Guitar/sitar hero Greg Vaughn, as well as dancers/acrobats Leilania and Ocean Beach native Adelaide Marcus, provide both melody and spectacle and — in the case of the dancers — large snakes. Backed by the rhythm section of percussionist Gabriel Penix and Sandy Bagri, the group this month releases its long-awaited second album, “Nine Levels of Bliss.”
“It’s been six and half years since our first album, ‘March of the Gypsies,’” said Vaughn. “It was well worth the effort. We’re really happy with the music. But to give you an idea of how long it took to get this project completed, I had finished some of my basic tracks for this album before the last one was released in 2008,” he said.
The album updates the band’s basic sound mix of sitar, bass and drums, with the addition of violin and other musical flourishes. Some parts of the disc border on psychedelia.
“One of the biggest differences is that the girls are way more involved than they were on the first album. They do some spoken intros, vocals and even some percussion,” Vaughn said.
While the music is rooted in Middle Eastern folk traditions, Vaughn said their sound has broad appeal. “We’ve gone over well at all different types of events, from rock festivals to restaurants,” said Vaughn. “We always do real well. If we’re given the chance.”
He considers misconceptions about the group.
“People often assume we just sort of sit there and play our music, sort of as a background thing. But that’s not it at all. I’m just as likely to be rolling on the floor with my sitar, like a rock star, if the moment is right. We’ve had promoters come up after a show and tell us that they had been initially afraid to hire us because they didn’t know what sort of show to expect but were really happy with what they said they saw and heard.”
Vaughn acknowledges there is an air of circus around their shows, which he considers positive.
“The fact that we are so exotic always pulls in big crowds when we perform at big events, even at things like a Renaissance faire,” he said.
Vaughn said the troupe puts a lot of work into making its concerts a unique experience.
“It’s more than just the music or even the belly dancers,” he said. “There’s costumes and snakes and fire and swords and so on. I might be running around like Eddie van Halen. It’s a show. You put us on at a large event and we will outdraw just about anything, simply because we’re the weirdest thing there.”
Although he said he is thrilled with the reactions the group has received for the mix of dance and music, Vaughn considers the occasional comedic mishap during performance to be among his favorite moments.
“We work with really good-natured snakes. They’re just great,” Vaughn said. “But sometimes they get a little rambunctious and begin to wander a bit. On the dancers, it’s not so bad. The dancers can readjust the snakes as needed. However, when they occasionally put the snakes on me, there can be humorous situations. I’ve had a snake wrap itself around my sitar neck while I tried to play. For the band, as well as the audience, as you can imagine, it was high comedy. I’m going to take a guess and say that’s probably a hazard not a lot of other players have had to deal with.”
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