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City Girls Become Mountain Boys

August 17, 2007

The Golden West Café doesn’t host shows every night, but once or twice a month it lets bands perform in its Hampden storefront for a nice, intimate concert. And on Aug. 16, two out of town bands swung through Baltimore to get upstaged by the strange and wonderful local a cappella ensemble Lexie Mountain Boys.

The first act of the night, bearded New York quartet the Woods, eased into its set gingerly, one member sitting behind the drum set playing guitar for one song before finally setting it down to give the next number a backbeat. Meanwhile, one member of the band sat on the stage’s floor toying with a mixer, presumably providing the hum and static that surrounded the Woods’ folky, downtempo rock. Even the lead vocalist, who adopted the same under-his-breath style of high, slightly strained singing that’s accompanied fuzzed-out guitar since Neil Young first combined the two so long ago, sang through a microphone that distorted his voice into a thin, trebly AM radio signal.

Soon enough, though, the Lexie Mountain Boys roused the night from the Woods’ pleasant slumber. When faint harmonizing first started to trail in from the back of the café, it wasn’t clear whether the all-female vocal group, led by erstwhile City Paper contributor Lexie Macchi, was beginning its performance or merely warming up within earshot. Then, with the eerie melody still going, the six women marched to the front of the room in long dresses and other elaborate outfits. One was dressed as some kind of bizarre two-headed deer, and their march was momentarily interrupted when the antlers got caught on some of the Golden West’s ceiling decorations. It all might’ve come off as pretentious, if the Booys weren’t all too willing to crack a smile, let out a laugh, or make an odd sound or gesture to provoke someone else’s laughter.

Once the Lexie Mountain Boys made it to the front of the room, instead of taking the stage, they sat down at one of the tables along with the patrons, and began lighting candles and incense, all while singing. Slowly they began to clap, pound on the table, and stomp their feet to provide a rhythm to their abstract, wailing song. None sounded like a classically trained vocalist, or even a particularly skilled percussionist for that matter, but it didn’t matter. It felt more like a social ritual that happened to take place in front of an audience than a concert.

Macchi’s voice, instantly recognizable if you’ve heard it even once before, only occasionally rose above the others, as the six voices blended into one big, strange organism of sound. Some of the wordless wails gradually turned into phrases; one song ended with a refrain of “a toast for you,” another with “I want a place to stay.” Before long, the six women stood up and continued their musical march out the door and onto the sidewalk, and most of the audience followed them out for the big joyous finale out on 36th Street.

The last band of the night, New York’s Religious Knives, took the stage a little later to play some pretty, hazy drones. But the insistent throb of their guitars and keyboards were dragged down by plodding, simplistic drumming. Besides, it was anti-climactic for anything so conventional to follow the Lexie Mountain Boys, turning whatever bizarre tribal gathering the night had temporarily become back into a boring old rock show.