“When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a hacksaw,” said Hamlet, who was trying to explain to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he was only slightly mad. It’s not clear whether Jeremy Barnes was trying to evoke madness, or merely claim that he wasn’t when he named his band after the Dane’s quote.

The former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer is now peddling European-inflected gypsy folk as half of A Hawk and a Hacksaw. The other half is violinist Heather Trost, who sticks mainly to the one instrument. Barnes can’t resist having a go at all sorts of things, donning a hat with several bells and a drumstick attached to it, and beating said hat against a cymbal from time to time.

The band are tonight supposed to be supporting friends and fellow scenesters Beirut, but that band’s frontman Zach Condon isn’t well and can’t take the stage, so A Hawk and A Hacksaw have been pushed up to headliners.

“I’d like to propose a toast to my friend Zach Condon,” says Barnes as he takes the stage, adding: “and also to your own health.” Despite the venue offering refunds on the door, most people have chosen to come in anyway, and they’re not being disappointed. It’s a little odd, when the indie mainstream is all about distorted guitars and wry lyrics, to find a hip crowd at the Luminaire so enthralled by this American take on European gypsy music. The pair look that part too, with Barnes’s facial decoration (and hat) adding to the between-the-wars feel. In fact, the handlebar moustache and the accordion accompaniment make him look a little like the living embodiment of the Beatles’ Mr Kite.

The American influence isn’t particularly powerful, except at the ends of the first few songs, which close with rock and roll perfect cadences.
Mostly, what the music evokes most of all is the markets and dusty streets of a bustling north African city. Barnes spends most of the first few songs playing the accordion, and it’s five numbers in before we hear any vocals, on 'Portland Town', a track that has the feel of an old English folk air, oddly enough.

Another odd note is that Barnes’s head cymbal doesn’t appear to be miked up. Perhaps he’s playing it for his own edification. It’s hard to tell, but it wouldn’t be entirely surprising.

For those of us without extensive Hawk and Hacksaw background knowledge, the first few tracks take a while to work themselves under our skins, but the initial apprehension is swiftly forgotten as the band’s sense of enjoyment works its way around the room. While the two of them are quite capable of rousing an entire room into the belief that they’re dancing around a campfire somewhere in central Europe, there’s more to come: for the last couple of songs, the duo are joined on stage by the rest of Beirut, who help them out with the closing tune, the most rousing yet. It’s a cover of a Kocani Orkestar song, and a fitting way to end the night, climaxing with a glorious, riotous eruption of strings and horns on stage, just when the campfire is burning its brightest.

Although it’s not quite the end – the band are back for one or two encores, but there’s no doubt that, even without those and without Beirut, the ticket price was well spent tonight.









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