The deliberately naive art-folk music played by the quartet known enigmatically as 17 Pygmies is one of the most enticing sounds on the local pop scene. But the group's performance Sunday at McCabe's was a hit-and-miss affair that didn't expand on the promise of the recent "Jedda by the Sea" album. As charming as their music is, the Pygmies simply lack basic performing instincts.
There's nothing wrong with just standing there and playing, if you can generate enough aura and intensity in the process. But in the folding-chair land of McCabe's back room, things just didn't click. This may not be a rockin' dance band, but in a freer atmosphere, its acoustic-cum-electric sound mosaics would have a better chance of setting off sparks.
With a blend of droning keyboards, riffing guitar and exotic percussion (with occasional embellishment by flute and violin), the two-man, two-woman band sometimes tapped into currents of evocative mystery, and at times just noodled around. Drummer-singer Debbie Spinelli's wan, piping voice recalled the nature mysticism of the flower-power era's Incredible String Band, while her huskier singing evoked the folksy side of the Velvet Underground.
If the Pygmies feel more at home in the studio, so be it. Even so, the live show has its share of rewards.
The opening act was Kraig Grady, who builds instruments like a terraced xylophone and a tree with hanging metal bars and bells. Combining these with chord organ, a hammered zither and the like, he and various cohorts meandered through some unfocused instrumental moods for modal moderns.