TORONTO — Watching the members of Lemon Bucket Orkestra, the 14-piece, self-described “Balkan-klezmer-Gypsy-party-punk super band,” made their way onto the small stage at LOT (Lower Ossington Theatre) recently, with nothing but a dainty red carpet hanging behind them, I had to remind myself that I was still in the cultural hub of Toronto, at an event funded by the Ashkenaz Foundation, and not at a local pub in Kiev.
And that was before the eccentric collective, some members dressed in traditional Gypsy attire, some sporting wild and unusual eastern European-looking garments, even picked up their instruments.
Over the last year or so, the Toronto-based Lemon Bucket Orkestra has acquired a fair bit of media attention, being hailed by many as one of the city’s liveliest and most energetic party bands. Sitting with the eclectic group of people at the concert, it was easy to see why.
Lead vocalist Mark Marczyk – who adopted eastern European music and culture while living in Ukraine – barely stopped to take a breath in between sets, emitting an enthusiastic “whopa!” or a shrill whistle every so often, and singing in a variety of dialects. These charismatic gestures and those of the rest of the orchestra easily won over the crowd.
The official website for Lemon Bucket Orkestra says the band “grew out of a conversation between a Breton accordionist and a Ukrainian fiddler in a Vietnamese restaurant on Yonge Street.” Since then, although the fiddle and the accordion continue to play a vital role in the group’s esthetic, it’s expanded to include several violins, bass, guitar, percussion and a complete brass section that includes a sousaphone, a trombone and a flugelhorn.
Using these diverse instruments, the group blends klezmer, punk, folk, Ukrainian, ex-Yugoslav and Romani genres of music. Marczyk has claimed that the members of the group are not purists, never adhering to one particular kind of musical influence. It shows.
The band would engage in Irish-sounding, head-pounding melodies in one set, then transition to Yiddish-soaked klezmer with an engaging accordion solo.
No matter what the influence, every song the band performed was a catalyst for foot stomping and hora-style dancing, the audience constantly clapping their hands in unison with the fierce, upbeat rhythms, cheering at various instrumental solos and admiring the belly dancing of Anastasia Baczynskyj, the group’s co-lead vocalist.
In the middle of the performance, Baczynskyj, who often danced waving a small handkerchief in her hand, asked the audience if anyone had ever been to a Jewish wedding, which resulted in a tremendous amount of cheer and applause.
The remainder of the set seemed appropriate for such a momentous occasion. With more than a dozen musicians sharing the quaint stage, all playing their instruments attentively and vigorously – the string section more often than not taking the lead – the music in many ways resembled that of the wedding scene in Fiddler On The Roof.
Members of Lemon Bucket Orkestra come from all over the world, but their birth as a musical force took place in Toronto. They are frequent performers at various locales in Kensington Market, the Great Hall and Horseshoe Tavern, the venue where they held the release party for their debut EP, Cheeky, which was recorded at the CBC in Toronto and mixed by local producer John Bailey.
Though there is nothing “Canadian” about their music, the group continues to take charge of Toronto’s “folk party” scene, which, thanks to them, is becoming a widespread movement in the city.
Visit the band’s website (www.lemonbucket.com) or CBC Radio 3 to stream a song from their EP.