The M Shanghai String Band (twice)

I saw the M Shanghai String Band at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY on Sunday and they sounded just as good as I remembered. Of course, I had just seen the band 21 hours previously… Yes, I titled this entry “The M Shanghai String Band (twice)” because last weekend I got a double dose of their wonderful music, once on Saturday at the Kleinert James Art Center in Woodstock, NY and once on Sunday at Caffe Lena, as I mentioned. I would classify the M Shanghai String Band’s music as traditional inspired old-time hoedown jam type alternative folk and punk bluegrass with a jazzy undertone. You know, just like every other band out there… I’m kidding! As a matter of fact, au contraire. The M Shanghai String Band’s music is different than that of any other band I’ve ever heard, and probably ever will! They are my favorite 11 piece string band. Okay, so they’re the only11 piece string band I know of… But they’re one of my favorite bands nonetheless. Although there are eleven members in total, the whole company doesn’t always play at all their shows. When you have that many people in one band, you can imagine how hard it must be to book gigs around the band members’ schedules… One of the many things that make the M Shanghai String Band’s live shows so interesting to watch is that all the musicians share one mic and weave among each other for solo’s. There were eight crowded around the lone mic on Saturday, and they were Richard Morris on mandolin and vocals, Austin Hughes on guitar and vocals, Dave Pollack on harmonica and vocals, Harrison Cannon on bass and vocals, Patty Hughes on banjo and vocals, Matt Schickele on guitar and vocals, Glendon Jones on fiddle and vocals, and John Shanchuk on banjo and vocals. On Sunday, Glendon Jones and Richard Morris couldn’t make it, so that left the number of M Shanghai members at six. They were however joined by special guest Mike Eck on mandolin, who brought the total number of musicians to seven.

It was really interesting to see the M Shanghai String Band twice, especially on back to back nights. I had never been to the Kleinert James Art Center before. It’s an art gallery with a stage in it where concerts are held, and although the space is nice, at $25 each, I found the ticket price a bit exorbitant. That’s what all of the Kleinert James Art Center’s regular concerts cost, and even if I don’t hold that against them, reasoning that the money goes toward supporting the local economy and artists (always a good thing), they could at least offer a student discount! Perhaps the lack thereof, in addition to the expensive ticket cost was the reason why I was one of four people at the show who was under 60… That’s the only reason that I can think of, since the M Shanghai String Band’s music can be enjoyed by newborns, 100 year olds, and anyone in between!

The band opened their set on Saturday with the title track of their soon to be released new album, “Mapmaker’s Daughter” (and when I say soon to be released, I mean copies are being pressed at this very moment! Keep an eye out for when they become available). The warmth of sound that is created by the M Shanghai Band is unparalleled. When you throw that many stringed instruments (and a harmonica) onto one stage, something magical happens. It’s like a Sunday afternoon porch gathering of friends, playing music and causing a ruckus. Granted, the M Shanghai String Band’s music is a little more polished than that, but not much (and I mean that in a good way!). They still retain a certain charm and authenticity, which is something I adore about them. The band played without a break on Saturday, and plowed through tune after tune. Some were from their previous two albums, some from the new one, and some were even newer songs still, which will probably be on the CD after the upcoming release. I was happy that the band played my favorite song (or one of my favorite’s, anyway) off Mapmaker’s Daughter, called “Meteor Storm” (you can listen to it on their Myspace page). Another highlight of the show for me was when they sang their self proclaimed “spiritual”, a song called “No Home In This World.” The crowd started singing along, and when the song came to a close, it took all of us in the audience a few seconds to reflect in silence and recover before we burst into applause. At the end of the regularly scheduled program, the band was called back for two encores. For the first, they played the semi-raucous “Tic Tac Toe Chicken”, during which they were joined by Matt’s father Peter Schickele (a composer, conductor, professor, and radio host, among other things) who had a clucking solo as the chicken. The song is a riot, you can find the words to it here. The M Shanghai String Band closed their show with yet another favorite of mine (are the songs I keep calling favorites still considered favorites if I say that about ten different ones? What’s the cut-off number? I keep thinking of that line from the movie The Princess Bride, where Inigo Montoya tells the Sicilian, who keeps using the word inconceivable, “You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”)…. Where was I? Oh yes, the band closed the show on Saturday with another of my favorites, called “Angel of Death.” Toward the end of the song, the band picked up the tempo, playing faster and faster, and faster still! They played faster than I thought humanly possible, near the point of insanity, and ended with a bang in the form of one last loud note sounded by all the instruments.

On Sunday, The M Shanghai String Band opened their set with the title track of their last album, “From The Air.” As I mentioned earlier, the band was joined by Mike Eck on mandolin (he also played the jug on a few of the songs, which I was excited to see). It was all about the strummed and picked stringed instruments at Caffe Lena, as one of the two members absent from the night before was their fiddler Glendon Jones. That left a medley of mandolins, banjos, guitars, a bass, and a few different harmonica’s (which were all played by the same person, “Shaky Dave“, as they call him). It was a relatively quiet night at Caffe Lena, which is a wonderful place, and an even more wonderful space. The band got to joke around a little more than they had at The Kleinert James Art Center, which I thought had an overall stuffier feel than Caffe Lena. The band kidded to me that they felt pressure because they knew beforehand that I would be attending both shows, so they couldn’t play the same set list without someone other than themselves knowing (not that they would have anyway). Even if they had though, I wouldn’t have cared. I love their music no matter what. The one thing that was the same about the two shows was that they ended both with “Angel of Death.” At Caffe Lena the band once again played the end of that song faster than I’ve ever heard a band play (while still keeping time that is), and they might just have been approaching the point of creating sparks when the song ended. What a show (twice).

Videos from the Kleinert:

Marlene

The Cuckoo

Gallow’s Bird

Tic Tac Toe Chicken

Videos from Caffe Lena:

From The Air

Marlene

No Home In This World

Angel Of Death

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