Let’s talk about strings…baby.

Ball of Fire:

Like ninety-eight percent of you, I entered one of those grotesquely violet stadium theaters to view the Dark Knight last month. After hearing bits of reviews and reliable friend feedback, I was sufficiently bloated with expectation to see this damn thing. That said, I must have gone to the bathroom at the wrong time and missed a passing of the kool-aid down the aisle. Unlike nearly everyone I spoke to, I left the theater feeling like I just got raped by the largest orchestra in the world for two and a half hours. Sure, Heath Ledger was hauntingly sinister, but how is it nearly all of my trusty friends and some of the stingier critics on earth swallowed this overwrought orchestral ball of fire whole as legendary cinema?

Bowl of Fire:

Andrew Bird. Several months prior, I find myself in the back of the Warfield drinking an $8 Sierra Nevada, watching a guy who got his humble beginnings in the Squirrel Nut Zippers pluck an amplified violin through a loop pedal while whistling more mellifluously than your plaid pants grandpa in front of two thousand fringy, twenty-to-thirty-something music snobs. Anyone recall the chorus to the Zippers’ #13 neo-swing landing on the Pop charts in the mid 1990s, entitled “Hell”? Probably not, but perhaps it is no longer premature for a 1990s party? If the Stray Cats could stir up Rockabilly in the synth-laden 80s and the SNZs do likewise to Swing in the 90s, could the 00s be the decade for its own “classical” reinvention?

Admittedly, this has been a theme I’ve been harping on for sometime now — simply put, the ascension of strings in indie rock as we know it today. And for my own tastes the plucking can be a double-edged sword, riding a thin line between over-embellishment and textural bliss. Sunday’s lineup at Cafe Du Nord featured strings in each of the three ensembles with vastly different aesthetics.

Headliner Judgement Day, a violin-cello-drums trio from Oakland that plays predominantly instrumental (decidedly not indie) rock, features brothers Anton and Lewis Patzner on violin and cello, respectively, with Jon Bush on drums. Anton has been heralded for his touring stint with Bright Eyes. A few things you can count on with these guys is their sheer virtuosity, razor-tight arrangements and crunchy string solos sans guitars. The wild card being a late Sunday crowd swirling maddeningly in worship to the three, who never ceased to engage all the while slipping in and out of a dense but dynamic assault Berklee School of Music would have condoned. I can say with some certainty, these guys are the loudest little orchestra this side of Satan.

Prior to JD’s onslaught, local up n’ comers Geographer celebrated the release of their new recording Innocent Ghosts. The band’s natural penchant for pop sensibility was immediately apparent and carried through their entire set, revolving around singer Mike Deni’s yearning delivery and thoughtful lyricism amidst thick and memorable cello melodies. After recently revisiting Broken Social Scene’s breakthrough record You Forgot It In People , I grew fond once again of the resurgence of pure indie rock pop which defies esoteric or stylistic motives. True to form, Geographer’s live renditions of “Wonderful” and “Can’t You Wait” shimmered through the crowd, slowly building to distorted servings of the some best pop this city has to offer.

Opener Cotillion, a venerable collective of successful local musicians from the likes of the Botticellis and Judgement Day, were a bit more all star jam than seasoned local band, but when they were on, they were compelling. Most notably, the vocal harmonies stood out, as they attempted a balancing act of late Motown and 70s country fried rock. Aside from a few hiccups in arrangements and awkward glances, I could still imagine a planned recording and regular gigging would serve their Saturday Looks Good to Me meets Oakley Hall attack quite well.

Photos by Francis Chung.