Sunday, June 16, 2013

Comicpalooza’s Steampunk Ball 2013

This year Comicpalooza went all out for the entertainment section of their Steampunk track scheduling Frenchy and the Punk (from the East coast), Abney Park (from the West coast), and local favorites Marquis of Vaudville for the Steampunk Ball.  Early advertisement for the event also billed Professor Elemental and  even local artist Addisyn Madd , but while it did show Addisyn Madd at the registration stage, Professor Elemental, the artist they brought in from furthest away, was left entirely off the written schedule and the online schedule as well.  He apparently had some opportunities  to perform occasionally during the weekend, but without it scheduled in writing, we were unable to find them, so we were especially sad to see he was left off the concert lineup as well.

The Steampunk Ball was a little hard to locate, and was not actually in the block spreadsheet schedule as it was in the ballroom of a hotel next door to the convention center.  Once a person located the hotel, some of the hotel staff were unclear about it being scheduled there as well, but once we got upstairs, we found ourselves in the midst of a lovely gathering of exotic characters from different times, areas, and fictional (one would assume anyway) timelines.  In other words Steampunk Madness began to set in and it was utterly delightful!  The crowd gathering was made all the more unusual by an almost even mix of Comicpalooza Anime and Sci-Fi oriented as well as a few Horror oriented merry makers among the clearly identifiable Steampunk attendees.

When time came to enter the great hall, the most visually noticeable element were the gigantic translucent marble light fixtures all over the ceiling which were as elaborate as any palace of Europe.  After Gawking at the setting a little, one began to notice the small groups gathering to talk and mingle (one of the best parts of this event) prior to the start of the concert with Steampunk oriented music supplied by Professor Argo in the background. He also played similar music in between each band’s performance.  This would have been perfect if it had been lowered from dance club volume more to a social gathering background level that we could more easily talk over.  Just the same, he is fast becoming one of the best known and sought after DJs in Texas for Steampunk Events due to his ability to find and present good Steampunk and/or dance music that suits the taste and dance styles of the Steampunk Community.  

Frenchy and The Punk came on first, with their usual World Music fun Gypsy kind of sound.  Their finest talent seems to be in interacting with, reading, and working the crowd.  Frenchy joked with the crowd at how much she was enjoying the Steampunk Belly Dance and quasi mosh pit forming in their midst and to keep it up strong!  At one point, they began both playing drums simultaneously as an unusual way to work up the crowd, but it worked so well that they continued this way for a second round before going back to picking stringed instruments and singing more tunes.  This evolved into various themes ranging into a bizarre conga line with anime characters, belly dancers, Steampunk characters, and even “Furries”, horror, and Sci-fi characters in the mix.  Needless to say, the crowd loved it and they were a great hit with the visiting “Steampunk curious” young crowd that came across from the main convention to check out our ball.

Scheduled next was the Texas Home grown favorites, Marquis of Vaudville, but just before they went on, we had a surprise appearance by that wonderful madman Professor Elemental.  As he was flown out from England and advertised for Comicpalooza 2013, but somehow left out of the concert lineup, this writer was a little surprised, but extremely pleased to see him on the stage.  What happened next will doubtless have more than one version in the telling, but made the Steampunk Ball all the more “Punk” and fascination.  He started out by introducing himself (many of the young ones visiting our ball really didn’t know any of the performers) and stated that it appeared that someone was throwing a Steampunk Ball without even inviting him which was clearly a terrible social Faux pas!  (As he was used to sell tickets, then left totally out of the program, this writer actually agrees with this statement even if made only in jest)

Professor Elemental is a comedic Rap singer who produces funny satire for a living, so the rest was not too unexpected, but really well played.  He started by admitting that he found himself outside having a smoke and a rather “distressed Diva” moment, when he was approached by local Steampunks who were equally unhappy about this turn of events and asked if he would consider performing a bit during the 30 minute intermission between bands.  He agreed, but unfortunately was not able to get his equipment and be put on stage until about 10 minutes before the next band, so he started out by asking the crowd if they would be alright with him offering one or two little Rap Dittys for their amusement.  The crowd gave a very enthusiastic yes, so he dropped even further into character and did what he does best, Gentleman Rhyming, or Rap Steampunk style.  He portrays a very upper crust, stiff upper lip, English gentleman from the Victorian Era that has discovered Rap and turned it to his own devices.  The crowd loved it!  They were so enthusiastic that he said, “Well… they are going to need a crowbar to get me off the stage now!”  He performed for about the agreed 30 minutes, and while the Marquis of Vaudville members looked a bit uneasy with no certain time to step on stage, in the end, it was all good fun, and Toby, the Marquis front man was very gracious in that he thanked Professor Elemental for helping to make it a great Steampunk Event.  The audience definitely agreed!

Marquis of Vaudville then took the stage.  Their smooth, 40s era romantic crooner style smooth vocals mixed with classic rock live instruments produced an excellent sound that the crowd really loved.  It was definitely more Dieselpunk, than Steam, but that is part of it’s charm.  Lyrics ranged from Vaudville era slice of life to more unusual songs overlaid with symbolism.  Toby, the vocalist, was definitely putting heart and soul into this performance and his band backed him every step of the way!  The band's new guitarist, Bryan Geddie, brings both high quality guitar licks and a lot high energy to the stage.  He has integrated very well with the band over the last year and is fully accepted now by the fans.  Kelly continues to bring the soul in through his bass while Phil brings on the heat through his drums!  Some danced, some applauded, while others just watched intently or sat back enjoying it.  It is of note, that one of the very enthusiastic audience members included Captain Roberts of Abney Park.  When asked how he liked our local boys, he just said “They’re great!” and gave enthusiastic support while they played.

Next came the headliner, Abney Park.  When this band made a rather daring move to include very obviously Steampunk Fictional stories about Airship Pirates in a major album, and went even further to name the album after such a song, Captain Roberts once said his band members thought he had lost his mind.  They had already recorded the album, but weren’t clear that he meant to feature that and others like it on a major album that was by a band well known as “Goth”.  They feared they would not gain enough new fans to offset the loss of a few Goth purists who might consider it too playful for their tastes.  Robert stuck to his guns and proved he was right to take this turn and admit his and their interest in helping create a whole new genre (or at least subgenre) of Steampunk Music.  Since then they have gone on to become what many consider the best known Steampunk Band in the world.  Of course, when any band performs for such a specialized niche, it is hard to get rich in gold, but they love what they do, and we love them doing it!  Besides they can always take to the skies if they run short of gold eh?

This writer had been hearing some controversy about the new Steampunk Albums having interesting stories, but less emotional intensity than the earlier Goth albums, and a great deal of varying opinions about the experimental direction the last two albums took as well as recent changes in the band members.   The band’s performance on this night certainly seemed committed to prove any such doubters wrong.  The performance was the most intense and deeply emotive Abney Park concert this writer has ever attended!  It had a bit of the original Goth material, including well loved favorites, but, being a “Steampunk Ball”  mostly presented material from the first two Steampunk Albums.  While the two more recent albums were not represented as much, that stands to reason as both are so new that that fans are still digesting them and it is hard to pin down favorites.  As such the first two Steampunk albums about Airship Pirates and strange inventors took precedence in the lineup.  This appeared to be a good choice as the crowd loved it!

This writer had also heard various rumors and speculations about whether the band would be able to produce the depth and quality of sound they had while Nathaniel Johnstone was playing with them, but this was also shown to be an unfounded concern.  This writer was amazed at how well the new violinist, Titus, played the solos and how skillful and personable the new guitarist, Josh, could be.  Both of them have integrated beautifully with Dan, Kristina, and the vocalists already.  Add to that the fact that their newest vocalist Jody Ellen has had three years now to perfect the way she lifts and supports Robert’s vocals while harmonizing with them, and the music was incredible!  Two of the band members I had asked about responses to their newest members (meaning ones with them less than a year) said that the fans accepted them very well, then spontaneously mentioned that Jody was unquestionably the best vocalist they had ever had!

Other changes worthy of note are that Kristina, the bands own Mistress of the Dark, (and of the set list) who plays keyboard, acts as timekeeper, controls background tracks, and essentially orchestrates stage performances (or so it seems), was moved to the front of the stage where we can see her more clearly as she performs.  The other obvious changes were the two new members Josh and Titus, of course, and that many of the Band members were sporting newer and fancier attire. This was especially noticeable on Dan, the Bass player, who usually wore relatively basic WWII Dieselpunk military attire, but was now sporting something roughly similar in design, but with elaborate and symbolic embroidery front and back and a finely made utility belt item of dark leather and brass on his hip.  Captain Robert was also sporting new duds, at least new to me, that looked great on him.  Kristina and Jody routinely vary their wardrobe with well fitted attire ranging from Victorian through World War two era, and this concert was no exception.  Josh had a very “Neo-Bedouin” look, and Titus was wearing a steam-powered top hat that looked like a flying inventors workshop all in one chapeau.

When buying their latest album after the show, Kristina asked about the concert, and this writer told her it combined the power and intensity of their early Goth albums with the fun and cool lyrics of their newer Steampunk albums.  They have managed to fuse the best of both into something wonderful. This was unquestionably the finest Abney Park Concert this writer has been privileged to attend! 

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