Dan Kaufman never worries about having an audience.
"In every town there's at least a hundred weird people," he says from his home base in New York City. "There is an underground, and that's been our salvation."
Though Kaufman's band, Barbez, is more accessible than much of the experimental rock and abstract techno rattling throughout the underground, it's hardly mainstream. In fact, "traditional" might be a better word to describe the band's sound -- but traditional in the way that circus sideshow freaks and carnival barkers are part of a tradition of theatrical weirdness.
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Not to be confused with the various burlesque troupes roaming the club circuit, Barbez is a serious (and seriously talented) music-oriented outfit -- as opposed to the so-called modern cabaret acts in vogue these days, most of which present little to recommend them beyond the saucy wiles of some hipster diva with Betty Page bangs and Liza Minnelli camp.
Musically, Barbez teeters like a drunken Brechtian clown between thunderous, off-kilter-stomp choruses and music-box-melody ballet waltzes, occasionally visiting a Russian folk song -- the latter providing fine ground for St. Petersburg-born singer and dancer Ksenia Vidyaykina to roll out her full-throated voice. Kaufman, the band's founder and main songwriter, is a classically trained guitarist who grew up in a music-steeped Jewish household in Madison, Wisconsin, and has studied flamenco guitar in Spain. His almost classical style oddly complements the Bonzo-esque drumming of Josh Matthews and virtuoso theremin-playing of Pamelia Kurstin. The latter deftly makes up for the band's lack of both violinist and mad scientist.
"It's not a shtick or anything," Kaufman says of his band's nods to Weimar-era cabaret and Tom Waits's junkyard aesthetic. "If you see the band, you realize those things come close to describing it, but it's not really that, either. We just try to do our thing and do it honestly, and those loves are definitely there."
Barbez is fresh from recording its second album (fourth overall) with legendary engineer Martin Bisi, who has worked with Sonic Youth, Iggy Pop and New York jazz eccentric John Zorn, with whom Kaufman has an upcoming project. With a tour of Europe also under its billowing tutu, Barbez should be recording the music for Jean-Pierre Jeunet's next film; instead, it's doing a short tour as a chance to commune with weirdos across the nation. Also appearing: Two-Star Symphony.