Dengue Fever @ Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia

chicha libre
The stage at Johnny Brenda’s was littered end to end with a refreshing variety of instruments that don’t often make an appearance at hipster haven located in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. A mere passing glance found an accordion, electric upright bass, guiro (wooden and metal), cowbell, bongos and other hand drums in addition to the “normal” stuff. When Brooklyn (by way of France and Peru) six-piece Chicha Libre took the stage, I was surprised to find the ratio of band members to instruments saw the latter in the lead.

Stepping up to the mic, Chicha Libre front man Olivier Conan introduced the band in the form of a demand to the audience: “We’re Chicha Libre. We’re gonna bring you some libre and you’re gonna be dancing.” It took a few songs for the audience to garner the confidence to shake it to Chicha Libre’s eclectic and ethnic dance beats, but the audience — an odd mix of hipsters and NPR oldies — soon warmed up to the foreign sounds and got their respective grooves on.

chicha libreThroughout their set, Chicha Libre showed off their cosmopolitan influences and outlooks with songs taking on sounds from Latin America, Eastern Europe and more while singing in a variety of languages, reminding me of DeVotchKa on speed. Chicha Libre’s energy and stage presence was infectious as they got the crowd moving to their aptly self-described sound of “what rock and roll would like if America lost all the wars.” Despite a initially timid reception, Chicha Libre left the stage to wild applause.

The noise emanating from the audience at the end of the first set was nothing compared to the excitement that surged throughout the venue as L.A.-based Dengue Fever made their way onto the stage. What happened next was a jazzy foreign explosion of noise. I honestly had to pause and get a grip on what I was actually hearing, which was unlike anything I’d ever heard before.

dengue fever, david ralickeI listened and watched amazed at the skill with which David Ralicke played both the trumpet and tenor saxophone. He wailed on his respective horns as each song was driven forward by Senon Williams‘ throbbing bass lines.

However tight the band’s instrumentation, the star of the evening was front woman Chhom Nimol. Already famous in her native country of Cambodia (she’s performed for the King and Queen there!) before joining up with five American guys to form what started out as a 60s Cambodian cover rock band.

Now, with three notches on their album belt, the latest being this year’s Venus on Earth, Dengue Fever is showcasing their massive talent on tour (dates below) in North America and Europe through the summer. Their sultry jazz grooves and upbeat fiery numbers make Dengue Fever the perfect band to see in the heat of a summer night, preferably at an outdoor venue.

dengue fever, chhom nimolNot only can Dengue Fever bring down a house with tight and solid instrumentation, they literally knock it over with the spastic energy they display on stage. At every opportunity, Williams, Ralicke and guitarist/vocalist Zac Holtzman jumped up and down in time with the music getting some pretty solid air, an impressive feat while perfectly nailing notes and chords. Even organ player Ethan Holtzman (yes, they’re brothers) was bouncing around as much as he could in spite of having to keep his fingers to the immobile keys. Ralicke was so amped that on a song which required neither trumpet nor tenor sax, he jumped off the stage to dance along with the legions of fans crowding the stage.

Taking the cue from Ralicke and turning it around on him, zealous crowd goers jumped on stage during the set and encore, jumping along with the fellas in the band and watching the petite Nimol in awe as she belted out each tune in her beautiful voice with its unique Cambodian inflection. With a performance as dynamic as Dengue Fever’s, it’s no shock that they have such a legion of rabid fans.

Tour Dates:
Jul 11 – Live on Fearless Radio / Chicago
Jul 11 – Empty Bottle / Chicago
Jul 12 – La Fete de Marquette at Central Park / Madison, Wi.
Jul 16 – Joe’s Pub / New York City
Jul 18 – Larmertree Festival / Salisbury, Eng.
Jul 19 – Lovebox London Weekender / London
Jul 21 – Hoxton Bar & Grill / London
Jul 23 – Jazz Café / London
Jul 26 – WOMAD Festival / Wiltshire, Eng.
Jul 27 – WOMAD Festival / Wiltshire, Eng.
Aug 02 – El Rey / Los Angeles
Aug 06 – Oya Festival / Oslo
Aug 08 – Way Out West / Goteborg
Aug 09 – Summer Sundae Weekender / Leicester, England
Aug 13 – Globians Doc Fest / Potsdam
Aug 15 – Viana Do Castelo Int. Music Festival / Viana Do Castelo
Aug 16 – Beautiful Days / Devon, Eng.
Aug 21 – Festival Musicas Do mar Povoa do / Varzim, Por.
Aug 29 – Festival Musicas Do mar Povoa do / Varzim, Por.
Aug 30 – Festival de Beschaving / Utrecht, Hol.
Aug 31 – Electric Picnic / Dublin
Sep 03 – Globians Doc Fest rerun / Berlin
Sep 20 – Street Scene / San Diego
Nov 20 – ICA / London

Chicha Libre: myspace
Dengue Fever: website | myspace | Venus on Earth review

Photo credit: Ed Roper,


One Response

  1. […] are you guys listening to right now? CW: I have a funny story. I’ve been listening to this band Chicha Libre. Do you know them? They’re from Brooklyn, actually. PW: Nope. CW: It’s kind of like, Brazilian […]

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