I met Anja McCloskey @ Mexicains Sans Frontieres on Wednesday Feb 16, 2011. This was the 3rd stop on a tour of the US that would take them through 8 states for 9 shows over the course of 9 days. The rest of the band was to meet them later in Chicago for this tour.
Even though McCloskey and her violinist Mike Kinney had driven over 1,000 miles in 3 days, they were excited to be in Grand Rapids to share their music with the eager crowd.
After an extremely loud set by local band Haunted Mansion, everybody grabbed their drinks and gathered in close as McCloskey and Kinney set up their gear. I had heard Anja’s music via Youtube and kind of had an idea of what to expect, but when the duo actually started performing the first song, a densely layered instrumental, I was immediately struck by the fullness of the sound of the interplay between accordion and violin.
The dexterity of which she manipulates the keys and buttons to create the tapestry of such interesting musical patterns really amazed me… after her set I had to ask her to give me a brief run down of just what the hell is actually going on with her instrument…
I am a guitarist, and I can almost play a few notes on keys (barely), but the whole fiasco with the array of buttons on the left side of the accordion looked to me like an anonymous mass of the unknowable. Like the musical equivalent of the Enigma Machine.
After her explanation/demonstration, I kind of got the impression that the horizontal groups of buttons were arranged like a harmonica, in that there were several notes represented, but not ALL of the notes in the scale. By going up and down vertically, you could change keys and acquire the notes (or possibly like with harmonica, get “close enough”) to get the notes you need to make things work.
After the set, of which I managed to get several songs worth of video to share with the world, MSF proprietor Hugo Claudin convinced us that it was a good idea to take Anja and Mike off to Mulligan’s in Eastown for open mic night.
Members of several Grand Rapids Bands, and even the local burlesques troop were there to hear local music and have a good time. One man was performing some crazy spoken word poetry when we arrived. He dragged Hugo up on stage to play some tambourine during on of his pieces… the whole thing came across like a mix between Oliver Stone’s The Doors meets Escanaba in da Moonlight… but in a pretty damn cool way.
Anja, Mike and Hugo then performed one of Anja’s songs, followed up by two of Mike’s own songs. The fiddle and accordion caught the attention of the crowd and everyone wanted to know about them immediately. It was fun getting to tell people who these exciting and talented strangers were.
Afterwards we stepped out front for smokes and I caught some video of Jesse MacIntosh, a local musician who is frequently found performing in Eastown wherever there is a crowd nearby to notice him. He had his bagpipes and was wailing away like there was no tomorrow. People were really digging on it. I was kind of hoping he’d start in with his phony Welsh accent he tried on us last summer when he found us jamming during the aftermath our Guerrilla Concert… I thought it would have been hilarious to see if he could pull that one off with a couple of legitimate UK residents, who would almost certainly know some actual Welsh people…. but we all got distracted pretty easily and the next thing I knew it was all over and everyone scattered to their final destinations for the night.