city of lost children: June 11 at The Green Frog

I first heard City of Lost Children while sitting outside of the Temple Bar a month or so ago. I kept hearing these eerie melodies and fragments of music drift in and out, like trying to find a radio station while driving through an apocalyptic landscape.

So when I wandered into an unusually crowded Green Frog a couple of Mondays ago and discovered that The City of Lost Children were playing, I found a chair in a dark corner and tried to figure out what was going on. Imagine finding a broken music box in the rubble of a desolated city. When you open it, the springs and wheels whir and spin with nostalgic mystery, creating a tune you have heard many times before but cannot place, the soundtrack to a forgotten film, full of saudade, the longing for something absent, or Nabakov’s toska, a longing with nothing to long for. The City of Lost Children perform this with stunning musicianship and beauty, each song merging into the other, some like broken fragments of bone and mirror, torn photographs and faded ribbons. To watch all of these complicated elements unfold onstage is like watching a magician make all of your memories disappear into a hat and then reappear as bright and shining objects of ineffable beauty.

Eight musicians form the City of Lost Children Chamber Orchestra. Three elegantly dressed women stand in front, a mezzo soprano, a soprano and a contralto. They sing beautifully, figures seeming stepping straight out of a German expressionist film or some unknown aesthetic experiment of Leni Riefenstahl. Behind them is a conductor, working sublime alchemy with the sound. Players seem to be hidden on stage, curled into corners, sitting on the edges, luminescent within the shadows. A woman plays a pedal harp. There is violin, accordion, bass, keyboards, guitar. But nothing like you have heard before in Bellingham. All of the songs are short, perfect music box performances. The players seem like sophisticated automatons from a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. As the set comes to a close, there is a post-Weimar decadence that has filled the room, dance tunes for the end of times, magic theater, gypsy vaudeville, muted beat-box from the depths of a demonic dream. The three singers are there like sirens out of a Kafka parable: there is no fear to hearing them sing, rather it is their silence that haunts one into madness.

City of Lost Children play Monday nights at the Green Frog.