The Players: Django Haskins: lead vocals, guitar, Mark Simonson: keyboards, vibraphone, Daniel Hall: drums, Gabriel Pelli: violin, Matt Brandau: bass.
Material: Despite their recognition of influences ranging from Sinatra to Thelonius Monk, there is one particularly famous band from the sixties whose sound seems to haunt Django Haskins songwriting style. Even down to strangely annoying inconsistencies such as in the song, "Reservations," whose beautiful bluesy opening seems to default into an almost silly, McCartneyesque resolve back down the scale. "Don't Parade Your Scars," on the other hand possesses much of the intimate angst of a Lennon song, while, "Get to Love," with it's Indian sounding lilt, might well have been penned by a young Harrison.
The second obvious influence is, of course, Leonard Cohen, from whose song, "A New Skin for the Old Ceremony," the band derives their name. But to criticize this band with comparisons to The Beatles and Cohen is to praise them highly with rather faint damnation. Their material is, in the end, really good; about as sophisticated and thoughtful pop writing as you will find anywhere in this day and age. And to be completely fair, it does, despite previous comparisons, have an underlying style all its own.
Musicianship: Haskins voice does interesting things: it takes on a little McCartney at the top end, whilst emulating Cohen at the bottom. It is eminently listenable and perfect for the material. His guitar playing, though, does not reflect his gypsy namesake in any way, but does posses a certain awkward Neil Young-ish twang which, nevertheless, works like a charm in this setting. The other musicians are all highly competent – rare for a modern pop band – with Simonson's vibes, and Pelli's violin providing unusual and distinctive textures to this band's sound.
Performance: Django Haskins has the cool, cute but disheveled look the young girls are seeking – a little like the Mac guy on TV. It's hard to imagine that, in the midst of their constant chatter and texting of one another, this audience would have noticed the slightly garage band approach to some of the earlier songs. Rhythms not quite meshing. Claps and tambourine out of sync. Harmonies (just) a little bit off. But as the set wore on things did come together nicely, and as ears adjusted to the slightly distorted P.A. a better perspective was attained. It was ultimately a very satisfying performance – even if you were listening.
Summary:The Old Ceremony is most definitely ready for prime-time. It's a pity shows like SNL don't have more bands like this; it would be nice to see commercial pop music taking a more serious direction again. But then again, it is really up to the audiences to set their own standards for the pop music they consume. And, quite frankly, setting standard as high as The Old Ceremony, surely would not be a bad thing.
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