Live: Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever pic #1
(l to r) Ch'hom Nimol, Ethan Holtzman, David Ralicke,
Zac Holtzman, Paul Smith, & Senon Williams.

THE ORANGE SHOW -- 3/29/2008: Taking in a performance at The Orange Show is something everyone should experience. The bands that perform there are as eclectic as the venue itself. How many people can say "I caught Dengue Fever in the fish pond at The Orange Show," and not feel a little eclectic themselves? At The Orange Show, bands perform in a dry fish pond, while spectators watch from multiple levels of landings and some theater-style seating. The place is a maze of structures built with what looks like leftover building materials and pieces of farm equipment. Vibrant colors cover every inch of the handiwork.
The uncommon architecture is not the only good attribute of the venue -- cheap tickets, cheap beer, and free close parking also give it stars. The design, though, is also its one drawback: unless you arrive early, you will likely end up watching the show from beside or even behind the performers. While visually entertaining, this is of course not the best place for audiophiles. So make sure to arrive early, grab a beer, and enjoy some good people-watching till the real fun begins...
...and Dengue Fever is real fun, a self-described Cambodian pop band, with a lead vocalist, Ch'hom Nimol, who sings mostly in Khmer. The rest of the group, headed by Zac Holtzman (guitar/vocals), includes Ethan Holtzman (keys), Senon Williams (bass), and Paul Smith (drums). Before the set started, Zac came out and inspected each piece of equipment methodically. Just having him walk by brings a smile, as his look reminds me of a Hasidic Jew who's just returned from Burning Man. Williams' near seven-foot frame is quite an eye-opener as well, and you wonder what the next person walking out will look like. The other member of the crew who's particularly fun to watch is lead singer Nimol, a doll-like native Cambodian who must be two feet shorter than Williams. The rest were right out of a Wes Anderson flick.
They kicked off the show with "Sober Driver," a track from their latest release, and they immediately found a fan in me with the song, which is a take on one of my favorites -- "Libertango" by Astor Piazzolla. It was fantastic, and Nimol's vocals made it that much better. The other standout of the set was "Seeing Hands"; the ringing guitar and rap-like Khmer lyrics are damn groovy, the reason the track gets play on stations like Sirius's Left of Center.
My first taste of Dengue Fever was their version of Mulatu Astatke's "Yegelle Tezetaon" on the Broken Flowers soundtrack; they call it "Ethanopium." This is a great tune, and one I was anxious to hear live. Alas, they did not play it, and if I had to hazard a guess, it would be because the song is horn-heavy and they were without any brass; sax player David Ralicke was not at the show. The rest of the set was entertaining, but "Seeing Hands" and "Sober Driver" were the high points, as the group didn't project the energy to make the rest as fun.
While most of the music isn't something you would expect to see performed all rowdy, I did expect Nimol to be more active. She may very well be, on the average, but on this night she was wearing a set of high heels and was surrounded by a short wall of hard brick, which was likely the cause of her inactivity. Most of the band's energy came from the occasional simultaneous bouncing between Z. Holtzman and Williams, and the latter's constant pelvic thrusting, which must be quite a bit of work at his height.
While neither the band, nor the venue make much sense, pairing them up was perfect. And all digs aside, the music stands on its own, and I love it. END