Live Review: Dengue Fever, San Francisco, CA, May 5, 2009

dengue-fever400Dengue Fever wowed a crowd of 1,400 at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre on Tuesday night with its sublime original soundtrack for Harry O. Hoyt’s 1925 silent-film classic The Lost World. The six-piece, L.A.-based combo, which specializes in the exotic sounds of ’60s psychedelic-era Cambodian pop/rock (as heartwrenchingly chirped in her native Khmer dialect by vocalist Chhom Simol), accompanied the film as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.

It was an offer too good to turn down, said sweat-drenched guitarist Zac Holtzman, giddy with triumph after the live performance. “He and I convinced our bandmates to go for it,” said Holtzman, pointing at Dengue bassist Senon Williams. “The rest of them were saying, ‘Oh, we’ve gotta record our next album.'”

“It took about a month, getting all the cues just right, but once we loosened up a little, it all fell into place,” added Williams of the band’s striking, one-off performance.

Viewed as a forerunner to 1933’s King Kong, The Lost World is based on a story by Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle and features amazing, early clay-animation special effects of dinosaurs encountered in the Amazon jungle. Dengue Fever re-created a ’20s Duke Ellington vibe for the opening scenes, set in London. Once the exploration party—Bessie Love as Paula, Lloyd Hughes as Malone and Wallace Beery as Prof. Challenger—reached the Amazon, the band’s trademark exotica was a perfect fit. Like all successful soundtrack music, Dengue Fever—which also features keyboardist Ethan Holtzman, saxophonist David Ralicke and drummer Paul Smith—always complemented the film, never calling attention to itself. At times, you even forgot it was there.

—Jud Cost

“Sober Driver” from 2008’s Venus On Earth (download):