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Steampunk in Music: “The Two-Cent Show” by Steam-Powered Giraffe

With the proliferation of steampunk culture, it was inevitable that eventually there would be steampunk music. Of all the self-proclaimed “steampunk” groups (yes, there are several) Steam-Powered Giraffe is certainly the most famous. I haven’t seen them perform live, but I have enjoyed much of their work on-line.

Steam-Powered Giraffe definitely has a memorable gimmick. Its members dress and act like robots. They have robot personae, with names like Rabbit (now Bunny – more on that later) “The Jon” and “The Spine.” You might not expect they’d lean on the costumes and theatrics, but they are quite talented overall. They’re musically polished, they’re versatile in their use of different musical styles, and their vocal harmonies are superb. In 2012 they released their second studio album, and arguably their best, The Two-Cent Show.

As with most really versatile musical groups, most folks won’t like all their songs equally. In fact, I find some a bit annoying, in particular, the album’s first track, “Steamboat Shenanigans” – an intentionally cornball number. The same goes for the title track, which is rather cutesy with its animal noises. But there are also some real gems. One of them, the sweet tin-pan-alley style love song “Honeybee” has become one of my all-time favorites. It ranks with the Beatle’s “Blackbird” as a song that will get stuck in your head, and yet you don’t mind because it’s so doggone pretty. The second-best track, in my opinion, is Automatonic Electronic Harmonics which is sort of a theme song for the group, as its lyrics that describe an automaton’s first experiences as it comes to life. Its cowboy-style tune is a bit reminiscent of Stan Jones’ classic “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Another notable track, “Airheart,” about a girl who becomes an airplane, is enjoyable despite the horrible pun in its title.

The band, which involves no actual giraffes, was founded in San Diego in 2008 by the Bennett twins, Jonathon Sprague, and Erin Burke, being originally theater arts majors at Grossmont College. There have been a number of personnel changes over the years, and the band now consists of the David and Isabella Bennett and Bryan Barbarin. In addition, the original male character “Rabbit” is now a transgender woman (Isabella.) Rabbit/Bunny is, in my opinion, the band’s most entertaining member, using occasional stuttering motions to portray a “malfunctioning” automaton.

Image of album from Amazon and band images from wikipedia.org, taken from Steam-Powered Giraffe’s Official Facebook Page, January 22, 2017. Copyright belongs to the band, fair use in the context of this review.

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