Castanets at Hemlock Tavern, San Francisco

Post Author: Jenz

After pushing through plastic curtain slats, you enter the small wooden room with a 12-inch-high stage that comprises Hemlock Tavern’s venue space. We melded into the walls as people below us sat cross-legged waiting for Castanets’ Ray Raposa to appear.

He delicately approached his mic before removing his shoes so that he could pluck pedals with bare toes throughout his set. After requesting the stage light to be dimmed almost to nightlight status, Raposa did acoustic numbers solo like “Good Friend Yr Hunger,” the line “I will not be a hungry ghost” beautifully drifting over a crowd that was crouching, drinking, and whispering.

As is often the case with a Castanets live set, Raposa dumps some of the nuances of his recorded output for a jammier, more visceral performance. Wobbly percussion from Warmer Milks, the opening bands that later joined Raposa on stage, added to the slanted, unkempt approach. A flute that made a brief appearance helped pull melody out of this heavy brew, especially during what will surely someday be on Raposa’s Best Hits compilation, “You Are The Blood.” The song’s grown since its original appearance on 2004’s Cathedral to the point where it’s reminiscent of some epic posterband. Think Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” with the line “You are the blood flowing through my fingers” dropping to a barely audible whisper.

In a way, Raposa’s approach to music is a lot like a stranger’s visit to New York: a little dirty, confusing, but alluring enough to make one return. In both cases, good ideas are always born, but the execution is what makes them grand. Or as my friend said, “He’s both intriguing and retarded. And it’s possible to be both.” Whatever that means.