When the dirge trio Elegy ca. 1923 took the stage late Thursday night for a Thanksgiving concert at the Black Cat, the crowd was as sparsely packed as the band’s meandering, minimalist music. It wasn’t the first time: At Elegy’s previous show at the club, the band had played the post-headliner crowd slot at a spoken-word gig by beat-lit-scene hanger-on Jim Carroll. The after-dinner holiday crowd, however, was considerably more appreciative of Elegy’s restrained rock.
“We’re a pretty quiet band, and I guess we figured maybe it would be good digesting music,” jokes bassist Eric Bruns. Because of the band’s all too subtle nature and the composition of its crowd, the jukebox at the bar next door nearly drowned its music out whenever the door opened. “Elegy seems to just fall into playing these gigs where it’s obvious nobody is going to be able to come see us,” says Bruns. He doesn’t seem particularly concerned about it.
Specializing in such nonchalance, the trio features both Bruns and longtime D.C. music man Bernie Wandel on bass, with Dorothy Geller’s acoustic guitar and serenely whispered vocals stretching out the frequency range. Elegy’s songs throw out music theory and pop sensibility in favor of creating sounds that sound good when placed up against other sounds.
“For the Thanksgiving show, we decided to push the air around and be really atmosphericwe’d just gotten this huge new bass cabinet and wanted to see what it could do,” says Bruns. “You get really disconcerted when you’re playing the kind of music we play and there’s these big bursts of air coming out of the amps against your back.” Onstage, Wandel is rigged to a well-managed collection of effects pedals, and he begins songs by fiddling with his bass until it elicits a suitably interesting amount of feedback. When he pushes it slightly too far into horror-film spook-music territory, he gets some “evil warlord” heckling from a friend in the crowd. He has the good humor to take it in stride.
“We’ve come to rely a lot on pedals and echo loops to try to make the basses sound like different instruments,” explains Bruns, who also plays clarinet on several of the band’s newer songs. Elegy has a three-song EP slated for January release from Apollo Records, as well as a forthcoming LP produced by Geoff Turner at WGNS Studios. (Turner also plays piano and organ on the record.) “We’re very wary of the stigma attached to other bands with two bassistswe don’t want to be like Spinal Tap, playing ‘Big Bottom’ or whatever with five bassists,” Bruns says. “That’s partly why I feel relatively liberated playing clarinet.”Colin Bane