December 9, 2012 - 6:27pm
BY ADAM DEPOLLO
It was difficult to leave the Ark Saturday night without the impression of having experienced something woefully absent from most live performances these days.
The Connecticut-based Caravan of Thieves — comprised of husband and wife guitarists/singers Fuzz and Carrie Sangiovanni, bassist Brian Anderson and violinist Ben Dean — brought folk and pop music rooted in the gypsy vernacular of Django Reinhardt to the historic venue. The set included original songs from their new album The Funhouse, as well as covers of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and “Devil Medley,” which included “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Charlie Daniels and “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones.
It isn’t their gypsy style, however, that sets Caravan of Thieves apart from other bands out there today. They aren’t the first band to play this kind of music. Hell, they aren’t even the first band to do gypsy covers of ’80s songs (which translate surprisingly well to the new style).
If anything, their music seems a bit derivative — it blends clichés from the gypsy medium with Stomp-esque percussion. The band’s talent doesn’t set them apart either. Their level of musicianship certainly isn’t astonishing, though violinist Ben Dean clearly knows his way around a fiddle.
No, what sets Caravan of Thieves apart from other groups is the atmosphere they bring to their shows, particularly in an intimate setting like the Ark. They drew the audience into the performance with hilarious acting, eccentric dialogue, a Madlib-like fill in the blank story session and ample opportunities for the whole room to sing along. At no point was this skill more apparent than during the closing number, “Raise the Dead”, during which the band unplugged, walked into the center of the crowd and gathered the entire audience around them to sing, stomp and clap along with the musicians.
The sense of togetherness by way of music — a feeling absent from the increasingly distant relationship of performer and audience in much of modern music—brought about memories of the folk revival of the ’60s, attested to by the number of middle-aged Ark Society members in the audience: people who had been there when they were in college to see Joan Baez or Pete Seeger at the height of their popularity.
Caravan of Thieves reminded us of the simple beauty of a guitar playing chords along to a chorus of voices. Without a hint of pretentiousness, they reminded us that what makes live music good is not the skill of the musicians or the originality of the songs, but the sincerity of the performers and the genuineness of their connection with the crowd.