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March 10, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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Hawk & a Hacksaw Live Review

Saturday 23rd February, Pacific Blue Festival Club

It’s great when musicians take the time and effort to mix a bit of humour into a performance. So when Jeremy Barnes (accordion, drums, other) and Heather Trost (violin), acclaimed traditional folk duo A Hawk & a Hacksaw, entered the Pacific Blue festival tent from an obscured rear entrance to march jauntily amongst the waiting seated audience whilst ironically performing a traditional Balkan call to arms, I was chuffed to say the least.

They were quite a sight; Barnes with a crazy bearded mask of some description covering his entire head, his accordion slung over his shoulder, a thin drum strapped to his thigh, a cowbell on each knee, and a set of bells tied to his waist, Trost with her violin held high and a fixed expression of dutiful allegiance as she followed Barnes through the crowd. Upon reaching the stage, Barnes paused and asked “are there any Hungarians in the audience? If so, we’d appreciate it if you would please dance in the aisle for this next number.” The mostly middleaged audience appeared suitably perplexed. A few hesitant muffled chuckles were heard.

What followed was undoubtedly one of the most engaging and challenging musical performances I’ve yet had the privilege to witness. Barnes (formerly of seminal indie acts Neutral Milk Hotel and Bablicon) was phenomenal, a multi-instrumentalist of the highest degree. On most songs he played complex accordion pieces whilst simultaneously crashing drums with his feet. Trost was just as charismatic, delivering her colourful violin melodies with poise over Barnes’ solid rhythm work. The musical harmony between these two is remarkable; their sprawling, playful shade of traditional Eastern-European folk shifts on cue, jumping from sombre to joyful to coy with nothing more than the slightest of nods from Barnes.

The two mostly treated us to vignettes between one to three minutes in length, barely pausing for applause before moving on to the next tune. Most of the set consisted of frantic traditional folk, relying heavily on 2/4 timing and swift deliveries to create a palpable sense of pace and energy. Most songs had a haunting sombreness to them, some were the exact opposite; quick, bright bursts of childlike enthusiasm. A highlight was their performance of ‘Portland Town’, a war protest song from the 1950s delivered with heartfelt soul from Barnes. Of the Iraq war, Barnes commented that ‘It’s disappointing that we still need songs like this.’

Barnes and Trost are wonderful to behold; captivating in their confidence and ability as a duo, totally obscure and intriguing in their performance of an oft-overlooked genre. If you ever get the chance to observe the strange magic of A Hawk & a Hacksaw, don’t miss it.

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