The Slambovian Circus of Dreams flies its freak flag at the Wheeler Opera House
If You Go …
What: The Slambovian Circus of Dreams
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Saturday, March 12, 8 p.m.
How much: $45
Tickets: Wheeler box office; www.aspenshowtix.com
Quirky, fiercely independent and joyfully beyond categorization, the members of the Slambovian Circus of Dreams have done their best to scare off mainstream interest and record label suits over the past two decades. But along the way, the band has earned a cult following with electrifying live shows that blend the avant-garde and the exotic with Americana, folk country, eclectic instrumentation and other-worldly anthems often compared with Pink Floyd.
The Slambovian live show is more experience than concert. They may be best known for their annual Halloween shows — dubbed “The Grand Slambovian Extraterrestrial Hillbilly-Pirate Ball” — which take over venues in both New York City and London every fall. They had been slated for a similar freak flag-flying holiday free-for-all on New Year’s Eve in Aspen at the Wheeler Opera House, but that got canceled due to the theater’s renovation delays. This weekend the Slambovians finally invade with a Saturday night set at the Wheeler.
“The band is pretty non-linear, there’s some British invasion stuff and some Hank Williams. …We’ll bring some of the trippier Floyd material,” front man Joziah Longo said earlier this winter in a phone interview from home in the Hudson Highlands. “We’re always on the cusp of a lot of different things.”
The band played Aspen once before, in 2008, when it was known as Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams (the band has slightly changed its name periodically throughout the years).
Grand theatricality and a sense of whimsy not only power the band’s acclaimed live show but seem to inform their whole being. In Longo’s lyrics, and in conversation, it can be hard to tell where sincerity ends and where messing with us begins. Currently, Longo said, they’re “working on a couple new albums.”
One of them is an ambitious-sounding project that combines traditional Chinese music and American pop, attempting to find harmony between them as a means for bringing the two world powers together. It started, like a lot of Longo’s songwriting, he said, in a dream.
“I had this elaborate dream about riding a dragon back to China, right into the politburo,” he explained. “The dragon spoke and said, ‘America is your friend.’ They repeated what the dragon said, and the dragon said to me, ‘Everything that you’re doing is peripheral.’”
The message he took away was that the mission of music — and creativity in general — is to foster understanding across cultures. With that in mind, he hummed out the first of 10 songs he’s written combining the Chinese and American traditions.
“It’s like, ‘Let’s try and share what we’ve got between countries and create world peace, which isn’t that hard,’” he said. “You just need to unravel the knucklehead dogmatic stuff.”
Given Longo and his band’s ambitious vision and belief in the purity of art, it’s no surprise that they’ve spent their career recording independently without a label. They began turning record deals in the mid-1990s, when Longo and Slambovian accordion player/vocalist Tink Lloyd were in the prog-rock band The Ancestors. The pair, now married, were spooked by the commercial attention and took two years off from making music — they headed to a community college in upstate New York to study art. From there, they formed the Slambovian Circus of Dreams in 1998 (the name, Longo said, was originally intended to scare off record labels).
“For years we were courted by industry in many of its costumes, but we would never do a label deal,” Longo said. “It was more paranoia than anything else.”
They softened their stance a bit two years ago, when they released the greatest hits compilation “A Box of Everything” through Sony Red. The idea of a greatest hits album, for a band that’s never quite had a hit, was amusing enough for Longo and his bandmates to go along with, he said.
“It was a joke to me, because nobody knows our songs,” he said. “But I wanted to loosen up, because we’ve been so viciously independent.”
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