The galleries at the Noyes Museum were filled with the music of Tamara DeMent and the Cold Club and Zebras and Bulls Fight Tonight! on Sunday afternoon during an acoustic concert in Oceanville.
Both groups featured local musicians—many of them multi-instrumentalists, including DeMent herself, a Galloway resident who also attended at age 14, graduating at 18 with a bachelor's degree.
DeMent started playing music when she was three years old, learning violin by the Suzuki method, then eventually also learning to play harp and to sing. Last year, she decided it was time to learn guitar, and on Sunday she played violin along with Zebras, then switched to acoustic guitar for her own set.
DeMent's sound is reminiscent of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, founders of one of the first "Hot Club" swing bands in France (hence the "Cold Club" in her band's title). But DeMent not only plays guitar in a style similar to Reinhardt and violin like Grappelli, she also delivers vocals similar to contemporary indie singers like Feist or Emily Haines.
Zebras And Bulls Fight Tonight! are harder to describe, and that is probably the group's greatest strength. Even from song to song their style can change, and all of the members rotate from instrument to instrument, playing everything from guitar to banjo to upright bass or toy piano.
Zebras' sound is distinctly and uniquely their own, and being forced to unplug and play acoustically did not hinder them at all, especially when they sang four our five part harmonies during some songs.
Part of Zebras' appeal (besides their musicianship and well-crafted songs) is that they are able to incorporate so many different sounds into their performance. Andrew Wilson, who played guitar, banjo, drums, xylophone and toy piano at different points during the performance on Sunday, also pulled out an iPhone during the first song and played an app that sounded like a theremin.
Bobby Troller, who founded the group in 2004 and who writes the songs, says that one of the band's strengths is that many of the members come from different musical backgrounds.
"It's kind of like having a lack of direction that creates our direction," he said.
Troller's first few bands were punk bands, while guitarist Rebel Somers also plays in the metal band Resident Stone, another local group that features a few members from Galloway and surrounding cities. Drummer Ross Viviano from Zebras seemed comfortable not only using brushes on a snare drum, but also playing jazz bass with DeMent during her set.
Troller says he feels fortunate to have such talented musicians around him.
"I feel like I play with people who are very good at what they do," he said, adding that because he can "half play most instruments," the rest of the group complements his sound and helps him realize his creative vision.
Despite the lack of any amplification, both groups' songs filled the museum, and the expanse of the room allowed vocals to naturally reverberate and ring out, especially when the musicians sang together.
The assistant to the director of the , Shana Zimnoch, said it was nice to see people come out for the performance and that the museum tries to support many different art forms. On display were paintings, sculptures and even children's art work, which some visitors were taking in while listening to the music.
Next month, Zebras and Bulls Fight Tonight! will be back with Tamara DeMent and the Cold Club for another concert at the Noyes Museum on Sunday, April 29. DeMent will also be performing at the Smithville Art Walk on April 21 and Zebras will perform an electric set at The Boneyard in Atlantic City on April 7.