While I've always been a fan of the basic rock-and-roll set-up of drums, bass, a guitar or two, and a singer, I also love it when someone finds a way to rock out in a unique way. Bands such as Ben Folds Five (piano, bass, drums), Morphine (bass, saxophone, drums), and White Stripes (guitar and drums) have all found a way to make music on their own terms. Locally, there's an act doing the same thing. Oh Ginger consists of singer-songwriters Lindsay Holler and Michael Hanf. The two used to perform together in Lindsay Holler and The Dirty Kids, an act that received a lot of attention locally a few years back. Hanf eventually relocated to New York City, but he and Holler kept in touch and continued to bounce musical ideas off one another. Those long-distance collaborations eventually became what is now Oh Ginger. The duo has already released two EPs of original music, "Oh! Ginger" and "[Ohginger]," and have at least one more planned. In keeping with the theme we have going here of unorthodox rock band line-ups, Oh Ginger features Holler on guitar and vocals and Hanf alternating between guitar and vibraphone, while also handling some of the singing duties. Yes, I said vibraphone, which for the uninitiated is like a xylophone, but with long metal tubes underneath the struck metal bars. Listen to the music created by jazz legend Lionel Hampton, and you'll surely hear vibraphone, since it was Hampton's signature instrument while he was alive.
The music made simply by Holler's and Hanf's voices, guitar, and vibes is a lot more complex than you'd expect from a two-instrument line-up, but at the same time there's a beautiful starkness to it.
I've thoroughly enjoyed the first two EPs, so when I heard that Hanf and Holler would be performing the music of Oh Ginger live, I made plans to be there. I figured it would probably be my only chance to see the duo live, considering they live in different cities.
The show took place at Theatre 99, the venue owned by local improv troupe The Have Nots. It's a small, cozy space, with 99 seats, hence the name of the place. The stage held just Hanf's vibraphone, Holler's acoustic guitar, a stool, and three microphones. By the time the show had started, there were about four dozen or so folks in the audience, which, considering the fact that Oh Ginger isn't exactly a high-profile band, was fairly impressive for a Thursday night in Charleston.
Hanf and Holler took to the stage a little after 8pm, and launched into "Sides," a high lonesome cut from the second EP. "Take the keys and head out West/find us a quiet place to rest," sang Holler and she strummed her guitar while Hanf played the vibes. I'd never really thought about the vibraphones being used outside of jazz music until I saw Hanf play with The Dirty Kids. He works the instrument into a particular song much like one would expect to hear an accordion or mandolin, and it works beautifully. Throughout the show, Holler and Hanf had the crowd in the palm of their hands as they performed more originals from both Oh Ginger EPs, as well as a few interesting covers. A reworking of "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz was great, as was their take on "Sunken Treasure," a song from my favorite Wilco album, "Being There." Hanf switched from vibes to Holler's guitar and a harmonica for "Don't Call Me," a breakup song with a folksy Bob Dylan-like sound. Another Hanf song, "And So It Goes," features one of my favorite Oh Ginger lines; "She drinks like a canyon to go to sleep." Other covers included re-imaginings of Radiohead's "Videotape," the lyrics of which were made even more haunting by Holler's voice, and Nick Drake's "Black-Eyed Dog."
It was an incredibly beautiful and intimate show, and I think everyone who was there got the feeling that they were experiencing something special. Holler has what is probably my favorite female voice in all of the Lowcountry, which is saying a lot when you consider that she's in company with women like Cary Ann Hearst, Megan Jean, Jamie Resch, and Rachel Kate Gillon. Hanf and Holler are currently on the road supporting the Oh Ginger EPs, and the road trip will culminate with a performance tonight at Google's Lounge above The Living Room in New York City. When the duo do return to Charleston (and hopefully they will sooner rather than later), do yourself a favor and check out this very unorthodox, yet incredibly good band. You can find more info about the band at ohginger.net. The EPs are for sale there, as well as in stores locally and on iTunes.