The first sentence I heard walking into Mar Caribe’s rehearsal was “Have you seen the movie Ghost World?” Good start so far.
It was their last rehearsal before playing the Hideout tonight. Tom McGettrick, who runs the band while playing banjo or pedal steel, was discussing style influences with the horn section. Without hearing where the conversation led, I immediately started thinking of the wildly diverse collection of genres and styles the Ghost World soundtrack contains, trying to guess which song Tom was referring to. Apparently at every show they play the Bollywood dance number in that movie’s famous scene. Awesome.
Truth is, Mar Caribe’s material skips around so many genres that I wouldn’t mind hearing the band score a movie themselves. In their own words, the group sounds like “a dixieland band playing 60s surf, exotica, and Ennio Morricone songs with a dash of pedal-steel driven southwestern desert epics.” Whew. For those who don’t recognize Morricone’s name, you’ve probably heard his operatic western soundtracks while watching an armed Clint Eastwood stare down enemies in abandoned town squares.
What I heard in the rehearsal was rhythmically tight instrumentation led by a mash of influences and focused into smile-cracking, foot-tapping arrangements. The songs jump smoothly across borders and time zones, from the Wild West to New Orleans to Central and South America—sometimes in the same breath. Often my complaint with sheet-music-based performances like these is that they don’t feel organic enough. I think Mar Caribe avoids this pitfall with a surprising vibe of spontaneity and healthy disorder. It’s that well-proportioned blend of structure and improvisation that makes for such entertaining shows. Each of the members is well seasoned on their instruments and sure to impress. Personally, I plan on dancing up a storm at the Hideout, no matter what movie soundtrack I find myself in.
Mar Caribe plays the Hideout at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door. For info, hideoutchicago.com
Scott Standley is a contributing music critic to Chicago magazine.
Photograph: Natalie Escobedo