Devil Music Ensemble | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Devil Music Ensemble

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If a guy in suspenders with a waxed mustache playing upright piano isn't your idea of compelling silent-movie accompaniment, the original scores of the Devil Music Ensemble might be more your speed. The group's three core musicians--Brendon Wood (guitars, lap steel, synth), Jonah Rapino (electric violin, vibraphone, synth), and Tim Nylander (drums and percussion)--met in Boston in 1999, and since then they've composed and performed sound tracks for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, and the film screening tonight, Big Stakes. The 1922 comic western, obscure until a recent revival on video, features the usual bar fights and shoot-outs, but the plot (revolving around a Mexican girl held captive by a Klan leader) is more liberal about race than other films of the era, most notably The Birth of a Nation. The Devil Music Ensemble's scores are considerably more organized than the experimental music that sometimes accompanies silent-film screenings; the versatile musicians have worked in diverse settings, including an eastern European folk band, a 40-piece orchestral ensemble, and a house band for live theater. They're obviously talented at writing music that expresses the films' roller-coaster moods--hairpin turns, abrupt stops, and all--so they can be forgiven if they occasionally overdramatize a scene or two. Sat 4/8, 7:30 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Free. All ages.

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