’s efforts at creating a full dance floor by setting up a circle of candle-lit tables had a rather anticlimactic effect, seeming to point to the blaring fact that audience attendance was, to put it lightly, at a minimum. Those who were present, in fact, seemed to be there solely for the purpose of sitting down, ordering some of SOhO’s bar food and enjoying the frantic gypsy musicians as if they were some sort of barbershop quartet.
Not that this wasn’t at all enjoyable. Amidst the candlelight, baskets of warm bread and elderly people clad in distressed “gypsy” style vests, I took my seat and watched Fishtank Ensemble tear the stage up with obbligato vocals, hectic slap-bass, complex violin and a fairly uncanny sense of control and purpose within their delightfully crazy genre of Roma music.
“Whose child is that running up and down the floor?” joked front woman Ursula Knudson, not fearing to draw attention to the fact that the blonde, pixie-like little girl was in fact her own daughter and reinforcing the “family friendly” vibe of the whole night. Once she took a maternal break and left the boys of the band to an instrumental, however, it became obvious that even the grey-haired Santa Barbara women in clogs had the potential to become voluptuous vixens given the right kind of music, and the sparse but warm audience began to slowly take to the dance floor with moves that I could only hope to replicate after a few months of traditional ballroom lessons.
In an interview before the show, Knudson assured me that their group performance was a “rock and roll show,” drawing on a lively audience rapport. While the “rock and roll” aspect of the night was someone negligible, I must admit that the audience-performer dynamic was friendly and festive, giving off an ambiance of a really great house party rather than a proper performance of modern Roma music.
And there’s nothing better than a good house party with a bad-ass live band. But putting the kind of accidental, quirky charm of the show aside, Fishtank Ensemble doesn’t seem to quite know what they are about just yet. The music and musicianship is interesting, innovative and elevated without being inaccessible; however, the band members themselves are a tad confused about where exactly they fit in. Not quite a gypsy band, not quite a Roma band, not quite raucous enough for rock and roll venues and not quite subdued enough for concert halls, Fishtank Ensemble hasn’t found its niche within the hectic music scene that is their hometown of Los Angeles and, furthermore, within the confusing music industry that is rock and roll in the U.S.
Give me some candlelight, a glass of vino, and a romantically open dance floor, however, and I more than willing to stick around and enjoy the forthcoming journey of self-discovery.