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When we approach musicians performing at MBTA stations and platforms around town, there’s a usual tendency to look away. When it’s The Pillow Men filling the unsuspecting air with their moody sounds and sinister identity, its damn near impossible to ignore.
The mysterious and masked Boston quintet has been slowly building buzz over the past two years, mainly for their ability to spring up in the unlikeliest of places. If you haven’t personally seen them perform at the Stony Brook station in Jamaica Plain, or out on the asphalt of Downtown Crossing, then perhaps you’ve come across social media posts that are often lined with one simple question: “What the hell is this?”
The answer, on its surface, is The Pillow Men, but like most things the answer runs deeper. Tonight and tomorrow, the band brings their theatrics, their horns, and a devilish dive into the world of dreamland to the cabaret theater of Oberon in Cambridge for what is being labeled as “The Official Debut of the Complete Production.”
Musically, the band performs a mix of art rock, pop, jazz, and world music. Visually, they’re sort of a demonic Blue Man Group without the splashes of color or interest in tourists, adored with Peruvian masks that suggest evil undertones. And theatrically, The Pillow Men have devised a two-hour show that explores the emotional range and fits of one’s dreams, allowing the group to prey on one’s most vulnerable state.
“It’s all about dreams, the whole thing is an escape in the night,” says vocalist, guitarist, and charanguista Dan Barrenechea during a quick break during the band’s 13-hour tech day at Oberon in preparation for tonight’s debut. “The whole show is this escape into dreamworld, the different emotions that come to play; each song is a different dream playing on those emotions. We sleep for one-third of our lives, and we listen to our dreams.”
What the dreams suggest back to us is the central theme to The Pillow Men’s show. The evening begins with our introduction to Alex, the “sleeper,” and transpires over a process that begins with a “good night,” arches over the course of sleep, and concludes with a “good morning.” The Pillow Men’s introductory lullaby sets the tone, and then their songs tell the story.
For The Pillow Men, this idea of humankind’s relationship with dreams was an organic development, and some of the band’s early compositions eerily fit into their newfound premise. But from the start, Barrenechea says that the intended goal for the band was to create something that told a story; from the initial seed planted by their visual identity to exploring musical themes that suggest dreams are a gateway to a soul’s immortality. “Instead of being a band playing bars,” Barrenechea says, “what if we became theatrical? Make a whole concept around dreams, create something that was very abstract.
Of course, that’s slightly trickier to pull off when you’re playing under the cover of night out in Jamaica Plain, and the cops swing by at least seven times over the course of a few months suggesting they stop. “Oberon is by far the best place for this,” Barrenechea adds. “We can play anywhere, but we really want to push for a full thratrical experience. This is a full cabaret.”
Just don’t fall asleep, and definitely don’t look away.