by Josh Gross
There's a saying in journalism: "If there is a crowd on one side of the room, the story is on the other."
Tuesday night, while the crowd was at Neurolux for Murder by Death, the story was at Red Room with accordion visionary Duckmandu.
Though it seemed a high bar to top, the oddity of the opening band Howth—which used a Gibson Flying V, a Microkorg and a glockenspiel all in the same set—was forgotten the instant Duckmandu stepped on stage in his checkered coat and duck hat and launched into a polka-fied version of the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Standing stock-still and playing unaccompanied accordion, Duckmandu's set included everything from Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys songs to "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys" and the Power Puff Girls Theme song. He shredded through a Beethoven cut, then sang his way through the Periodic Table of the Elements.
"Sing along whenever you get the hang of it," he said, before spitting out selenium, hydrogen and gallium at the speed of an auctioneer.
Then he played "Sweet Georgia Brown," a song he claimed to have 147 versions of on his iPod.
"I generally try to avoid any song that already has an accordion in it," Duckmandu said.
But what made the performance compelling was not just his technical skill on the accordion, which was prodigious, it was his audacity to go up and do it at all. It would be easy to argue that a single man standing still playing a mix of 500-year-old Swedish folk songs and '80s punk tunes on the accordion at 1 a.m. could be boring. But it takes a certain irreverence to plow on anyhow. And that irreverence is about the most-exciting thing an artist can dish out, because it can lead to truly strange things.
Duckmandu finished with AC/DC's "Highway to Hell," something he said he normally lights his duck hat on fire for, but chose not to last night because of the Red Room's low ceilings. Now that's good weird.