Live: Tin Hat @ Club Helsinki Hudson, 10/31/10

What the hell is that thing?

After Tin Hat’s opening song, clarinetist Ben Goldberg reached down, opened up a case, and pulled out something that looked like some kind of steampunk plumbing device.

I was sitting at a table with several other musicians, and we all turned to each other with the same quizzical look.

It turns out that it was a contra-alto clarinet, and it produced a low, woody sound that seemed perfectly appropriate for the next song, “Dead Season,” on a Halloween night.

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Tin Hat (formerly known as the Tin Hat Trio) were making their Club Helsinki Hudson debut on Sunday night, although they had performed numerous times at the old Helsinki in Great Barrington. They blur stylistic barriers with a repertoire that stretches from neo-classical chamber music to Appalachian bluegrass numbers, and indeed, they toward the end of their 90-minute performance, they slid into a mournful, aching waltz rendition of Bill Monroe’s “The One I Love Is Gone.”

Featuring co-founders Mark Orton (guitar and dobro) and Carla Kihlstedt (violin and occasional vocals), the band also featured Goldberg and their latest recruit Rob Reich (accordion and piano). They’re actually more of a chamber ensemble than a band, and their repertoire leans heavily toward intimate, adventurous art songs.

But along the way, they offered a Parisian cafe ballad, a dash of country noir and most impressively, a sneak peek at their current project – setting the poems of E.E. Cummings to music.

The melding of Tin Hat and Cummings proved to be exquisite, as Kihlstedt’s fragile voice wrapped around the poet’s lower-case lines:

this is a rubbish of human rind
with a photograph
clutched in the half
of a hand and the word
love underlined

Romantic and melancholy at the same time…

TIN HAT SET LIST
???
Dead Season
Open His Head
The Tailor’s Dummies
Rob’s New
A Fata Morgana
Bill
this is a rubbish of human rind
Anna Kournikova
A Leaf Falls
if up’s the word
???
???
The One I Love Is Gone
Foreign Legion
ENCORE
The Last Cowboy

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