by Devon Christopher Adams
When I began listening to local Arizona music, Dry River Yacht Club (DRYC) was one of the first two bands I was introduced to. Initially, I had no idea what to make of this nontraditional group of bards pouring their souls into their performance. And what a performance! To see Dry River Yacht Club perform is to see a macabre minstrel show with the adularescent Garnet spinning in wild control across the stage, kicking up her dresses while flitting her eyes from side to side as if she has a secret. Sharing downstage is Corey Gloden, a guitar virtuoso who performs as if wrestling with the devil himself during every gig. The theatrics of these two are fleshed out by several other musicians. Fred Reyes’ saxophone and bass clarinet brings depth to the unique DRYC sound, while drummer, Henri Benard, is a musician’s musician –working with several different bands, teaching music at The School of Rock and for the local college, and being just an all-around nice guy. With Ben Allred on strings, Zach Lewis on brass, Kristlynn Wood on bassoon, and the most recent addition of PC on bass, to see a Dry River Yacht Club show is to see a fully-formed theatrical performance.
In their live show, tracks mesh into one another as the melodies wrap the audience with tendrils of comforting bohemic soul. Most concerts end with “Sweaty Sax”, but unless you are well-versed in the DRYC universe, then much of the live performance is one continuous, debaucherously dramatic production. One thing I loved about their fourth album in five years, El Tigre, is that while the connectivity between tracks still exists, this 8-track LP includes distinctly different songs.
“Dead Mother Dearest” is the best song off of the album, hands down. The narrative woven through this track reminds me of a macabre vaudeville act as Garnet pounces across the stage singing the chilling bridge to the song. “When pretty little kitty, / Little kitty came in / When pretty little kitty / Little kitty came in / She brought all her friends / She brought all her friends / And they all ate the fat of the land.” The high notes here remind me of the theatricalism of Amanda Palmer, while Ben Allred’s violin howls like a demon flung into a sulphuric sea. The tale of death and devourment builds through the course of the song and reminds me of something out of Norse mythology situated on a seaside cliff house off the ocean. The last time I saw DRYC, they opened with this number to explosive applause.
The only way to follow “Dead Mother Dearest” is with “Pollen”. Gloden and Allred’s strings opening coupled with Reyes’ low bass clarinet hypnotizes the audience before Benard subtly brings up the percussions. The catchiest melody of the entire album runs through “Pollen”. You can’t not stomp along to the beat as Garnet’s haunting vocals address the dichotomous relationship between love and death through lines like “broken flowers on the wall / Broken flowers, from me they fall / Dried up from what they were supposed to be / Broken flowers from inside of me”. The fluidity of the instruments harmoniously meshing together demonstrates how talented these musicians are.
“Isabella” and “Garden” are two sweet simple tracks sprinkled throughout El Tigre that balance the farcical spectacle. “Isabella” examines love through snapshots of imagery such as “the lace ties us together / we laugh as we spin through it”, as we laugh at the sugary confusion of emotional absurdity. Although “Garden” speaks closer to the heart as the main characters (who some will say is the singer herself) plant a garden together, a metaphor for the development of their own relationship. Gorgeous lines like “cause we complement each other’s beings” demonstrate how real life doesn’t exist in a fairytale world with storybook endings; it’s something we all need to work at if we’re to survive. What’s great about the album is how it continually processes emotions while skirting lovesick bullshit. The band articulates mature emotions on El Tigre all the while welcoming new members all the while while saying goodbye to others.
Continuing the mellow tone, “When You’re Down” plays like a sing-along night in a bad luck brothel; the song picks up through Garnet yodeling her vocal solos. If the audience familiarizes itself with this track, the chorus can make for a fantastic live show, which is something I love about this band. The smooth transitions between this Craig Schumacher produced album (of DeVotchka, Neko Case, and Calexico fame) and DRYC’s live shows makes it clear that this is the band to see live. Just the fact that Garnet yodels on this track demonstrates how El Tigre showcases the best of these musicians — some classically trained while others much more raw — and how their individual artistic visions blend into an organic performance.
“Pockets of Golden” promotes a tight group of musicians. You can almost see the strum of Corey’s guitar and every pull of Ben’s bow. The complexity of this track has a flamenco feel that vies for control of the sound while the fans float across the sound. Garnet’s staccato dancing with skirts flying, Allred’s gypsy folk violin, and Gloden’s guitar tying together the intricate composition over a percussive accompaniment carries the song to a natural, exhaustive conclusion.
While “Novella de Cannibal” echoes “Pockets of Gold”, the track ramps down the carnival to the image of a girl and a microphone before Gloden and crew slowly emerge into a full blown love fest. Lines like “I found the bones, I found the teeth / underneath our wooden floor” reminds me of “Dead Mother Dearest” and the macabre beauty of death. The concise narrative translates well into a crisp performance where each musician’s clearly showcased while the track as a whole emerges as one of the most elaborate and simplistic numbers on the album.
The title track “The Legend of El Tigre” contrasts the lovely examinations of life and the grotesque beauty of death. We don’t have a strong tradition of folk storytelling in our current pop culture, so songs like this are unique. It’s difficult to compare El Tigre to anything else being locally performed, especially with its anachronistic tone, albeit I would argue that in some ways this album delineates the artistic vision of each individual player while simultaneously combining those sounds into a cogent whole. This gypsy jam band and its carnivalesque cabaret sideshow translates well to the live show, a bohemian minstrel exhibition presented to the world with a sly knowing wink, smile, and side of gorgeous gruesomeness.