I’ve heard people say that to call yourself an official New Yorker, you gotta survive at least 10 years in the city. Through the hundreds of movies and TV shows based in NYC, I’ve picked up clues here and there about what a New Yorker is supposed to look like: usually annoyed. Self-absorbed. Jaded. Passionate. Ambitious. Tends to be a fast walker, while chattering incessantly into the iPhone permanently glued to his or her ear. But I’m not clear on what the rules are for Austinites. I don’t know if they’re supposed to look a certain way or have to live there for an exact number of years before being able to call themselves such. But after living in Austin for over three years, there are moments I feel so deeply connected to this city that a warm and wonderful sting prickles my heart, and I reckon that’s what it feels like to be an Austinite.
There’s a reason for my rambling, I promise. This is, after all, a review of the Rasputina show at The Parish on Nov. 12. And the reason behind my rambling is this: those moments of deep connection with Austin usually come strong—violently, almost—when I get the opportunity of listening to beautiful music, of watching it being played live, gawking at it right in the face of its sublime notes and infectious energy.
I walked into The Parish on Saturday night craving a good show. What I witnessed was beyond simple entertainment.
The dark space was crowded with Rasputina fans, who probably turn heads in their everyday lives if their chosen attire for the show also happens to be their usual uniform. Gliding in their Victorian-era dresses, corsets tightened and heels laced high, audience members gathered close for The Wilderness of Manitoba, who opened the show. The Canadian band quickly captured the group’s attention, playing songs from their album When You Left the Fire.
Consisting of Will Whitwham, Melissa Dalton, Sean Lancaric, Scott Bouwmeester and Stefan Banjevic, The Wilderness of Manitoba proved there’s power behind honest lyrics and indisputable chemistry. It helps if you’ve got vocals that drip of raw talent and divinity, plus musicians that can alternate between the cello, banjo, harmonica and guitar. The band instantly drew me in with their invigorating single “Orono Park” and kept the crowd captivated well throughout their set. We all cheered for “November” and clapped along with the uplifting “Summer Fires” (my personal favorite). They played a new song for the first time, momentarily named “Austin” and another recent addition to their future album (to be recorded in December) called “The Escape.” Banjevic commented on the wonders of Sixth Street after having walked by a bar with a mechanical bull, and earned points by referencing to Friday Night Lights and the talents of Explosions in the Sky (I might have whooped extra loudly for that one).
Still in the early stages of their musical career, The Wilderness of Manitoba were fantastic live and clearly happy to be there. If there’s something that left a deep print in my memory of the night, it was Melissa Dalton’s genuine smile as she stunned us with her voice.
The rustle of floor-length dresses grew louder as Rasputina took the stage. Fans huddled closer to the trio, and the energy in The Parish shifted instantly and dramatically from folksy to theatrical. Frontwoman Melora Creager was greeted by booming cheers, and so she began. Creager plays her cello with passionate force, and as she sings she travels to another time, leaving her listeners entranced, wishing they could go with her. Saturday was no exception. Creager, with her alluring sense of mystery, reeled in the audience with every single song. The audience kept still and quiet, absorbed in the lyrics and music of “1816, The Year Without A Summer” and savored the drama of “Hunter’s Kiss.” Second cellist Daniel DeJesus proved to be a masterful asset to the band, and at times I found myself gaping at him instead of Creager.
The band’s wardrobe, of course, simply reinforces the purpose of Rasputina’s music to push listeners into another time, another life. From the sensational clothes and wild hair to the bright, heavy makeup smeared over the musician’s faces, we suddenly found ourselves amongst radicals playing the soundtrack to a drunken dream in the 1800s. Creager sung of orphanages and Emily Dickinson-inspired stories, and made the crowd giggle and gasp through a “Holocaust of Giants.” It was a magnificent show, and even after I found myself drifting through the fans, in their heavy dresses and view-blocking hats, Rasputina’s ferocious music followed me everywhere.
By the end of the set, as people made their way to purchase CDs and talk to their favorite musicians of the night, I found myself truly happy to be there. Members of The Wilderness of Manitoba stood pressed against the windows, gawking down at the night characters of Sixth Street, and I thought of the loud mess of the streets and wonders of the city. Music is such an immense part of Austin—and being bewitched by live shows night after night is an integral privilege of the Austinite.
(Rasputina performed at The Parish on November 12, 2011)