Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Maestro Subgum & the Whole (or, I Am Still a Youngster in This City)

You think you know someone, and you realize you have no clue. Take Miki, for example. I met Miki at the Old Town School of Folk Music not long after I started volunteering in there 2004. He was the café manager, so I'd swing by to get my free volunteer drink whenever I worked a show. Sometimes, I would work as the café volunteer; it can be a very busy gig, but Miki would encourage me to drink the new beers he got in, and we'd chat about our lives. Miki doesn't work many concert nights anymore, but I still stop by and chat with him when he's at the school; I know all about his kids, he knows all about my ex-boyfriends. He'd mentioned making music, but so does everyone who works for the school. In a building full of sweeties, he's at the top of that list, but I didn't know much about what he'd done before he started working there.

So it was a pleasant shock to run across a picture of Miki Greenberg in the Reader a few weeks ago. Apparently he'd been a member of the "legendary band Maestro Subgum & the Whole"! I can't say that I've known anybody else who's been in a legendary band. There was no real description of the band, or when they were active, or why they were legendary. Why, why had I never heard of them? I made a mental note to investigate further next time I talked to him.

Serendipitously, Miki saw me sitting in a coffee shop recently and came inside for a chat. After talking to him about Maestro, I'm really excited to see them play next Sunday, March 1st, at the Viaduct Theatre.

Details about this fabulous band after the cut.

There's not a ton of net-data available on Maestro Subgum & the Whole (notable exception below), because they were at the height of their popularity before the internet had really taken off, starting in the late 1980s and ending when they disbanded in 1994 or 1995. They had one big blow-out reunion concert in 2001 at the Old Town School, where Miki was by that point working; the show sold out, it was apparently a riot and their best show ever, and they've not performed since then.

Their instrumental palate consists of vocals, horns, and piano, which might make you think of Weimar-era cabaret, but there's a very rocking, yelling, ranting, zany energy that moves beyond the impeccably mannered expression of Kurt Weill. That is to say: at least from the clips I've heard, it is crazy and weird, and has a dusty 1930s feel crossed with a bit of a ranty early 1980s punk vibe, and I think I like it.

Maestro Subgum's members & alumni have done quite nicely for themselves. Beau O'Reilly and Jenny Magnus founded the Curious Theatre Branch (the group curates Chicago's annual Rhino Fest; Maestro Subgum & the Whole's show will be the closing act of that festival); other members have also been involved with Redmoon Theatre and Mucca Pazza. They also have a Tony-winning alum, since former trombonist Mark Hollman wrote the music and co-wrote the lyrics for Urinetown.

The best interview I can find with Maestro Subgum & the Whole is a 2001 interview with Ira Glass on WBEZ (scroll down to January 19th, grumble about it being a Real Media file, react strangely to numerous mentions of "President-Elect Bush" from just before his inauguration, fast-forward to about 1:00:38). A couple of song clips are included, which should give you a taste of what you might get to experience if you go to see them live. Do you really want to wait another 8 years?

Maestro Subgum plays as part of the 20th Annual Rhino Fest
Sunday, March 1st, 3pm, at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N Western Ave.
Tickets are $12, or pay what you can.
Box office: (773) 296-6024