BONFIRE MADIGAN Putting the punk back in classical.
Bonfire Madigan

Sat Nov 16

Meow Meow

From Liliput to The Ex to Amber Asylum to The Intima, bands placing a classical, stringed instrument in a punk context yields undeniably compelling results. The weeping sound of a violin or cello collapsing against dangerously propulsive, distorted guitars and drums just somehow lends more weight to music. Maybe it's the power in numbers theory--that people from punk and classical backgrounds are banding together to form this one voice.

Bonfire Madigan, the Bay Area-based, cello-rock quartet headed by Madigan Shive, has been exploring this crossover style of composition for about six years, though B-Mad emphasizes melodies structured around passionate rhythms before frantic bursts of punk. Madigan's staccato vocals, cooed in a sultry, velvet alto, have occasion to yelp and gulp over her cello, contrabass (Sheri Ozeki), violin (Christine Lehmann), and drums (Biggs, ex of Tarentel). Their newest release, the 88 EP (on Madigan's own Moon Puss label), exhibits further boundary-bending by pairing their traditional chamber-punk structure with a swanky jazz number, a couple ballads, and a sassy cover of Yoko Ono's "O'Sanity."

"I feel like I've been doing my thing with no guidelines since 1996," explains Madigan. "But it's been happening more, this hybridization of music, you know. It's given me a lot of opportunities to collaborate, too, with some broken-beat, lo-fi/no-fi electronic stuff. I'm a child of hiphop, punk rock, and political folk, but it's the community in music that's what always brought me to be a songwriter, and I think it's a really good time [to be putting traditional instruments into different contexts]. It's a bastardization in the best way. The activist and advocate in me really thinks we're confronting xenophobia in art, you know?"

Live, Bonfire Madigan has always possessed a level of vulnerability that they haven't yet captured on disc. Their visual presence--including the rather tiny Madigan totally mastering, pummeling, this heavy wooden cello--has something to do with that, but Madigan may have a (very Cage-ist) line on another explanation. "I think music is participatory, and the audience is a part of the music--it's a conversation. I've felt that since I started playing music, that it exists in this one capacity to be changed, depending on what people react and respond to. That's why doors opening and closing, or planes flying over and sirens going off at shows all of that is a part of the music that night."