The Old-Fashioned Way at Hemlock Tavern

Pub date September 18, 2007

LOCAL LIVE The first triumph of the night was simply that no one lost an eye. The Hemlock Tavern stage isn’t much more than a low corner deck, and the Old-Fashioned Way work a swooning fiddle into their akimbo art pop, which meant that whenever Marie MacBain launched an arpeggio, her bow looked like a weapon.

Such are the risks of bringing bits of a philharmonic onto the barroom circuit, an increasingly popular move — blame Montreal — that’s rarely handled with the charm of this six-piece. You won’t find bespectacled frontman Chris Wu miming Win Butler. Onstage he’s a picture of basso profundo calm, a seated yogi growling an indie rocker’s version of eightfold-path prescriptions: "Tea early morning, Earl Grey / And coffee all day / Tecate all night / Or just something with bite."

Crowded around their sage leader, the rest of the OFW, who formed in 2005 and will release their first 7-inch this fall, give off the ease of a family band, though no member remotely resembles another. They’re Dickensian orphans, then, who’ve gathered to put on a minstrel show — and who’ve had to find a sound to fit their strange batch of instruments. The two red-blooded guitars and the drum kit give the songs a sturdy rock core when the band wishes it. But there are also, at points, a Paul McCartney–style toy bass, an accordion, a triangle, a wailing keyboard, and a melodica, which pile into a haunted and seductive sort of antipop, mournful and klezmerish on a track like "Robot on Fire" but boppy, harmonic, and needing a restroom on "Take Your Fluids." The latter was a live highlight, thanks to bassist Heather Logsdon’s soft and shy la la las, while "Zeitgeist" was goofy and quotidian but sweeter for it: "I threw on my clothes clumsily / And I kissed you on the head at 1:30 / Out the door and crushed by night / My hoodie reeked of beer and your Lucky Strikes."

THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY Thurs/20, 9 p.m., $8. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. (415) 861-2011,