Evangelista is the latest (and longest) incarnation of the restless musical mind of Carla Bozulich, the extraordinary, genre-busting singer/songwriter whose career dates back over two decades. She was a member of the seminal industrial band Ethyl Meatplow before forming The Geraldine Fibbers, whose tragically brief output consisted of two of the most magnificent albums of the ’90s, Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home (1995) and Butch (1997), before disbanding. It was at this point that Bozulich began veering in a more “experimental” direction, in which she continues to create strange and harrowing new sounds.
There’s just one problem: I’m a die-hard Fibbers fan with no tolerance for so-called “experimental” music. Granted, this is my problem, not hers. But whenever I’ve listened to her post-Fibbers output, whether it be Scarnella, Evangelista, or her full-length reinterpretation of Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, I’ve longed for even a hint of the torch-twang-punk brilliance of the Fibbers. And so, I walked into her show at the Hemlock last night with resigned pessimism. I was thrilled to finally witness Carla singing live, but was bracing for an hour of free-form noise and distortion. Oh, how I hate being wrong.
After an extremely well-attended opening performance by local psych-drone favorites Late Young, debuting their new lineup to an enthusiastic crowd response, Carla and her band took the stage. Evangelista consists of Tara Barnes on electric bass, Dominic Cramp on keyboards/laptop, Michael Tracy on drums, and for this tour, a special appearance by Dead Science’s Jherek Bischoff on double bass and guitar. The band was flawless, and also easy on the eyes, which was a bonus.
When the diminutive Bozulich first opened her mouth to let out that magnificently mangled, effortlessly devastating voice, for which clichés like “whiskey & cigarettes” were invented, I was instantly elevated to another plane of existence. Bozulich has always been a master at creating transporting moments, and last night the dedicated fans crowded into the Hemlock Tavern were shepherded to a beautiful and horrible new world.
It is difficult to describe what kind of music Evangelista plays. This is exactly as Bozulich would have it, as she seems to delight in frustrating the attempts of journalists attempting to classify her as one genre or another. Perhaps this is in response to the Geraldine Fibbers having unfortunately been labeled as “alt-country” in their heyday. But regardless of the different influences and flavors evident in the music of Evangelista — art-rock, experimental, gospel, country, torch — one thing seems clear: this is music about drama and catharsis. The emotional pull of Bozulich’s compositions is intense, and if you surrender to it, you’ll be taken to heaven and hell and back again. There aren’t many shows at the Hemlock where people openly sob in front of the stage, but this was one of them.
My reservations about the “experimental” nature of Bozulich’s post-Fibbers albums were completely burned away within moments of their first song. Witnessing Carla and Co. creating their sounds in person makes all the difference. They pulled their material primarily from the last two Evangelista albums, Hello, Voyager (2008) and Prince of Truth (2009), with a few surprises thrown in for longtime fans, such as “Underdog” from Scarnella (1998), Carla’s collaboration with Wilco instrumentalist Nels Cline (who performed with the Fibbers on Butch).
The part that nearly killed me, though, came about midway through the set. Carla said, “This is the first song I ever wrote. Well, this song or another one, we’ve been debating the point. And by ‘we,’ I mean me and myself.” She then launched into “Marmelade” from Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home. As someone who came of age to the music of the Fibbers just as they were breaking up, I’d long since resigned myself to the reality that I’d never get to hear any of this music performed live. Now that I have, I can die a happier person. I was already elated to the point of numbness by the time they played the other candidate for Carla’s first song, “Outside of Town,” from the same album, just a few songs later. Fortunately they stopped the Fibbers material there, as “Dragon Lady” would have detonated my brain.
The true highlight of the set was the final number, “Baby, That’s the Creeps,” during which Bozulich stepped down from the stage and roamed through the crowd, looking dazed, as if having just walked away from a car accident, leaning against fans while roaring her scorched-earth gospel, completely possessed. It was chilling and astonishing and unearthly. It was Carla Bozulich doing what only she can do.
Lucky Lucky Luck
Truth is Dark
Winds of St. Anne
Outside of Town
Iris Didn’t Spell
You Are A Jaguar
Baby, That’s the Creeps