The Hellblinki Sextet
Live review: Hellblinki Sextet at The Imerial Theatre 8/16
(actually 7/16, this was a typo!)

When a mind like Andrew Benjamin's gets to stew over a project for so long, it's anyone's guess what may emerge when performance time comes. So it was with some hesitance that a large portione of the attendees filed into the Imperial Theatre last Friday night for the presentation of Benjamin's Opus the CD release party for "A Pirate Broadcast."  The flames from Pyroteque, a group of fire-eaters and jugglers performing outside the Imperial box offices, served not only as a beacon signal to concertgoers, but also as an indicator of what kind of mayhem lay ahead.  Those who arrived up to an hour before opener Distal's 8:15 start could mill around the sparsely populated auditorium, or peer into the orchestra pit to get a look at who was churning out the palette-cleansing sounds that would go on to fill the respite moments between the three performances of the evening.  Down in that pit, the gears of The Dead Pirates Orchestra, a collective comprised of members of Moniker and The Cubists, were steadily cranking out what sounded something like one of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Western movie scores as interpreted by John Zorn, Syd Barrett, and John McIntyre.  The extemporaneous free-associations themes that group explored really defy description, and though it was completely improvised, from the back of the auditorium, the feel was of a pre-concieved composition. By the time Distal took the stage the crowd had grown to just over one-half capacity. Without saying a word the quartet immediately started into the slow build of the set opener, "Blood of Eden."  Most notable of the set was the ability of all four to easily control thje hard to soft dichotomy, and the unity with which that dynamic shifted.  It's as if the group were all operating on the same onn/off switch. By the second song, frontman Laddie Williams had tuned the other three band members to his frequency, and the fact that Distal was denied a sound-check became irrelevant.  Live, the group represents a paradox: The Group's quiet moments possess a certain loudness,while the agitated portions of the songs have a measured stillness.  Distal played seven songs that lasted almost one hour exactly. As the curtain dropped to herald a short intermission, The Dead Pirate's Orchestra motored away so as not to allow more than a minute of silence.  As a trio, The Goodies, the night's only imported band (from Asheville, NC) were able to set up quickly. Little time passed before the curtain rose to reveal what was likely the most unknown band of the night.  As guitarist Holiday Childress put down his parasol to  begin playing the group's opener, "Madame Deveilia," however, it became obvious why The Goodies were playing: with heavily caffinated doses of Vaudeville inspiration, this may have been tha only band that could have opened for The Hellblinki Sextet.  Their style was a serious olio, a captivating mix of the influences of Led Zeppelin, the early French culture of Jean Renior and Edith Piaf, argentinean tango master Astor Piazolla and the film music of Issac Hayes.  Playing to the crowd the Goodies even played a spot-on version of Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," (with Childress' guitar work ably subbing for Daniels' blazing fiddle) which sent the near-capacity crowd into a delighted frenzy.
After a slightly longer intermission, the curtain was raised again to reveal a dimly lit stage. Benjamin was ominously seated front and center, with the other members flanking him over both shoulders. A split projection screen operated by projexorcism, hovered some 30 feet over the stage, exhibiting old black and white movies played in reverse and other various dementia as if it were a window into the mind of a lunatic.  Benjamin sat beneath a white light, while the rest of the group was under a faint red glow, as if to signify that if hell had a house band this would be it.  As their noise and feedback intro ended, The Hellblinki Sexdtet snapped from a statuesque pose into motion, opening with "It comes to This." After several more songs from the new album, each accompanied by stage actors portraying lovers, mental patients, and the occasional ballerina, a group of rowdy drunken pirates stumbled on stage for a spirited and well-recieved monologue.  Despite exquisite performances by all of the stage actors, however, the focus remained on the band's unique danse macabre. If the show had a linear, connected plot, it was a little hard to follow, but the dramatic performances certainly contributed a considerable weight to the songs.  The layout of this show was a tremendous risk, one that was undertaken courageously and executed with a balanced combination of professional restraint and playful abandon.
-Andy Stokes