Hmph! Tremendous!

The Humphries, Mercury Lounge, NYC, 11/3/95

by Tabitha Rasa

An eccentric mélange of French folk and American intellectual country rock, my favorite band The Humphries combines accordion, Venezuelan cuatro, acoustic and electric guitars, a phenomenal rhythm section, and a nutty sense of humor. They perform folk selections and original material in English, French, Spanish, and who knows what all other Romance languages. Very entertaining. I've now seen them twice and their songs have fully wormed their gnarly heavenly way under my skin.

The first time I saw them was while I was waiting to see Psychic Penguin, ex-Del Fuego Adam Roth's supercalifragilistic Magical Mystery Tour effort. The Humphries opened up and I was smitten; I bought their tape right away. (The tape is fine as a memento, but the band is much more fun live. I can only hope that, with better production, their next recording will have more energy.) I got on their mailing list and waited for my schedule to open up so I could see them again.

Finally, last Friday night I shelled out the unprecedented sum of eight bucks with nary the blink of an eye (despite my tightwad-ity in clubs), knowing the show would be worth it. The band has a lot of fun on stage, and their mood is contagious. I was sitting next to a stern bleach-blond hipster who, by the middle of the set, was exchanging laughing glances with me over goofy shit that the band's "mascot" was doing onstage.

It usually takes me a few takes to start hearing a band's message. After playing their tape several times, I realized The Humphries' lyrics are actually pretty noir or even kind of gross. A sample line from Peaches advises, "Look at her dress:/The dress conceals a girdle/And a host of women's problems underneath." I'm not sure I needed to know that. Yet, like most of their tunes, the song is rapturous in tone, despite being about a dead dog that, before its recent death, had been the saving grace of a loveless marriage.

That's typical material for The Humphries, a local band here in NYC. Another favorite of mine is Brooklyn, which I think is about a reviled landlady who gets shot and dies on the street in my once (and future, if I'm not careful) beloved borough.

They're fronted by Rita Crisafi, a charismatic alto diva with a solid gold set of pipes, and Olivier Conan, the cuatro player from France. His countryman, Vincent Douglas, provides a respectable presence on lead guitar. The avuncular accordionist lending the ambiance is Richard Toglia. And holding down the fort is the most energetic drummer I've ever seen, transplanted Texan Steve Calhoon, and solid bass man David Hartheimer.

I definitely recommend trying to see them if you can. Although their stage presence suggests they're ready for bigger time, at this point the band is strictly playing venues in NYC. (Call (212) 946-1054 for club dates; they play at such varied spots as the Knitting Factory, the Cooler, and Maxwell's.) They're currently putting the finishing touches on a new CD and working on getting it funded; look for it in early 1996. For the impatient, get their current tape. Send a request plus $5 to:

The Humphries
c/o O. Conan
633 Tenth Street, #2RR
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Happy listening.

Copyright 1995
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