Have you ever sat in a bar, by yourself, and watched a large group of friends show up, slowly, for a night out? First, one guy shows up, walks to the other side of the room and sits down at a table way too big for him. Then, one by one, they filter in, until the crowd is shoulder to shoulder. Everyone is excited to see everyone, and there is a friendly round of hugs and smiles with each newcomer through the door.
This was my experience, watching the arrival of The Makedonians at the Mandolin Café Saturday night. One guy, plugging in and tuning up in the middle of an open floor, balloons into a horde of 11 musicians and twice as many instruments crammed into the stage. Inflating into something less like a band, and more like a family, meandering in one at a time from around the sound, playing a show as a side effect of getting together.
I haven't seen the Makedonians in some time - more than 10 years but less than 15. They are basically exactly the same as I remember them - as much as that makes sense for a band whose lineup might be different on any given day.
Some 20 years ago, at Chambers Primary School in University Place, at the very beginning of my life as a musician, I was fortunate to be taught by Makedonians bandleader and clarinetist Diz Carroll. A few years later, I had the opportunity to play saxophone with Diz and the Makedonians for a few months - a mediocre middle-schooler surrounded by professionals.
Now, a decade later, Diz's desire to educate and inform continues, whether young or old - anyone with the desire to listen. Throughout the Makedonians' rollicking, energetic set of traditional Balkan music Saturday night, audience members were treated to lessons in Greek musical geography, five-tone scale harmony (most "western" music uses the seven) and how to count some of the more unusual time signatures, ranging from 5 to 25 beats in a measure.
I couldn't tell you how many of the Makedonians are the same people I once played with, but I can tell you that it feels the same. For one thing, all the musicians are still better than me. But there is also an energy that has come with the group for as long as I've known them.
One new element stands out with great clarity: singer Efiniki Zambaras, whose parents were watching the concert from Greece via a laptop running Skype, and whose original-language vocals pull the set together, from top to bottom. Diz is, and always has been, a solid singer, but there is a quality to their harmonies that puts them on another level.
As mediocre proof I give you this: a living-room rehearsal of the show's final piece, "Tzivaeri." Absolutely gorgeous live, despite sitting contrary to virtually the entire set, in energy, if not in spirit - as Diz pointed out early in the night, almost all their songs are sad songs, so why bother translating them and ruining everyone's fun?
The Makedonians will - in theory - return to the Mandolin come May. For everyone who reads show reviews here in the Volcano to hear about Motopony and Colonies and every other band of the Tacoma indie scene: take a break. Go see The Makedonians, and find a little bit more of the world therein. You won't be disappointed.