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Sunt Eu, Un Haïdock

While most people who know TARAF DE HAÏDOUKS realize that the band's name means "a band of honorable rogues," the word Haïdouk has taken over a special place in the vocabulary of my closest friends.

Most of my buddies are Internet junkies whose love of the absurd and disdain of productivity forces them to spend a good portion of their work day trolling sites like PORTAL OF EVIL. During one of these excursions out into the electronic ether, one of them downloaded a clip called "Numa Numa." This little video shows a particularly chubby and bespectacled kid from New Jersey rocking out on his webcam while lip-synching to a Romanian techno tune called "Dragostea Din Tei." The first line of the tune (delivered with a wink and an absolutely fabulous hand gesture) goes like this: "Sunt eu, un Haïdouk."

Since the rotund singer entered our lives, this little piece of Romanian has been incorporated seamlessly into the local vernacular. Like "Smurf," you can drop it most places in a sentence: either as a noun ("She's a real Haïdouk"), a verb ("I took it in for service, but got Haïdouked on the bill") or an exclamation ("Haïdouk! I hit my head on the toilet!"). The phrase "Sup Haïdouk" also rolls surprisingly well off a slurring tongue.

Like its definition in Romanian, the Santa Cruz definition of Haïdouk has come to mean brigand, but the lovable roguish kind. More drunken pirate than street thug, Haïdouk is all about the impression of skuzziness rather than the real deal.

However, upon stumbling into the Rio with my neighborhood butcher (a local Haïdouk of the highest quality), we could see that we were confronted with the real deal. No drunken churlishness we could muster could hope to compare with this posse.

The real Taraf de Haïdouks commanded the stage with an aura of swaggering, old-school masculinity. Whether it was the singer with his vest pulled out and over his bulging belly, the silk-shirted accordion player or the sweat-stained bald bassist, this was a group that could have rolled with SINATRA. I am sure they know the Romanian words for both "dame" and "broad."

The group plays with an intensity and attitude that is so cocky and so ritualized in its presentation that it's charming. Tempos were blistering, solos were displays of virility and all the singing was accompanied with dramatic, nearly operatic hand gestures. It's a group that performs as if were perpetually backing up a bar fight.

Proving that the hammer dulcimer is a dramatically underutilized percussion instrument, the group used one of these awesome contraptions along with a bassist to act as a rhythm section. Solos were accomplished by two singers, a pennywhistle player, two violinists and a clarinetist. There was also a pair of absolutely amazing accordion players. I think that's how it added up, but it was hard to get a head count as members were always filing offstage to chat up the ladies and sneak smokes.

It stunning to realize how many different genres of shit-kicking music there are out there. But despite regional and stylistic differences, whether you're dealing with RAY WYLIE HUBBARD, the POGUES or Taraf de Haïdouks, there are a few measures to take to ensure that you get home safely from the show without being lacerated. Bring your own flask, memorize the exits and keep your girlfriend well out of reach of the band.

Gitmo on Church Street

The contemporary music love-in at the Civic in celebration of TERRY RILEY's 70th birthday was a celebrity-filled event. However, the collective star power of the composer himself, ZAKIR HUASSAIN, and the KRONOS QUARTET was unable to keep people in their seats for the entire performance. Clocking in at over four hours, this was one of the longest shows I have ever attended. I've seen quicker performances from PHISH.

Long sets are no stranger to contemporary classical concerts. Four hours is barely enough time to get through the first movement of a MORTON FELDMAN string quartet. In the words of my brother: "It ain't art unless it hurts."

Despite the admirable sentiment of this axiom, it might be a good idea for event organizers to take into account those mortals who filled up the seats inside the Civic. Three hundred minutes in a wood-backed chair from the '50s might actually be one of those "stress positions" our attorney general is so fond of.

Peter Koht

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From the May 11-18, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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