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Review: Fishtank Ensemble at White Rabbit

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Fishtank Ensembles Ursula Knudson on singing saw.

Fishtank Ensemble, Tonos Triad
White Rabbit Cabaret, Sept. 16
4.5 stars

The art of telling a story without words is not a simple one, but local boys Tonos Triad and traveling songsters Fishtank Ensemble delivered a fine clinic on exactly how to do that and still get the point across.

Tonos Triad played rich, layered material, with more depth than you'd expect from three-piece instrumental ensemble. It’s ideal lounge music (in a non-Vegas sense), the kind that fills up the room but doesn’t drown out conversation.

Fishtank Ensemble was slightly more verbose but still every bit a crew of storytellers. Even their songs with lyrics leaned heavily on the nonverbal aspect, since most of them were in foreign languages but made complete sense nonetheless. One dirge about endless life in prison would have made sense even if they hadn’t explained its meaning beforehand.

Lead singer Ursula Knudson played a handsaw like a cello, creating unearthly sounds that almost made the show worthwhile just on their own.

But it was hardly the only bit of musical genius at play. The ensemble bounces around promiscuously from genre to genre — take a doo-wop Blaxploitation guitar riff that sounded like the theme from Starsky and Hutch if Starsky had worn a flamenco dress and cowboy boots.

They call it Serbian rockabilly meets gypsy jazz, which simultaneously tells you everything you need to know and proves that music really is on the verge of running out of genres. The band members come from all over the world, with enormous experience as traveling musicians, and it shows — their greatest gift is perhaps their ability to connect with every member of the audience as if they were the only ones there.

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