The spoken word is never adequate to the task of describing the sonic experience -- music in particular -- and when confronted by the Icelandic band Reptile it's almost futile to try. Tuesday night's show at d.c. space was a musical smorgasbord of Brechtian cabaret, African and Caribbean rhythms, free jazz, Gypsy melodies, psychedelic rock and more, dished out lovingly by the two front women, Magga Stina and Dora Wonder. They played violin and saxophone, respectively, which they honked, squealed, snaked and twined into striking arabesques, while sharing vocals that ran the gamut from low groans to incredibly loud and frequent screams, sounding very similar to their countrywoman Bjork of the Sugarcubes.
Like the Sugarcubes (whose keyboard player was once a Reptile), the songs are built on rhythmic invention with melodies and instrumentation layered over it. The drummer, Toti K., was outstanding, leading the band through change after change, going from salsa to juju to rumba and rockabilly beats, sometimes in the space of 30 seconds. Following effortlessly on bass was Ivar, while guitarist Siggi floated on top with lilting lines or crashed through with Pixie-like power chords.
The women bugged their eyes and waved their arms, swung their hips and pounded their feet while singing such phrases as "I like you dressed like a clown playing banjo," and "I eat kabob for breakfast at night." Though the nonstop quirkiness wore thin, it was fun to watch the group having as much fun with the English language as it was with the world's music.