New York City is famously a melting pot of different cultures, as is Dengue Fever’s music, so you’d think the globally-inspired band would be a big draw here. Not the case on this co-headlining bill with Syrian singer Omar Souleyman. Webster Hall (capacity: 1,400) was about two-thirds full by the end of Dengue’s set, with an older crowd than expected.
Live the six-piece band (unfortunately their horn players weren’t with them) capture the fun “’60s a-go-go” vibe of their records. They got off to a tentative start though, opening up with a version of “Only A Friend” which wasn’t working. Perhaps the band too were taken back by how empty the club was. Whatever the cause, from that point on they started to gel more and more with each passing song. Lead singer Chhom Minol’s vocals sounded great, singing in both Khmer and English, but she was a little reserved on stage – which is surprising for someone wearing a sparkly lime-green dress. This left bass-player Senon Williams to do most of the crowd-motivation work, which he breezed through with an energetic barrage of jumps, pogoing, dancing, and hand-claps. He also appeared to be about eight feet tall (especially standing next to the diminutive Minol) and at times I wasn’t sure if he was going to play the bass or drive the lane for a lay-up.
The highlight of the show came towards the end when they ripped into “One Thousand Tears Of A Tarantula”, their most psychedelic song, featuring a relentless drum groove from drummer Paul Smith and all manner of weedy sounds emanating from brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman’s respective guitar and keyboards. The other highlight came when they covered songs from the much loved Cambodian Rocks compilation of rare garage pop songs from the ’60s and ’70s. Those songs were compact, energetic and great to actually hear played live – something I never thought would happen when I picked the album up a decade ago.
All in all, a Dengue Fever show promises to be a good time, and I wouldn’t hesitate to see them again. As for headliner Omar Souleyman, I had to leave before he took the stage, but friends who stayed were less than enamored with his Syrian dance music.
Here’s a video from the show (which I didn’t shoot):