Thursday, March 27, 2008

We Caught Dengue Fever

There's been a lot of buzz about Dengue Fever floating around with the release of their third album, so the day may yet come when you don't have to give a lengthy description of the concept every time you want to talk about them. But I hope not, because explaining the concept is kind of fun.

So what it is, is, that these rock guys in L.A. found some old records from the garage rock scene in Cambodia, of all places, in the 1960s. They really loved the sound, and wanted to recreate it. Problem was, they didn't speak Cambodian. So, they knocked around in L.A.'s Southeast Asian community until they found a young singer with awesome chops: Chhom Nimol, who is actually a well-known traditional singer among Cambodian-Americans and, people in the community tell me, among Cambodian-Cambodians as well. Then, all they had to do was convince her to commit to, you know, singing rock music for drunk people in clubs for very little profit, for an indefinite future and with little hope of sucess. These guys should have been in sales.

I love Dengue Fever -- Mrs.5000 and I had their first record playing at our wedding reception -- but it's tough to describe their music in words. The official band line is that it is Cambodian garage rock crossed with Ethiopian jazz, but, you know, whatever. A Thai friend once demanded to know where we had got our hands on "Thai country music," and was then surprised when we pointed out that the lyrics aren't in Thai. It's really kind of like cheesy surf music, except awesome. It is played with great precision and inventiveness. And then you've got Nimol's voice, which flares out over the songs with groovy unexpected Southeast Asian tonalities. Well, like I said, it's hard to describe in words.

It's fun to see them live. Everybody in the band always seems like they are having fun, which I like a rock show. Nimol dresses to the nines, whether they are playing some closet of a bar or a larger venue; the show we caught last Friday was at the very cool Wonder Ballroom in Inner Northeast. She adds a repertoire of Asian dance moves to a basic girl-group performance style, the effect is sexy and wholesome and loveable all at the same time. She was having some trouble with her voice and had to give up some of the high notes on Friday, but after an evening of whooping encouragement to the band I had some trouble with my own voice over the weekend, too, so it all evens out.

The opening band was Black Moth Super Rainbow, who essentially played ambient music really, really loud as stupid video clips were projected on a makeshift screen over their heads. Their music had some merit, but a little of it went a long way. Mrs.5000 reported that, "from the bar, they sounded like a train going by."


Anonymous said...

Certainly one of the best band names ever

d said...

mrs5k is hilarious.

Michael5000 said...

@chuck: You know, honestly, I think the name is in kind of poor taste. But it's hard to say that without feeling like a real prig. Maybe there's a reason for that.

@d: I concur.

mhwitt said...

I heard an excellent interview with at least two members of Dengue Fever on Fresh Air. This link should get you there.

In that interview they talk about playing in Cambodia. Chhom Nimol is indeed a celebrity there and the the stories they tell in this interview of playing and touring in Cambodia today are quite amazing.

A search for "Dengue Fever" at will get you many hits on the rather terrible and sometimes deadly illness for which the band is named, but most recent pieces are about a happier topic: this fun and lively band. Seems they have been featured on several shows including World Cafe where they probably played some live in-studio stuff (I don't have time to confirm at the moment.)

Anonymous said...

I see your point. Would it be funny if a band from Africa called itself Malaria? Probably not.

Anonymous said...

having been missing from the virtual world for the past two weeks to get married, i am now frantically trying to catch up on all my favorite blogs. look what i found on qualitypeoples (written a mere three days after your posting)--

what a funny coincidence...

ps. thanks for the blog well-wishings for our wedding. it was simply amazing. i'll have a posting up by the end of the week (the first in a series).