Just up the hill from the Plaza, an underground music scene thrives. By advertising its music and art shows only through MySpace and word of mouth, The Process (www.myspace.com/theprocessinsantafe) has gathered crowds large and small for its private performances.
On Feb 13, a mellow night before Valentine's Day, a crowd of maybe 35 hip, young 30-somethings gathered at The Process' downtown space (a local living room spruced up with red velvet lining the walls) to see the Olympia, Wash., punk/folk band The Hail Seizures.
The last-minute show drew an enthusiastic crowd for a Wednesday. Before the show, the audience and band converged for food, drinks and conversations with each other. Unlike past shows at which two or three bands performed, The Hail Seizures was the only act of the night.
The five-piece band - four fellas and one lady - set up in one corner of the room and started the show with all five instrumentalists (a cellist, a violinist, two guitarists and a drummer) beginning from some unspoken que. They jumped right into their punk/gypsy/folk sound with vocals that could be called harmonies, were it not that the words were passionately shouted, not sung. It sounded as if the lead singer desperately wanted listeners to believe what he was trying to say. It was a little Gogol Bordello and a little Dropkick Murphy's, sans the bagpipe, but included the beautifully orchestrated hobohemian touch of using the suitcase the cello player was sitting on as the bass drum for dynamic snare playing.
As it so often can, the altitude in Santa Fe did a number on the musicians' instruments, but no one in the audience seemed to notice or mind. The band members took turns re-tuning their instruments while the members who remained re-told awful Sean Connery jokes they had heard the night before.
The songs were tight and the intimate setting allowed the band to ditch any idea of a playlist it might have had and sing some songs they hadn't done for a while. They seemed comfortable with being able to see every person in the audience (including a fan who drove from Denver to catch the show), and it felt more like attending a band's final practice session before a really big live show. The barrier between audience and band was broken down.
About halfway through the short set, a hot pink toy piano replaced the violin in the quintet, leaving drums, two acoustic guitars and a cello to give the songs their depth. Though it may have looked like a joke, or an instrument too playful for a serious song, the jangly sounds that came, unamplified, from the little plastic toy actually took the lead rhythm in "Odysseus,"? a sing-along number about the crack-addicted landlord in whose house two of the members lived. The entire band screamed the words to this one and, ironically, asked the audience to join in any time it picked up on a few intelligible lyrics. Even though it was hard to make out much of the song's lyrical content, it was clear, through the instrumentation, that a constant drama surrounded the house and that dramatic energy was quickly translated to the crowd.
As should be expected from a band that combines elements of punk, gypsy and folk music, there is a political tinge to many of The Hail Seizures' songs. The Seizures' rendition of "Bella Ciao,"? the Italian World War II antifascist folk song that has been translated into more than a dozen languages, rang out with a rebellion and pain that got the audience fired up for 10 more songs, even if it was the band's closing number.
Because of the intimate space, no one could get up and move to the fast-paced songs, or maybe the listeners were just shocked into sitting still or were afraid they would knock the band down if they got up to dance. But everyone in the room was captivated and stared straight ahead, as if in preparation for an academic lecture on the history of how this energetic music came to be.
The Hail Seizures is a band to be seen outside where the members can make as much noise as possible and the audience can jump up and down without worrying about polite indoor, let alone house, behavior. There are several videos of the band on YouTube, and all of them show the band outside, but to view The Hail Seizures on a computer screen still manages to bring forth from a viewer that over-caffeinated need-to-run-through-a-field feeling.
Yet, there is something to sitting and actually taking in an artist's creation - rather than simply throwing oneself against another group of bodies because that is what the bass drum says to do - that makes one really appreciate the artist's rendering.