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Out of the Mouths of Boys

Local A Cappella Performance Art Troupe Lexie Mountain Boys Just Wanna Have Fun

Jefferson Jackson Steele
LEX FACTOR: Lexie Mountain (center, seated) and her boys sing--and bark and gargle and coo.

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Lexie Mountain Boys

Alexandra Macchi performs solo at the FRC (4703 Falls Road) June 16.

By Jared T. Fischer | Posted 6/14/2006

Slightly before midnight on a Sunday in May, the dud of a touring band called Headlights finishes their set at the Talking Head and clears the stage for Baltimore’s Lexie Mountain Boys—who are nowhere to be seen. For a work night, a surprising number of aging scenesters have turned up. Everyone who fled upstairs to play pool or chat through the somnambulant first act begins to file back in. But still no Mountain Boys.

Two young ladies dressed in neon beach clothes survey the restless crowd as if in on a secret. As soon as they reach the stage, one flips a switch on a vintage tape deck. A delightfully scratchy recording of the most unrealistic bird and rain forest sounds begins to play. The chuckling audience suddenly hears soft feet rustling down the staircase behind them. Amusement becomes complete stupefaction when they turn around to witness an entire garden of grass, huge palms, and uprooted bushes come crashing by in the arms and on the heads of six whispering women.

When the leafy green ensemble finally mounts the stage, conductor Lexie Mountain (nee Alexandra Macchi, an erstwhile City Paper contributor who also books for the Talking Head) makes an announcement amid stomps, wails, and a mock military sound-off from her Boys. This show is a prayer vigil for her beloved band mate Katherine Hill, who injured her knee in a mysterious slip. The newest member of this all-woman a cappella/performance art unit, Lizz King, gets the crowd guffawing when she makes the sign of the cross and recites a prayer in Spanish.

While Amy Harmon and Robot Neutron (aka Roby Newton of Sand Cats/Milemarker) aggressively chant “the best holidays,” going from “Halloween” to “Christmas, Christmas, Christmas,” a silent Sam Cotton Garner drunkenly paces the stage with hon-sized big hair and a solitary fern raised like a rifle. At least two times she freaks out the audience with an unexpected face-plant into the pile of leaves onstage. Another Mountain Boy, Amy Amber Crystal Waller, smiles constantly.

Lexie Mountain Boys shows “always turn out different,” Garner explains after the gig. “We never know what will really happen until we are onstage performing.”

Much of the live Mountain Boys’ unrehearsed energy, hilarity, and left-field experimentation can be found on the band’s 2006 self-titled CD-R debut on Heresee. You don’t even have to retrain your ears to appreciate it. The seven kaleidoscopic songs encompass blues, poetry, soul, punk, folk harmonies, noise, comedy, and chopped-up word salad. The band’s influences, musical and otherwise, range from doo-wop to Baltimore club, from pornography to stand-up.

“When it came time that I wanted to put something like this together, I thought of the people I liked and thought could rise to the occasion,” Macchi says, smoking a cigarette and eager to recount everything good that has happened since her friends first helped her form the band last September. Notably, she went on tour with Sand Cats, performing mostly solo gigs but occasionally joined by available members. “As it turns out, they all can completely read my mind, and I can read theirs. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to just randomly ask. They’re all women whom I really love and trust.”

Originally from Ashland, Mass., and a graduate of Emerson College in Boston, the 28-year-old Macchi spent two years working for Chicago-based record label Thrill Jockey before moving to Baltimore in 2002. She knew that Charm City offered cheap living, plus she was already acquainted with Twig Harper and Carly Ptak of Nautical Almanac and the Heresee record label.

“When I moved here everybody had a project that they were working on, and I had always wanted to have a thing, but it was just way too exhausting to try and figure out how to get a band together,” she says. “I knew I wanted to sing, and I just realized it would be easier if I just sang by myself.”

Macchi first took to the stage solo, with multiple tape decks serving as her “karaoke machine or backdrop.” She primarily sings in a passionate if damaged alto, fit as much for blues as it is for vocal abstraction. The tapes—crinkled with mutilations of her voice, found sounds, or borrowed songs—were like layers of clothing that gave the cover she needed to stand alone onstage and attempt her wild improvisations, nonsensical laments, and repeated phrases. But operating numerous pieces of equipment became a job and was holding Macchi back from going all out at shows.

“I wanted to have a project where I didn’t have to have any equipment,” she says. “There were things that I had in mind, and the closest thing I could get to getting away what I had been doing with the tapes was to have a bunch of people do it.” She dreamed of an entourage of like-minded women who could electrify audiences while rounding out her vocal range and drew a cast from friends and acquaintances.

“We’d never consider having a man,” Macchi says. “In the spirit of Glenn Branca’s hundred-guitar orchestra, the idea is just to have a whole crapload of women onstage.”

With a minimum of practice, “no actual lyrics” or “songs,” and only “a vague idea of what is being communicated,” the band’s album tries to capture some of the ideas that would have been part of the larger spectacle when performed live. On the opening track “Ruiner,” Macchi’s singing sounds like a howling fox on a hillside. The words are too muddled to be understood fully but are suggestive enough for you to insert your own meaning. It definitely feels like the blues.

“Boo Fucking Hoo,” the disc’s gem, is a remarkable noise composition. The track starts with a sobbing voice. Before long, bubbling reverberation, sounding like a bong hit, disrupts whatever sympathy you might have felt for the crybaby singer. As the bubbles multiply, the effect is akin to the scene in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone where the charwoman finds the dishes magically washing themselves. Eventually, it all funnels into a wash of feedback. The finale, “Dream of Producer,” is an improvised surrealist prose poem. Macchi imagines a female listener’s harrowing pregnancy, in which she gives birth to a dead piglet.

While the local reaction to this music has been positive, the Lexie Mountain Boys have a great urge to step out of that comfort zone and take another stab at touring. As the chief organizer, Macchi will do her best to involve as many members as schedules permit. But above all, it’s important for the friendships to remain strong and the atmosphere of wild fun to prevail.

“We take a lot from our own lives and just try and destroy it all,” Macchi explains. “We take things that are stupid and make them wonderful. We try to be a force for good.”

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