I reimagine the high energy, explosive surprise of the circus from childhood, the euphoric feeling of discovering something first-hand and the uninhibited rush of pure joy felt on the last day of school.
Together, twisted, layered and complicated, these feelings inhabit each song and individual performance of the hypnotizing, highly glittered, bohemian folk punk rock band Bella’s Bartok, of Northampton.
Bella’s Bartok’s six members include: Asher Putnam (lead vocals), Jesse Putnam (accordion, mandolin, guitar, trumpet and vocals), Chris “Fancy” Kerrigan (guitar, clarinet, vocals), Dan Niederhauser (bass and vocals) and Crisco (drums). The group came together in 2008, at the University of Massachusetts after being inspired by fellow musicians, former band members and friends to do their thing.
And the rest is history.
Now Bella’s Bartok travels all over the country performing exuberant shows with the help of ultra-glittered hair, multicolored lights, glow in the dark face paint and smoke – transforming the stuffy idea of a three-piece suit to solidify that they’ll produce an unforgettably fun show with a Balkan feel. The band takes cues from folk music of the region.
The band drew the inspiration for their unusual name from Bela Bartok, the famous Romanian composer born in 1891.
Dan Wolovick, founder of the Canadian live music organization Two Way Monologues, calls their shows, “about as much fun as you can have with your pants on.”
The bands newest, and fifth album, “Changer Yer Life,” was released on March 11, and debuted on March 26, at the CD release at the Pearl Street Nigh Club in Northampton.
Their performance paid tribute to both their decidedly bizarre music style, and the Jewish holiday Purim, which typically involves celebratory masquerading, by having a themed concert of their own.
As expected, the venue erupted into a dance floor with fans of all ages, backgrounds and life travels, releasing all inhibitions and simply enjoying the music.
Outside, I noticed one woman proclaim that she planned to take her earrings off once Bella’s Bartok began, in fear that she would lose them while dancing.
“Change Yer Life” was the band’s first self-produced album produced at the Amity House in Amherst thanks to the expertise of band member Chris Kerrigan, who has been working on his recording engineer skills both on Bella’s Bartok’s music and the music of other local artists. Kerrigan seems to be a natural at record producing, showing real talent.
According to the press release, band member Jesse Putnam spoke of the album saying it “contains the songs and sounds as they are meant to be heard; the tunes refined to reflect their individual intentions,” a work that was created in efforts to truly showcase their “pop gold klezmer punk sound.”
“Change Yer Life” is comprised of 14 contagiously emotional songs. When asked over email about the nature of the songwriting, the band said that the songs were written as “a back and forth between all members, as each knows their instruments and how best they should fit in any given piece,” crediting the “kernel of [most] songs” to Asher.
The band’s previous albums include: “Don’t be Yourself,” “We Are Not a Cult,” “These Are Not Our Arms” and “The Bag End March.”
Their single “Ramona,” my favorite from the album, was released early as a prelude to “Change Yer Life.”
On first listen it reminded me of the kind of power ballad one would blast after an upsetting, identity threatening revelation that required a solid reminder of one’s coolness, control and ability to sing in the shower.
As a final consensus, at the risk of incorrectly comparing two genres, the band’s energy reminded me of The 1975, with their own elements of theatrics, strong instrumentals and utter surprise that make them difficult to easily quantify or compare with other groups and genres of music.
Bella’s Bartok is truly one of a kind.
Gina Lopez can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @gina_lopezz.