Beat Circus deliver the goods with a punch
Brian Carpenter sings like a man who knows the Lonesome Highway. You can visualize the sun beating down on his shades as guitars twang in the foreground and a pedal steel guitar yowls on the horizon. It’s a bleak world in songs like “Bad Hotel,” where someone meets an untimely end. Carpenter tips his hat to the Gun Club, a band that sang tunes like this a generation ago, appropriating a line from them when he repeatedly asks, “What will they say about her?” But even as he borrows from that band, he and Beat Circus deliver the goods with a punch that the Gun Club could only imagine.
Even though Beat Circus evokes the bleak desert landscape, the group actually hails from Boston. These Wicked Things, its new album, began as a commissioned work by the Berkeley Repertory Theater. They asked Carpenter to compose music and lyrics for The Barbary Coast, a play about violence in 1800s San Francisco, based on the life of Joaquin Murieta, the inspiration for Zorro, who went on a revenge spree when his wife was killed by gold miners. The concept, fleshed out in great detail by Carpenter’s lyrical skills, is accompanied by a band that includes strings, bassoon and bass saxophone, with members of Morphine and the Thalia Zedek Band joining him. Before the album is through, the group draws on the ominous whistling of spaghetti western soundtracks and even dabbles in free jazz that uses the Chinese suona (sounding like a more nasal soprano saxophone) to push the storyline forward.
These Wicked Things comes ten years after the last Beat Circus album and is only its fourth release since Carpenter started the group in 2002. It represents the final installment of his “Weird American Gothic” trilogy. Along with this band, he has also performed with acts ranging from the brutal New York band Swans to the late jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd. With experiences like that, and the depth of the production on These Wicked Things, the live performance comes with high anticipation.
BEAT CIRCUS with EMILY RODGERS BAND, THE NEW POOR. 8 p.m. Sunday, March 3. Brillobox, 4104 Penn Avenue, Lawrenceville. $6-$8. www.brilloboxpgh.com