By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — While session veteran and keyboard/trumpet player Marc Capelle still occasionally sets backsides in motion as the leader of his all-star R&B revue Marc & the Casuals, the busy musician is finding more and more time taken up by another project far more ambitious project: the Red Room Orchestra.
The versatile player frequently performs with groups paying tribute to specific bands or songwriters, but his latest creative outlet has found Capelle and his collaborators recreating a remarkable range of material. The Red Room Orchestra was initially formed to pay tribute to the music featured in ‘Twin Peaks,’ the surreal television show by iconic director David Lynch that saw a revival with ‘Twin Peaks: The Return” on Showtime last year.
Lynch’s unique cinematic creations have always put music in the spotlight, from the singing Lady in the Radiator from the director’s 1977 debut and the bizarre visage of Dean Stockwell lip syncing to the Roy Orbison hit “In Dreams” in his Oscar-nominated breakthrough Blue Velvet through his use of both ’50s and modern rock in Wild at Heart and Lost Highway during the ’90s. Lynch made music a cornerstone of ‘Twin Peaks’ and its 1992 cinematic prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, collaborating with his longtime composer Angelo Badalamenti on original songs like the hit “Mysteries of Love” sung by Julee Cruise (who would release a full album of Lynch/Badalamenti tunes and appeared in both the series and film).
In the summer of 2017 after an initial more stripped-down performance at the Chapel bar with a smaller ensemble, Capelle gathered a high-powered group of San Francisco musicians including Dirty Ghosts guitarist Allyson Baker, Persephone’s Bees guitarist Tom Ayers, drummer Todd Roper (Chuck Prophet, Cake), percussionist Larry Mullins (aka Toby Dammit, who has played with Iggy Pop, the Residents, Swans and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), singer Karina Denike (Dancehall Crashers, NOFX, the Cottontails), violinist/vocalist Dina Maccabee and saxophonist Tom Griesser (New Morty Show, Brass Monkey, the Cottontails) to play the music of ‘Twin Peaks’ and more Lynch-related offerings at the music venue, taking the stage with an expanded group that was christened the Red Room Orchestra in front of a packed house for a transporting night of atmospheric music.
The positive reception of that show would lead the group to partner with SF Sketchfest for two special evenings of soundtrack-related music at the Chapel. The first night — scheduled to coincide with a tribute to ‘Twin Peaks’ featuring cast members from the original show held at the Castro earlier in the day — reprising the songs from the series for another full house of fans.
This time, many of those ‘Twin Peaks’ devotees were in costume and got to enjoy onstage appearances by many actors from the series including Sherilyn Fenn — who helped judge and Audrey Horne dance contest — and actual song performances by ‘Twin Peaks; The Return’ star and local product Chrysta Bell (bringing down the house with her rendition of the Jimmy Scott song “Sycamore Trees” from the original series), James Marshall and Ray Wise, who stepped into his Leland Palmer character to sing “Mairzy Doats.”
For the second night, Capelle and his capable co-conspirators tackled a decidedly different body of work, presenting two separate sets paying tribute to the creative musical curation of director Wes Anderson and the songs used for his films Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. While praised for his meticulous visual style and unique storytelling ever since his debut film Bottle Rocket in 1996, Anderson has been equally celebrated for his keen ear and impeccable taste in creating memorable soundtracks.
Capelle and the Red Room Orchestra were joined by a dazzling array of special guests taking the stage at the Chapel for these two sets include local proto punk/power pop legends Cyril Jordan and Roy Loney of the Flamin’ Groovies, Mekons and Waco Brothers principle Jon Langford, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down frontwoman Thao Nguyen and many others to deliver stellar versions of classic songs by the Kinks, the Creation, the Who, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and the Clash as well as tunes from the intricate film scores composed by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh.
Since then, the group has made a number of high-profile appearances, taking the stage at the Castro for the San Francisco International Film Festival to provide a live soundtrack for an array of experimental, industrial and educational films, backing a live reading of the film Planes, Trains and Automobiles at the Clusterfest in June and a pair of performances at this year’s Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park, one that included a guest appearance by Stooges guitarist and local legend James Williamson.
For this return engagement at the Chapel on the opening weekend of the SF Sketchfest, the ensemble will revisit the music of “Twin Peaks” on the first night of a two-evening run, digging deeper to perform some lesser known tracks from the show alongside other music from Lynch-related creations with encore appearances from actors Bell and Marshall as well as special guests, comedian and SF Sketchfest headliner Margaret Cho and Eli Crews, a former Bay Area resident who played in numerous local bands including Beulah before relocating to New York to work as a producer and engineer for such luminaries as Tune-Yards, Bill Frisell, Gotye, Laurie Anderson and Marc Ribot.
On Saturday, the group takes on another modern soundtrack masterwork, performing the music of the Cohen Brothers’ beloved cult comedy The Big Lebowski. Befitting the freewheeling life philosophy of Jeff Bridges’ indelible character of the Dude, the film features a dizzying range of music from noted singer-songwriters (Dylan, Elvis Costello, Townes Van Zant) to lounge/exotica icons (Yma Sumac and Henry Mancini) to experimental greats (Moondog, Meredith Monk, Captain Beefheart) and even the Dude’s least favorite band, the Eagles.
The line-up of guests includes comic/impressionist James Andomian — who will narrate the proceedings in the guise of Sam Elliot’s cowboy character the Stranger — along with regular local collaborators like Oxbow singer Eugene Robinson, country songwriter Stephen Yerkey and solo artists Bart Davenport and Kelley Stoltz, and an expanded horn and woodwinds section with trombone player Carrol Ashby, clarinet player Ben Goldberg and oboe player Amber Lamprecht as well as guests Eddie Shaw, bassist from proto/avant-punk legends the Monks (whose song “I Hate You” is heard playing in one scene during the film), a second appearance by Cho and “Kids in the Hall” member Kevin McDonald.
SF Sketchfest: The Red Room Orchestra
Friday-Saturday, January 11-12, 8 p.m. $35-$40