The Mad Marionettes were hitting audiences with a rare blend of experimental banjo-punk that could blisteringly turn shades darker at a moment's notice with eerie melodies (hauntingly reminiscent of the Midnight Syndicate).
If you weren't being blown away or didn't find yourself cradled in a corner somewhere in the fetal position, you weren't listening closely enough.
The Mad Marionettes' sound and size have also changed; they've doubled from a quartet to an eight-piece band. Keyboardist Ulises "Cheese" Rodriguez says the expansions were born out of creative necessity. "Danny and Ivan McCormick continued developing the music," he says of his fellow band mates "when Danny felt we needed more people to do what we had in mind." Anyone who had the opportunity to witness the Mad Marionettes in the early days noticed a complex stage performance underlying how their ambition outsized their personnel. "When we were a four piece we switched instruments a lot during shows," Cheese recalled, "We simply saw that we had to have more members."
Reconstructed in the expansive musical and creative vision of the band, the Mad Marionettes have made a habit of taking to the Bistro 400 restaurant in Santa Ana every first Saturday of the month. The venue serves as a laboratory setting for them and their continuing evolution. "The Bistro shows are acoustic and we play a lot of our music but we also do a lot of improvisation and play a lot of jazz," Cheese lets on. "We also invite musician friends and others to jam with us."
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Going with the flow of change, fans, so far, have embraced the new sonic explorations. "Everybody has been very welcoming for us and they have a good time," the keyboardist explains. "If it wasn't for the people we wouldn't keep coming back there."
The Bistro 400 acoustic shows along with the full fledged performances the Mad Marionettes still deliver in venues across the southland has halted the band from becoming musically atrophied. "Definitely the music has changed a lot since then," Cheese says of time since being declared the "Next Big Thing" of all of the Inland Empire. "It's still energetic, but more interesting. It's more melodic and developing to its full potential."
The band hopes to bring its new brew fully into the recording studio soon and looks to next year as the time they could potentially unleash a new album release show on fans and newcomers alike. In the meantime, you can catch the musicians puppeteering their sound at Bistro 400 and assess their compelling work in progress live as it unfolds.
Mad Marionettes play Bistro 400, 400 W. Fourth Street, Santa Ana. (714) 543-9821, www.bistro400.com, Sat. 9 p.m. Free with a one drink/item purchase minimum. All Ages.