The Lucky Five Jazz Band and The Underscore Orkestra at Club Helsinki

On Friday night, Club Helsinki found itself host to rascals, gypsies, and swing dancers. Perhaps due to this interesting (not to mention rambunctious) combination, the audience was the most lively I’ve ever seen at a Helsinki show. That’s not surprising, however, given the energy of the two bands that were playing: The Lucky Five Jazz Band, comprised of local musicians, and The Underscore Orkestra hailing from Portland, Oregon. It was a festive night of laughter and entertainment, great music, and, thanks to a host of swing enthusiasts in attendance, a whole lot of dancing.

Not only did swing dancing take place by audience members, but many of The Underscore Orkestra members are great swing dancers themselves and danced during the opening set by The Lucky Five. The musicians of The Lucky Five — actually six in total at Friday’s show — are a bunch of classy guys who are definitely a throwback to the early era of jazz. They were dressed in vintage style complete with ties, vests, and hats, and delivered tunes that were sweet, swingin’, and smokin.’ Evan Palazzo, Kip Beacco, and Bob Parins took turns singing, while Brian Kantor played drums — most impressively with one hand, actually, since he broke the other a few weeks ago — and Matt Downing played upright bass. In addition to singing, Evan Palazzo also played jazz piano, Kip Beacco played beautiful clarinet, and Bob Parins played stunning guitar. The band was joined by special guest Allen Livermore on saxophone, the honorary sixth member, who played sultry solos and had great interplay with Kip and his clarinet. Even if they aren’t a big band, these fellas channel the spirit of swing and will get your feet moving for sure.

When The Underscore Orkestra started to play, the stage at Helsinki became a backdrop for a gathering of gypsies who created a glittering night of folk tunes and dances. Although for official purposes they are based out of Portland, the members of The Underscore Orkestra are truly nomads, traveling around the world playing music. The show at Club Helsinki was just one stop on an eight-month tour (yes, eight months), and the band is in Europe at the moment. The Underscore Orkestra draws primarily from jazz, blues, folk, Balkan, and klezmer music, but you never know what might creep into the music — or what might happen at a show. For example: the first time I saw The Underscore Orkestra I won a free CD by winning a headstand competition. Sadly, at the Club Helsinki show the band was not offering a prize for standing on your head longer than anyone else. The band was selling CDs, however, including a new one which I bought. There were also ties and slips with the Orkestra’s logo on it for sale, as well as calenders of the band members naked, only their instruments covering them. The musicians’ unusual and hilarious personalities add to the character of the music they play, and a live show always contains surprises.

In addition to boasting swing dancers in the band, The Underscore Orkestra actually travels with belly dancers who perform along to the live music. At the Helsinki show the band also taught a circular Balkan folk dance that many audience members joined in on. The band played two long sets of music, and the musicians would have kept playing but they were being nudged by the club to end the show — understandably so, being that it was 2am (although I would have been happy to stay another hour or two). The Underscore Orkestra is an authentically gypsy band like none other I’ve seen — the title being applied too loosely to many bands that simply boast violin, guitar, and upright bass among the instrumentation — and are a traveling circus of highly spirited and artistic performers. Don’t miss them if they come to a city near you!

Videos of The Lucky Five: Hesitation Blues, Bye Bye Blues

Videos of The Underscore Orkestra: Blue Draggish, a performance by the two belly dancers, more belly dancing

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