Thoughts on Crumb Live at the Bootleg Theater

Riley Cooke ‘19

Though I could see no evidence of a smoke machine and though it did not particularly smell of cigarettes or marijuana or any other drug that I knew of, the relatively well-lit stage at the Bootleg Theater was shrouded in some kind of hazy mist, and whatever material it was added to the indescribable allure of Crumb as something of a musical enigma for me. I know very little about the band’s personnel. Their website is distinctly devoid of any roster or individual biographies, and it took some digging to uncover their names and the geographical origin of the band (they’re from Brooklyn). I suppose this is part of why I like Crumb so much, as it seems they shun their personal egos in an almost ascetic manner in order to specifically frame their music as paramount to their collective identity.

Speaking of which – Crumb’s music is intoxicating, convention-subverting, and category-defying. It might be apt to call them indie or alternative, but, as was evident at this show, their musical arsenal extends far beyond these bounds. At various points throughout the show I heard drifting, jazz-influenced, contemplative modal harmonies; funky, Latin-tinged basslines; and driving, straight-ahead rock, maybe even heavy metal – the last of which was demonstrated most extensively in the attention-grabbing opener, “Vinta.” In some standout tunes such as “Locket” and “Plants,” extensive use of diminished chords and harmony served to provide a sense of wandering as well as an effective way to build tension before periodic releases. A background projector heightened this spacy, wandering atmosphere by displaying fantastical animations of monsters, aliens, space travel, abstract expression, and even mathematical equations. In the moment I was reminded immediately of Donald in Mathmagic Land, an old educational Disney classic that was somehow apropos in my mind when paired with the music I was hearing.

If I could sing, I would hope to sound like Crumb’s leading singer and guitarist, Lila Ramani, whose vocal style is unadorned and utilitarian yet unmistakably velvety, alluring, and perhaps slightly plaintive. I thoroughly enjoyed the tasteful synthesizer work from multi-instrumentalist Brian Aronow, notwithstanding some mild disappointment at hearing his alto saxophone utilized only on the final tune.

In conclusion: watch out for this band. If you haven’t heard Crumb, you’re missing out on some seriously groovy, smart, psychedelic, jazz-indie-alternative-what have you. Unfortunately, the final east coast leg of Crumb’s “Locket” tour was recently cut short after an apparent mild car accident in Montreal, but I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with next.