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Charming Hostess charms, blows us all away

picture of the band, singingCambridge's Zeitgeist is a small gallery/performance space, but it was packed last night with a crowd that new Charming Hostess' work well, and responded enthusiastically to the power and amazing grace of the performance. Imagine, if you will, a cross between Sweet Honey in the Rock and Bulgarian village music, or Zap Mama crossed with avant garde: three incredibly powerful, incredibly sweet voices singing everything from gospel to Sephardic song to non-poetic texts set to stirring, harmonic music.

The new material from the forthcoming "Sarajevo Blues" album was exceptionally beautiful. Bandleader Jewlia Eisenberg (in her full-time life a Jewish educator in San Francisco) met Bosnian poet Sem Mehmedinovic who had written about being in Sarajevo during the siege by Bosnians. Having been in the city only months after the siege ended I could visualize the world created by the poems perhaps a bit better than most. In one song, the poet writes of ducking behind a building to avoid getting shot by a sniper and running into a photographer who was undoubtedly hoping that he, the poet, would have been killed so that the poet could publish the sad picture and make lots of money. In another, the poet writes of the flies who are everywhere, since the windows which would have kept them out of the house are long broken by the bombardments.

But now, imagine these poems set to incredibly rich music, sung by three incredibly strong, beautiful voices who harmonize perfectly. Then you start to hear what we heard. As they sang, the singer's faces glowed (partly, granted, because it was very hot and they were very sweaty) and their faces smiled, as though singing was what mattered most.

Among other material, the band also performed a couple of songs from "Trilectic," an album comprised of selections from the Moscow diaries of Walter Benjamin and his lover Asja Lacis. Although I was excited by the album at the time, I can't say that I got it until I watched and heard the band perform some songs live.

But, that's the summary. Charming Hostess is like a van de graf generator encountering ideas and poetry and traditional music and coming out with an amazingly energetic and beautiful show. If I could, I'd take off and follow the tour like a Deadhead. If you're in Burlington, VT, or Northampton, MA, be sure to catch them. And stay tuned for the new album, "Sarajevo Blues", due out in October(?).

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