The Snarling, Gleeful, Seductive Leprechaun Catering Keeps You Coming Back for More
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Onstage, a typical Leprechaun Catering show looks like this: The sound team of Tom Boram and Jason Willett, as lithe and graceful as anime characters, gesture in tight flourishes at their instruments, standing upright and alert to every detail. Across tables of exotic electronic boxes, they lean into their beats, grooving along like Martha and the Vandellas until the groove twists and opens into splattered electronics. Boram's fingers flutter a theremin, sliding liquid zippers over rhythm boxes--who knows how many of them--that sputter with bonus buzz hits from some boxed doodads. After simultaneous wicked electric-guitar solos, both step back, Willett rolling and lighting a Gauloise and passing his lighter to Boram, who sparks his Holmesian tobacco pipe, and both stand motionless in the sonic miasma for a couple of minutes before wordlessly flipping off their gear. After some bewildered but heartfelt audience applause, the two rev their gear back up for another magical amusement park of sound.
For Willett, Leprechaun Catering's baffling performances are the result of a sense of wonder and mystery. "It's like walking through a door, and every sound is there--a creature and vegetation, water and air," he says, speaking with an elliptical creativity that matches his music. "Every part of the environment to me is very alive. When we step back for a smoke, it's like, 'So what is this place we've created?'"
Boram is equally earnest but prone to delighted giggling that interrupts his speech; he likens their playing to a grown-up game of Mad Libs. "You find a limit and you find a way around it," he says.
Their new LP Lychees and Kumquats (HereSee/Ehse) and CD Mesmerized Ants (Megaphone) play with the boundaries of instrumental music like the fill-in-the-blank game with an imaginative panache and an ear for exploded boundaries. And like their live shows, the results are tons o' fun.
Jason Willett, 36, is one of Baltimore's hidden treasures. An undersung 20-year veteran of weirdo rock with a lifelong history in music, he spent much of his childhood on a farm near Frederick with his mother, herself a songwriter for singers on Motown and Atlantic. Their house was frequented by luminaries of jazz and soul, including Eddie Harris and Cecil Taylor, who once played the house piano. Willett's staunchly individualistic musical path led him to join Half Japanese as bass player and producer for half a dozen records, several tours, and 15 collaborative records with Jad Fair. In Frederick, Willett founded a record store in 1990 and a label in 1992, both called Megaphone. He has released skronking free jazz, retarded no-wave, and art rock by Jac Berrocal, members of Henry Cow, Jon Rose, and numerous bands of Willett and his cronies (the Jaunties, the Pleasant Livers, the Can Openers, the Dramatics, the Attitude Robots, the Recordings and X-Ray Eyes, to name a few), most of it recorded by Willett in the unheated warehouse space that he shared with filmmaker Martha Colburn after moving to Baltimore. His productions spilled over to half a dozen other tiny record labels, such as Menlo Park, RRR, and Alternative Tentacles, before he left for Australia in 1998, where he DJed at a club in Sydney for two years.
Meanwhile, Tom Boram, 29, grew up in Harford County. His father was a Peabody Institute-trained musician who played in Harford County rock bands and whose repertoire, Boram says, included "a lot of Hall and Oates." As a teenager, he loved his father's classical records, an embarrassing trait that says he made his sister swear to secrecy. Ever playful, he remembers passing notes to girls in school, written in sonata form but "all about how I wanted to feel their asses and stuff." After discovering hard rock, dabbling with psychedelic drugs, traveling through India, and studying sitar (which he continues to practice in earnest), he moved to Baltimore around 1999, playing with the oddball group Deviled Eggs. He was quickly adopted by the local free-improvisation scene and began performing with various conglomerations, include his current skittering duo Snacks with Dan Breen, who serve odd treats like durian fruit or candy kebabs at each show.
When Willett returned from Sydney, mutual friends encouraged the two to meet, feeling a common sensibility between them. But it wasn't until they found themselves living together in a Charles Village rowhouse in 2000 that they listened to Beck's Midnight Vultures, looked at each other, and, Willett says, thought, "mega-selling, million-selling band."
Of course, the only thing that stood in their way to mega-success was their own unhinged selves. In their earliest shows, Willett and Boram twanged little riffs into samplers and looped them, piling them teetering-high and giving the impression of four or five players, but the effect was wandering and repetitive. Over the years their methods sharpened, and now their sound is nearly as focused as one of those chopsy prog outfits, but elastic and clattering through a three-story playpen of Krautrock, free improv, and soul. Like an evil jungle princess, Leprechaun Catering is by turns snarling, gleeful, and seductive.
At their North Howard Street digs (yes, Boram and Willett live together, just like the Monkees, but no firehouse pole), Willett burns copies of favorite vintage instrumental funk tracks for future DJ gigs; at the end of May, he's off to tour Norway with Half Japanese. Boram sprinkles glitter on the cases of their new CD as he discusses being inside the Leprechaun Catering sound.
"We tried to do things like other people, but that just stopped," Boram says. "A song for us is just a toolbox."
"You've got a drill and a screwdriver, and I've got a buzz saw," Willett replies.
The metaphorical toolbox is right on. Willett's buzz-saw presence has ripped through dozens of bands and amputated more than a few players' dignities. And Boram's unflappable ease and highflying stylishness put Willett's intensity in sweet and glossy context, but they meet in a vortex of a shared sense of hilarity and sensory overload.
A mixture of inspiration and confusion, the band's recordings are edits of improvisations based around a loose structure. Starting with a few sounds and a couple of rhythms, they model their tunes live with the idea of some standard form--a calypso, for instance--but in the process the sounds take over, other ideas take hold, and they're simply elsewhere. With its little whiffs of the cigarette-and-semen smell of Serge Gainsbourg and a pulsing bliss to rival the Silver Apples, Lychees and Kumquats is as hip and zoinked as Baltimore electronics gets. In a moment of pure unselfconsciousness, someone, somewhere, is gonna jump out of her chair, put her panties on backward, and really shake to it.
And that sort of spontaneous preposterousness is a vibe that Leprechaun Catering owns. Though the original premise of Leprechaun Catering was, Willett says, "to make tons of money," he admits that the dream of cashing flashy checks from their version of Day-Glo party tunes wasn't going to happen. And its music is all the better for it.
"Even a strange-sounding pop band wasn't going to happen," Willett says, without a hint of regret.