There is a certain perversity in introducing grunge-rock arrangements of popular songs in iambic pentameter, played on the cello, while wearing a striped Victorian dress and lace with long red dreadlocks and a Hiawatha-Indian feather in your hair. I should have had no doubt that I would be the only person in the audience not adorned with Gothic, faerie-world tattoos and multiple piercings looking like refugees from a turn-of-the-century S&M festival or extras from the Rocky Horror Picture Show last night at the Independent in San Francisco. Yes, I had stumbled into a Rasputina concert, an outpost of Burning Man surrealism- or perhaps an interlude before the next annual Black Rock art festival.
Rasputina currently consists of two cellists, Melora Creager, the aforementioned Hiawatha singer and cellist, and Daniel DeJesus, a kind of punk-rock pirate cellist. The two are accompanied by Catie D’Amica on percussion, also garbed in a kind of twisted 1980’s Madonna outfit of Gothic lace, top hat and black fingernails.
Notwithstanding all the distractions of the costumes, both on and off stage, Rasputina can really play. In their hands, the cellos sounded more like rock guitars than the soulful and mournful classical playing of Yo-Yo Ma. Melora Creager certainly has talent; she has previously performed with Marilyn Manson and Nirvana, most famously on their hit “All Apologies” and she is a great singer. Of course, she sings about dead cows, Transylvania concubines and 1816 weather patterns, not your usual rock fare. Fortunately, they puncture what would otherwise be overbearing artistic pretension with their healthy and active sense of humor- including Melora’s feral, rapid fire introduction of songs.
The band frequently plays wonderfully inventive covers of rock classics including, last night's highlights, American Girl by Tom Petty and Bad Moon Rising by Credence Clearwater Revival. The unexpected and, at times, arresting arrangements on cello revealed a completely new perspective and depth to these songs. Still, despite the clear talent of the band and the devotion of the small but vocal crowd, listening to cello chamber rock for an hour and a half was a bit much. I loved the uniqueness of the experience but I doubt I’ll be a regular listener.