Celebration vocalist Katrina Ford wishes a violent death upon the era of glum audience members motionlessly watching glum bands with glum arms crossed. "I want the line between the people on stage and the people watching to be blurred," she says. "When people on both sides cross the lines and forget their assigned roles, they forget who they are - you've forgotten your problems, you've forgotten the world, and abandoned yourself to the music and the moment." The Celebration's aggressive assault on conventional show-going protocol has gone a long way towards granting Katrina's own wish. Over a year's worth of thrilling performances of ever-escalating quality, they've delivered a cavalcade of inspired, sincere, mysterious moments which has justifiably earned the band a rep as one of the best live shows in the country - the kind of band about which word of mouth travels from person to person in hushed, reverent tones. On paper, the Baltimore-based trio's songs suggest an ecstatic collision between the dark-tinged no-wave of the early '80s undergrounds of New York or London and the inspired meldings of art-rock and gypsy-folk explored by both Dog Faced Hermans and The Ex's two records with cellist Tom Cora. But live, these songs become tarmac from which the band takes flight, transforming the clubs, galleries, and warehouses in which they play into aural temples where musicians and audience break bread together. "I hope that going to one of our shows is a way for people to release themselves from all the darkness of their day," says drummer David Bergander. "That's what we're doing." The galvanizing presence of Katrina plays a key role in this emotional release. The singer's staggering vocal range alone can keep listeners ears' rapt, traveling across registers from spastic, guttural growls to gentle passages of melodic purity. With eyes closed, hers is a voice that has a lot to say about gender roles in music at the same time as it blurs, blends, and breaks them. But Katrina's show(wo)manship takes things to the next level. Quick to abandon stages to roam the rooms in which Celebration plays, Katrina confronts and embraces spectators like an exorcising hybrid of Iggy Pop and The Reverend Al Green; as the sea of people parts to allow her passage, pockets of spontaneous dancing break out in her wake. Meanwhile, back on stage, David pounds out Afro-inflected rhythms on his kit like a man possessed, while remarkable multi-instrumentalist Sean Antanaitis deftly completes the rhythm section by moving his nimble feet over Moog bass pedals, at the same time as his hands alternate between laying down haunting passages on both his Wurlitzer electric piano and Hammond Organ and piercing guitar lines on his lap-balanced Guitorgan. As a whole comprised of these dynamic parts, The Celebration grafts onto the rock form the concern for creating holy musical moments shared by artists like Albert Ayler and Sister Rosetta Thorpe. This same cathartic, transforming energy flows throughout their self-titled debut record on the storied 4AD label. The record came about during a month spent locked down in Brooklyn's Headgear studios during the brutally cold month of February 2005. "We showed up around one o'clock the first night, and loaded our stuff in with the idea that after unpacking we'd sleep and get to work in the morning," says David. "But as we set things up to get that sound we like, we ended up getting excited and staying up all night recording." That energy never abated. "We put in 14 to 16 hours a day - for a month making this record," remembers Katrina. While they were technically staying for the month in a pad three blocks away, they essentially lived in the studio while they recorded, ordering in all their meals as they perfected the eleven electric songs that comprise the album. "We lived inside the music, without any distractions," says David. TV on the Radio's David Sitek, who the band refers to as their "Godfather," produced the sessions, as well as laying down additional guitar, electronic texture, and backing vocals from himself and his bandmates. Chris Coady, who Katrina terms a "sonic genius," engineered the sessions, making the record truly a family affair: while Brooklyn-based now, both Sitek and Coady are former Baltimoreans and long-time friends of the band. For the Celebration, their record represents the fruition of what they've been working towards their entire musical careers. Sean and Katrina have now played together for nearly fifteen years - since their legendary early-to-mid-'90s, Ann Arbor-based no-wave/noise-rock outfit Jaks. And with David in Love Life . It's all come together on The Celebration. While the record has hues that recall certain vibrations of classic 4AD bands, more than anything it captures a band shedding all preconceived notions about about post-punk songwriting and performance like so much dead skin. Witness the gorgeous melody lines of "China" giving way to swellings of frenzied vocal force; the tingly, dissonant electronic break-down of "Foxes" ceding power to Sean's scythe-like guitar; and David's polyrhythmic attack throughout, channeling the band's shared love affair with the African beats they've soaked up from '70s Nigerian Afrobeat and Ethiopian R+B. From a city currently renowned for its poetic mysticism (Lungfish), transgressive live shows (Oxes), intricate arrangements (More Dogs) and earth-shaking beats (Rod Lee) comes a band possessing all of these special qualities without sounding a bit like anyone else around. Indeed, with their debut album, The Celebration may just have crafted not only the watershed recording of their own musical careers, but also the Baltimore music scene's most essential and thrilling document yet.




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