The most musically adventurous of the blooming "ethno-punk-cabaret" movement (think Dresden Dolls and Gogol Bordello), Brooklyn's Barbez often swells to six or seven members onstage, but the version that played at DC9 on Sunday night was a tidy quartet.
Barbez usually features a Russian-born modern dancer, a marimba and someone coaxing squawks from a Palm Pilot, but the group (wrapping up a tour supporting its haunting third release, "Insignificance") instead focused on its essential instrumental forces -- guitarist Dan Kaufman and theremin player Pamelia Kurstin. Though it was hampered by equipment glitches and only afforded about 40 minutes of stage time at the end of the night, this version of Barbez still managed to toss an otherworldly musical fog over the crowd.
The group traded occasional vocals, but the real sparks came from the instruments: with whispering minor-chord patterns from Kaufman's electric guitar or the alien frequencies of Kurstin's theremin (which mimicked violin, synthesizer and sci-fi soundtrack with equal grace), the group adeptly shed musical skins. Tiptoeing into Marc Ribot avant-jazz territory, it took a freaky Transylvanian carriage ride, then built to a shrieking pileup that could've come from the Sun City Girls. Barbez's neglect of its stirring vocal-based work -- no sly cover of David Bowie's "Heroes" on this night -- was disappointing, but its instrumental prowess compensated nicely.
Local duo the Aquarium preceded with a set, a muscular drum and organic organ interweave, that was both rousing and buoyant.
-- Patrick Foster