Cello shots 

Deadweight's 21st century schizoid tunes

Almost everyone, at some point or another, has considered the fun to be had and the fortunes to be made with a time machine at one’s disposal. Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that such machines could actually take you back in time (most theorists agree they couldn’t), and that little mishaps like stepping on a butterfly wouldn’t touch off a chain of chaotic consequences leading to a totalitarian government, like what happened in the Ray Bradbury story A Sound of Thunder.

In fact, let’s keep our fiddlings with the space-time continuum strictly musical so that, in theory, the worst that could happen to anybody is mild embarrassment, like when Michael J. Fox played his Van Halen-style guitar solo at a ’50s prom in Back to the Future. Let’s also say that you can bring some toiletries and personal items with you, like a compact disc player and a couple of CDs, and not have to go naked, like in The Terminator.

Right, then. Now that we have our CD caddy stocked with listening options, where are we going to go and whose gourd are we going to freak with our 21st century schizoid tunes? First of all, I propose that we pay a visit to a couple of famous violin and cello guys in history and, after briefly explaining the properties of electricity and amplification, let them get comfortable before we break out the Deadweight records. Take a chill pill, Corelli. This is gonna screw you all up inside.

What’s up with electric violins? Electric guitars, okay. Classical, flamenco, folk and jazz traditions aside, guitars don’t require much of a leap to reconcile with electricity because we’ve had 50 years to get used to the idea. Electric violins, too. Now there’s an instrument that most people readily associate with classical and folk music but that doesn’t leap to mind right away when we talk about rock. But the idea of an electric violin still has a rock precedent for people with Mahavishnu Orchestra albums in their record collections (or Revenge of the Nerds tapes in their video collections, to stick with the movie reference thing we’ve got going here). But still, it’s hardly the norm.

Now how about an electrified cello? I can’t think of another example of rock cello (besides Apocalyptica, but those were acoustic versions of Metallica). In Deadweight’s case, though, one Rage Against the Machine-style cello (and how often do you get to say that?) might just be enough to constitute its own genre. The trio of San Francisco Conservatory of Music graduates—violinist/vocalist Ben Barnes, cellist Sam Bass, drummer Paulo Baldi—kick up some kind of crazy rock-fusion racket using instruments that most of us—certainly 16th centurions like Corelli and Stradivari—probably assumed weren’t capable of making them. Hop out of the time-pod, Deadweight, and break these 17th century rubes off a chunk.

It’s all in the effects, of course, but still. The trio’s 2002 release, Half-Wit Anthems, makes it plain that a good deal of dismantlement and reconfiguration of the typical guitar/bass/drums scenario went into the arrangements. Bass’ cello stands in for bass and rhythm guitar, fusing the low-end and the midrange into a molten lava mass of Rat-pedal-and-Marshall-amp crunch. Barnes’s violin subs for lead guitar, howling like a banshee and scaling to new heights in blistering arpeggios. Corelli and Stradivari are staring at each other with their jaws hanging down around their knickers. Did we mention we were from the future and not just from Hell? BOO! Ha ha ha!

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