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Putting Up a Good Front

Rebecca's Mask
Photo by Dave Lepori

Rebecca's Mask goes electric at Club Kaos

By Nicky Baxter

Heaven's hard edge. That's about as accurate a phrase one can come up with to describe the music of folk/rock group Rebecca's Mask. Since its emergence in the early '90s, the quartet has been having it both ways, performing plugged and de-plugged.

I'd seen them strum and sing on the quiet side on a previous occasions, but while her bandmates were far from slouches, I was most impressed by vocalist Rebecca Reece's impossibly pure soprano.

Solid as it was, the musical accompaniment played second fiddle to that extraordinary voice. On the acoustic side, Rebecca ruled, but would her reign end in an electric firestorm? I wondered, watching the band set up for its Dec. 20 show at Club Kaos.

As it turned out, the electric Rebecca's Mask set (extralong thanks to a last-minute no-show by headliner Squash the Fly) ripped it up far more than any acoustic show I'd witnessed in the past. In effect, Reece shared power with her cohorts, guitarist Greg Menacho, bassist Kevin Mendoza and drummer Norman Plischke.

The Mask was so loud in fact, I was afraid the wispy singer wouldn't be able to cut it. I was wrong. The juxtaposition of Reece's idiosyncratic, wounded warbling and the muscular instrumentation was compelling, rather like observing the yin-and-yang dialectic worked out musically.

Performed with wood and strings, tunes like "For Amy" and "Nothing's Wrong" possess a fragile beauty; tonight those same songs assumed the kind of heft the hardest rockophiles could get with. Most good pop music (as opposed to, say, straight folk music), is measured by the beat; it's got to hit you where you can feel it, and rhythm players Mendoza and Plischke grooved without pity.

On the lyrically ethereal "Cool Air Rises," for instance, Plischke's brutally efficient drumming kept things from floating into the mystic. In fact, for the first few numbers, he all but drowned out his bandmates with his testosterone-fueled pummeling.

Mendoza's bass playing on the other hand managed to be both solid and subtle, an equally foundational component of the group's pulse maintenance.

But if Mendoza and Plischke supplied the hammer, it was Menacho's plangent ax that set off sparks. This was accomplished not with lengthy, histrionic solos; in fact, there were no stupid stage tricks and (too) few solos.

Instead, Menacho fashioned mood music. On "For Amy," for instance, his guitar carved out a wonderfully empathetic sonic frame for Reece's plaintive cry with shimmering crystal tears. "Better Day" found the guitarist extracting a low-intensity storm of feedback from his instrument.

"White Rabbit," a concert staple, has endured a few permutations, ranging from the folkish to quasi-rockin'. At Club Kaos, Menacho led the group through the heaviest version witnessed by this writer. But even here, Menacho exercised restraint, fleshing out eerie Middle Eastern patterns only hinted at in the original.

Interestingly, his playing relies less on simple chordal structure than your average rock-guitar guy, but then Menacho's not an average rocker. Nor is Rebecca's Mask in any way an ordinary group.

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