CocoRosie played Whelan’s way back in December 2005, it was at the zenith of the freak-folk movement and it didn’t come much freakier than the sisters Casady (Bianca and Sierra have a back story that reads like Disney’s Parent Trap as written by Lemony Snicket after a heavy weekend at Burning Man). Half a decade ago their stage show consisted of little more than their friend Shannon, three mics and a music box. Sitting centre stage of Dublin’s Button Factory is that same music box. Sitting around it are drums, a harp, keyboard, harpsichord, drum machine, a clarinet, an assortment of children’s toys and a polished grand piano. There’s been some expansion going on in the world of CocoRosie but the stage setup was not the first clue.
The queue for the show was out the door and down the street; a fabulous who’s who of freaks, geeks, hipsters, hippies, quares, squares – ok, not too many of those – and whole lot of dressing up. When did this CocoRosie fanaticism start? And what’s with the face-painting?
The latter is somewhat answered when CocoRosie and band arrive on stage. There’s a circus-like theatrics to their appearance, with the pianist and percussionist sporting some clowny-eye doodling – but the audience’s eyes are on Coco (Bianca) and Rosie (Sierra), looking like a pair of malapert Jacks just out of their box (mighty purdy ones at that). With just a brief aperitif of music box tinkering, the cocktail that makes up the sound of CocoRosie is served – and it packs a punch; classical piano, hip-hop beats, rapping, operatics and freestyle beat-boxing. It’s a bewildering assault of the senses and it works so well.
Bianca’s old-school jazzy rasp is beguiling on -Undertaker’, accompanied by her sister on harpsichord with the voice of a siren. It’s a transcendent piece, ‘The aching starlit / the singing sinew / the wining ghost / brutal window / Snowy harlot / Chaffing mine eyes the sun paper kiss’ paints a truly whimsical picture ‘¦ about something eh, truly whimsical?
There’s a real feel of performance art about -The Moon Asked The Crow’. Sierra’s classical voice over creaking rhythms and farmyard noises is clashing but enthralling. She uses a vocoder in the lead up to -K-Hole’, all over toy instruments and Bianca’s spoken vocals. Though this may seem gimmicky and infantile, CocoRosie have surpassed the novelty act tag. OK, songs like -Hopskotch’ fuel the cutesy oddity factor, but they are fun with a genuine celebration of child-like wonderment.
-Smokey Taboo’, ‘Lemonade’ and the title song from the upcoming Grey Oceans album affirm some forceful song-writing and innovative productions. Gael Rakotondrabe’s piano playing is spell-binding and percussion throughout the set is original and mesmeric. Tez, beatbox extraordinaire, wowed the crowd – bringing roars of rapture with solo slot of freestyling.
There were so many conflicting things about CocoRosie, this was probably the initial premise of their act; classical vs street, opera vs rap. But its not so much a conflict now, -Animal’, which is stirring and mournful sits with ease along side, -Turn Me On’, Santigold-like pop. Things really go pop for the encore, or rather banging techno. Their old band mate Shannon joins them on stage for some birthday jubilations and some pounding -Tranny Power’. The Button Factory erupts in carousing madness, partying with CocoRosie and family – a family that will continue to expand with phenomenal shows like this one.
Photos: Damien McGlynn