During the past few weeks, I've been hearing a lot about this band called My Wooden Leg, though I couldn't seem to catch it live. The band played the most recent Good Show, but I overslept and missed it. Then it played the Mambo's Webcast, but on a day I wasn't there. I looked the band up online and someone had erroneously labeled it a country-and-Western band. With a name like that, though, I had to go find out for myself.
This was my first trip to the Capital Bar, and -- I gotta say -- I was pleasantly surprised. It's a cool place to see a show. It has this awesome open-air deck upstairs, an outdoor patio area approximately the size of the national debt and a second bar called the Back House (where smoking is permitted). Other than the purple stage lighting and the lack of chilled Red Bull, I had no complaints. I snagged a comfortable place near the stage and watched as My Wooden Leg set up.
At first glance, I was afraid this was another "sing through your nose" and pretend you are in O Brother, Where Art Thou roots band. But then they tore into a song with Romanian lyrics and punchy, punky instrumentals, and I realized this was a different kind of musical critter altogether.
" Papusa is Romanian for doll," the band's frontman and founder, Michael Maftean, explained to me, about the track in question. "Whether you take it metaphorically or literally, it's about this weird obsession with a doll. This guy, he builds a house for it, he paints her face, and she sleeps in his shoe. Those are the lyrics to it, if they were in English.
"That's why I don't sing them in English," he added.
Maftean, who also plays guitar, is the son of Romanian immigrants. His band has a Gypsy/folk/rock thing going on, reminiscent of the Gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. At times, though, you can hear echoes of a Dick Dale-style surfer sound. It's a delightful combination, and a flat-out blast to watch. The bass and backing vocals of Jacob Martinez, and drums by Joshua Jones round out the trio perfectly.
While My Wooden Leg performed about a dozen originals (as well as original arrangements of more traditional songs), the three-hour set also featured a number of recognizable covers. The band did a compelling version of Strange Brew, a not-so-great version of Mississippi Queen, a Led Zeppelin song I didn't know the name of (and I thought I knew them all), and a nice version of Up on Cripple Creek, originally by The Band.
My Wooden Leg just released its first EP, A Circus, and the EP's title song even earned it an audio spot in an upcoming feature film: Sinners and Saints, starring Tom Berenger and Sean Patrick Flannery. While showcasing the band's traveling carnival sound, A Circus also touches on deeper subjects.
"It's a view on a lot of politics," explains Maftean. "Not just politics, but all the strings that politics are connected to. All the way from right there in Washington, to how it leaks through the radio, how it leaks through the television, how it's controlling and how it's infiltrating people's minds. There are a lot of things people are really upset about, and nobody is speaking up about it."
For more information on My Wooden Leg, check out the band's Myspace page at www.myspace.com/mywoodenleg