Dengue Fever Infects Canada

When lead singer Chhom Nimol's glossy lips gave way to powerful lyrics in Khmer and that strong, seductive voice I was immediately transported to another place in time. I was back in Phnom Penh. Dengue Fever's sound and songs are so distinct, powerful and stir so many memories for me, I almost break into a sweat. It's as if I've been bitten by a mosquito and infected with some form of musical virus.

Rarely in my experience has a band performed above and beyond my expectations especially when it comes to a live concert. Dengue Fever out-performed themselves on all counts at their recent show at Vancouver's Biltmore Cabaret. This was the group's one Canadian stop on their "Cannibal Courtship" tour. They performed classic hits such as "Mr. Orange" and "1000 Tears of a Tarantula" in addition to tracks from the new album. Starting in LA, the band quickly moved up the West Coast stopping in Vancouver for a one night only performance. They are now traveling south to San Diego before heading eastwards where the tour will eventually culminate in the UK.

The trumpet sang and I thought I had heard a flute but wasn't sure. I swung to my left and was pleasantly surprised to confirm what my ears had been trying to tell me. David Ralicke was actually playing a flute and rocking it as I never imagined that was even possible? I flashed back and recalled the first time I heard this sixties rock inspired music. It was playing on cassette in a Land Rover outside Phnom Penh. I was on my way to a photo job with my head hanging out of the window for some natural AC, still mindful of the sun burn I'd quickly receive. I asked my friend driving what this music was? I had never heard anything like it but it seemed oddly familiar. I was hooked right away and would soon be introduced to more Khmer music from that era as sung by Sinn Sisamouth, Ros Sreysothea and Pan Ron among several others.

Dengue Fever's music is created in a spirit tied greatly to the past but forever driving forward and pushing limits as true artists endeavor to do. A number of songs from the sixties are also covered by the band and are a soothing and nostalgic reminder of times long since past. The band's songs and lyrics deliver me to places around the Cambodian capital and countryside where I had lived, worked and even sang my first Karaoke tunes. I imagine Phnom Penh a decade earlier where only a few streets were paved, things were rougher, grittier and somehow more romantic accentuated by colonial architecture and coconut palms swaying in the breeze from the Tonle Basaac.

A large group of local Khmer were on hand to enjoy the Vancouver performance. Several of the young and even older guys were dancing and cheering in the front row. After being stirred into a furor by Chhom's vocals and sequins they were more than a little keen to get up on stage with her for the finale and even managed to bust out some traditional Khmer dance moves. It was wonderful to see and really brought the performance full-circle for me. I couldn't think of a better way to end the show.

Cannibal Courtship - Favourite Track - "Uku"

Band Members: Vocals - Chhom Nimol, Guitar - Zac Holtzman, Farfisa Organ - Ethan Holtzman, Bass - Senon Williams, Drummer - Paul Smith, Brass - David Ralicke