With apologies to Edgar Allen Poe….
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, I found myself on Westcott St. The night was dark and dank, the winds blew a chill through my coat, a harbinger of the cold winter winds to come, on this celebration of all hallows eve. A night for things that go bump in the night, even if that bump is the gentle wedging for position in order to get a drink at the bar inside the tiny room at Alto Cinco, the Westcott Nation stalwart, just steps away from the tiny bar where I first saw local music.
That bar is long gone, of course, but this is a night for things long gone, for spirits to rise up from long abandoned, overgrown graveyards and conjure up the spirts of the dead.
It’s Halloween in Syracuse.
Years back, it was a tradition around here to go see Masters of Reality this time of year. A band so extraordinary that their new wave by way of Uriah Heap music created the Palm Desert sound from 3000 miles away. Now, our Halloween tradition, as is the case with all traditions, is in the hands of new caretakers with their own spin on a sonic tableau that honors the darker spirits among us.
As I maneuver myself around the Syracuse music community, I would invariably hear from musicians and friends, “You HAVE to see Strange to Look At, there is nothing else like them around here.” Having taken that advice a couple times now, I can tell you that the accolades shared with me were not over sold.
Escorting us through the night these days, is Strange to Look At. Last night, Syracuse’s most buzzed about band broke a six month hiatus at Alto Cinco by retaking their rightful place as the sound track to Halloween in this town.
The band’s cinematic sound is like a darkly gothic novel come to life, it takes you to dark castles on rain pelted cliffs during a thunderstorm. Think more along the lines of Bela Lugosi, and John Carpenter, romantic and mysterious, not slasher and shock. Influences from prog rock, psychedelic but with a distinctly modern twist with a couple of songs that would not sound out of place on the radio or maybe better a film soundtrack.
Playing to a packed room of party goers in various degrees of costume, Strange to Look At played their set lit only in the psychedelic strange light projected directly on the band, in the Warholesque tradition of projected light shows of legendary lighting designer Danny Williams, this gives band a look that makes you sometimes question if the shadows you see before you are real, or the apparition projected upon the five musicians.
Opening with an instrumental that, if you closed your eyes, you would have sworn was Pink Floyd at their most ethereal, followed by their fantastic single “October”. Songs from their must have debut EP like “Good Party Bad Party” and “Farewell” made it impossible to not at least shuffle your feat a bit as they laid down their unique groove. Mixed in with those were some well chosen covers and a new song. The song that in a just and right society would already be a massive global hit, “Tie Me” is an obvious fan favorite.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Strange to Look At is a “Halloween Band” and that this music is somehow novelty, that would be a mistake. True, they do explore the spooky themes and romantically gothic images in their sound, but this is a band that can and does bring the otherworldly to the rest of the year. Other great bands of the past, like the aforementioned Masters of Reality and even Oingo Boingo have been able to keep Halloween as “their night” and still bring that vibe to the rest of the calendar.
The musicianship is spot on, Dan Poorman plays his subversive basslines, often as melody, keeping the ground shaking. Tyler Allen’s guitar sounds like a delicious cross between David Gilmour and Adrian Belew, Jeremy Allen with his mad scientist keyboards and really one of the more seductively sweet voices in town, is a dramatic counter point to the vocals of Beccah Avraham to create the cinematic dialog at the core of so many songs. But make no mistake, although I find the songs Gothically romantic in a weird way, Avraham is no femme fatale up there. In a city blessed with so many strong, powerful female vocalists Avraham more than holds her own, you end up wanting to hear more of that voice. Gavin George on the kit, is the glue, a band with so many unique and interesting musical voices melding together, George is the sonic navigator through the dark night holding the pieces together as the five weave a unique, layered tapestry of sound.
Maybe what strikes you most about Strange to Look At is just how good this band is, how good the songs are, how the arraignments are masterful and build drama and suspense inside the notes. They are outstanding musicians and one of my favorite bands playing right now. Beautiful and haunting music you can dance to.
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