Fishead Stew is back, another resurrection of the bluegrass/swing/folk/what-have-you band.
Recently, at the Boiler Room, it was Birch Kuch on the clarinet leading with a Buddy Holly tune which fell into a klezmar roma lead with Amelia Slobogean sending her fiddle all over in sound and scope.
Kuch, Rick Sward, Slobogean, Matt King and guest mandolin player Bob Hamilton showed the diversity and strength of the musicians in Whitehorse.
Fishead Stew is no normal four-piece band. With Slobogean on the fiddle and Kuch giving a filling sound with the clarinet, King on standup bass and Rick Sward on guitar, FHS produces a much different sound than the average bluegrass band.
FHS is a band that can’t make up its mind if its members are going their separate ways or head down the road to play another gig. They have broken up four or five times and yet they keep coming back together and creating music. It does help they are all good friends.
A bluegrass tune leads to an original Celtic tune that takes place in the Takhini Valley and seeks a space that leads to peace of mind. There is a six-song EP the group recorded down in Atlin, BC for sale … though only when you can find the band or Kuch.
Over 50 people came to partake in the eclectic style that leaps from klezmar to roma to northern blues … sometimes in the same tune. That standup bass lurks along in the background never really stepping forward on a solo, yet King can be found in some of the best bands the Yukon has to offer. Kuch is another of that lot, he can also be found in the local jazz trio when he isn’t working that day job or being a session musician. Slobogean saws the fiddle, contributing to vocals and generally makes the stage come alive with the sound of her fiddle, from the moan of the blues to the soft sound of a love ballad. Sward, songwriter/guitar player, leads with much of the vocals and you can tell when he is really focused on his licks: his tongue slips out as he tries to focus.
Hamilton, of the band Hungry Hill, dropped in with his mandolin to play a few tunes filling the sound of the band put even more. There is a special sound the mandolin gives to so many songs; it acts as a snare giving that sound a real punch to drive into the bar. By the end of the 11 o’clock set, the bar was filled with only a few empty tables, not a bad draw for a Sunday night for the Boiler Room. Then, all of a sudden, Hamilton and Slobogean started to trade licks, starting a conversation with their instruments where one would speak in a riff and the other would come back at it with an additional riff. Kuch jumped in and the three of them held a
conversation which totally delighted the ear. The smiles on the face of the band members reflected the personal joy they had in the jam.
What is so impressive with this band is they know the roots of their music. Their album collections are legendary. They have such a voracious appetite for music, wine, wo/man and song … which can be changed to wine, wo/men and another stack of old vinyl to go through to see what treasure is there.
A strong stage presence, excellent musical skills and a broad range of knowledge make this band a perennial Yukon favourite.
Sward has a stash of songs both traditional and modern, but his love of traditional drinking songs from around the world gives any sober man a good reason for another libation.