Cello Envy: Rasputina, April 9 at the Ottobar
Thereâ€™s a certain amount of novelty and gimmickry in the music of the long-running cello rock ensemble Rasputina. And when you see the band live, itâ€™s clear that its fanbase relishes the old-timey trappings of Rasputina’s songs and image, because the place looks like a steampunk convention: corsets and top hats and everything. But the reason Rasputina shows are really fun and entertaining is because frontwoman Melora Creager punctures any possible goth self-seriousness at every turn. With bizarre anecdotes, purposefully confusing song introductions, and a loopy sense of humor, she makes clear that sheâ€™s simply a woman who watches the History Channel and uses it for inspiration to think up some pretty weird songs.
This monthâ€™s brief tour that brought Rasputina to Baltimore marked Creagerâ€™s first return to performing since having a baby in November, and served as a preview of songs from new album Sister Kinderhook, due out in June. But it also provided a unique selection of covers and songs from the bandâ€™s past. On the unseasonably cool spring night, the band opened the show with a pair of songs about foreboding weather: the fact-based â€ś1816, The Year Without A Summerâ€ť from 2007â€™s Oh Perilous World and a cover of CCRâ€™s â€śBad Moon Risingâ€ť that the band transformed into the eerie. Later in the set, Creager and the new newest members of the constantly rotating Rasputina lineup played some songs theyâ€™d recently re-learned from 1998â€™s How We Quit the Forest, and gave the brooding cello treatment to pop/rock classics â€śTeenage Kicksâ€ť by the Undertones and â€śAmerican Girlâ€ť by Tom Petty.
The opening band Prudence Teacup wasnâ€™t quite as twee as the name would imply, which would be virtually impossible, and in some ways was well matched with the headliner. The quartetâ€™s restrained, vaguely retro sound was of a piece with Rasputina, and the drummerâ€™s spare set had a cavernously beautiful-sounding floor tom and kick drum that made the band’s slow grooves almost hypnotic. But once Rasputina took the stage and Creagerâ€™s goofy, affable stage presence electrified the room, it was clear that a little something beyond the music can mark the difference between an entertaining live band and a dull one.