Somerville, Massachusetts — They call it ``bagpipe funk.'' But that's too tame a label for what the Canadian band Rare Air does.
If you close your eyes when they play, you'll swear you're listening to a Watusi drummer do a gig with two Scottish bagpipers and a Harlem bass player. It's the oddest combination of drums, electric bass, and amplified Celtic wind instruments you'll hear this side of the twilight zone.
But when you open your eyes, you see a snare drummer with a shaved head (and bells strapped to his ankles), a hyper-bouncy Japanese bassist, a flutist in rainbow-spattered coveralls, and a bagpiper with a mane of brown hair and blue paint on his face (a pun, no doubt, on an old Druidic custom and on how hard a piper has to blow).
They caper across the stage like acrobatic clowns. They do scissor kicks and sound effects. They make ``mouth music'' (a kind of verbal percussion, because they ``don't sing'') to a tune called ``the jungle reel.'' If Dr. Seuss had a funk band, this would be it.
Although they seem to have more energy than organization, they spin a seamless continuum of rhythm and tonal color. There are few breaks between their numbers: One song folds into another, like waves advancing and receding. They hammer together an eclectic array of musical styles - from 15th-century fauxbourdon harmonies to ``new age'' motifs. But each instrument's voice never blends with the others'. Each holds its own in a fierce, contrapuntal dialogue. The drums move in one direction (toward Kenya, I think), while the bagpipes' tattoo rhythms troop off toward Loch Ness.
If nothing else, these guys overwhelm you with their enthusiasm for the genre they've created. They drew two standing ovations here from an audience that came mostly to hear the other band on the bill.