Call her Jackie.
In 1992, a young Pittsburgh pianist walked away from the academic wasteland of classical music to make a band unlike any other band. Squonk Opera’s music has since been called "hypnotic" by The New York Times, "gloriously eccentric" by Time Out New York and "Debussy meets Godzilla" by The Washington Post. She met a feckless artist, moderately known for his designs and esoteric wind instruments, and well known for his lack of self-control. He was christened Stephen, but went simply by “the captain.”
Others joined the fray – Kevin on a wild assortment of drums and percussion, stalwart Nathan on fretless and upright bass, Christina and her glorious vocals and David on screaming guitars - until six hearts powered the fingers and lungs that beat as one, on this latest release “You Are Here.”
Squonk Opera quickly earned their appellation “rust-belt dada.” They competed with, and absorbed the power, of the beer-fed bar bands, Byzantine ritual, and insane Steeler fandom that drove the engines of their hometown.
Squonk’s first show was in a junkyard: Jackie used choreographed cranes and the roar of car-crushing metal shears as part of Squonk’s score. They hired actors, posing as radical vegans, to protest against their own premiere of “Night of the Living Dead: The Opera” with its flesh-eating zombies. They had a hit show at PS 122 for 3 hot summer months in 1999, and then a brief, painful stint in the commercial Hell of Broadway. The band survived on squid for breakfast in Korea, and Ham und Kaas, for every meal, in Flanders. Jackie and Steve have received three awards from the N.E.A. and cruel recriminations from the Manhattan art mafiosi.
Manifestos were issued, enemies made, bridges burned. Jackie thumbed her nose at a $70,000 advance from Sony, to retain her own label. As the multi-media spectacle of their shows grew, Jackie’s partner, “the captain,” accused Laurie Anderson and the Flaming Lips of intellectual property crimes, and Sigur Ros of copyright infringement.
Still, they continue.
The instrumentation of a Balkan cabaret band with access to an abandoned Radio Shack.
The sinewy energy of a tom-driven rock band, and the lyricism of Lewis Carroll.
The humor and chutzpah of a provincial circus, and the authenticity of, well, a provincial circus.
All of this for $12.97.
Papers have scampered to try to describe this intoxicating sound. The Chicago Reader found “traces of Laurie Anderson, Kurt Weill, Debussy, Ravi Shankar and medieval Chant,” while The Baltimore Sun saw a “whimsical mix of Philip Glass, Gertrude Stein, Richard Wagner and rock.”
Squonk Opera takes you on “a breathless journey through an ever-changing emotional landscape, from horror to humor to ravishing beauty.” (NY Daily News)
Join the fray.