So... Black Beard's Ball.
Overall Analysis: All-round, I had a fairly good time. Band was good. Drinks were decent. Venue was kind of cool.
Venue: The Oakland Metro Operahouse.
Kind of a cool place. Basically a warehouse just a few blocks off the Broadway strip in Oakland. There are two bars (one in the main room and one in a room all to itself) and drinks weren't terribly expensive (about $4 for mixers and scotch) though the selection left a bit to be desired. The main room is basically a big black-box theater.
The Crowd: Meh. There were some solid goth folk among them. And a lot of steampunks and a smattering of pirates, of course. And a lot of non-scene folk, too. Anyplace else, I'd call them tourists, but I suspect that their presence may have something to do with Abney Park's fairly wide fan-base itself.
It was also a little thick with people. There wasn't a whole lot of room for dancing and most of that was taken up by the fairly frantic swing-gothers.
Ultimately, though, they certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves and were polite enough when they inevitably bumped into you.
Vendor Room: The entry room was mostly for socializing and a couple of (rather over-priced) vendors. I wasn't terribly impressed by the selection and, though I expected vendoring with the steampunk theme, I was sort of disappointed in the lack of actual steampunk stuff they were selling. The whole selection was a couple artists and a clothing seller that seemed to specialize mostly in extremely expensive (though admittedly nice-looking) gothic, punk, and steampunk-ish belts.
The Mid-Show Variety Performance: In between sets by Abney Park, there were a couple of variety-show mini-performances.
The fire-juggler/breather and an extremely skilled hula-hoop dancer were both fairly awesome
But the set that stood out to me was The Standfire Collective - Two extremely lovely belly-dancers (Lisa Hyde and Unsinkable Molly), dancing to mixed goth-pop and techno-swing. Now, I've had the misfortune to see a lot of really bad bellydancing over the years (seriously, between being a pagan and an ex-Renaissance-Faire monkey, we're talking A LOT). These ladies, though, were not among that ill-favored crowd. Their movements were synchronized, elegant, and their hips moved without their upper torsos being shimmied to distract from bad footwork.
In other words, they danced like professionals.
Also... let's be honest: they were both really hot.
The Unsinkable Molly, later joined Abney Park on stage for parts of their second act.
If you get a chance to see the Standfire Collective, or either of the two lovely ladies that make it up,
The Headline Performance: Abney Park
Never having heard the band before, myself, I wasn't sure what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised at what I heard.
Imagine old 19th Century sea-shanties of loss, public drunkenness, adventure, and life on the ocean (or, in this case, the sky), with a slightly industrial beat, synth instead of pipe-organs (though the latter might be more apropos), and just a faint touch of what I'd call Tom Waits-ishness (a lot of their songs remind me of the slightly surreal themes of pieces like "Singapore" and "Cemetery Polka" from the Rain Dogs album)... And you probably still can't exactly imagine what I'm describing.
Their music, whether properly called steampunk or not (for they are neither steam nor all that punk), is charmingly idiosyncratic and defiant of classification. And this is not a bad thing.
Using a variety of instruments (synthesizer and guitars, of course, but also accordion, mandolin, violin, hand-drums, and, hell, even a banjo), they manage to come off feeling a little like folk music but with a lot of metal and industrial sensibilities. Actually... come to think of it, a lot like Jethro Tull's combination of folk and hard rock in Crest of a Knave.
But their sound isn't the only part of their charm. Oh no! They have the steampunk aesthetic to play with... though, in their case, it feels a lot more like steampunk's version of the cybergoth. Steamer-goth, maybe? Or perhaps more accurately, Babbage-goth?
I'm getting a sense of a lot of cross-genre bending-blending-and-pollination in every aspect of who they are.
All that said - I bought their two latest albumsÆther Shanties and The End of Days after the show and have played the ever-loving shit out of them in the days since.
I think we can count that as an endorsement on my behalf.