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Kris Kerzman, Variety contributor, Published October 27 2013

Mood Music: Beware the Vine’s costumed cabaret invokes theatrical performance

FARGO - It was a dark and stormy night.

Two costumed musicians in pale makeup took the stage in a haunted house. Poised at their instruments, they dared to summon the devilish secrets of a dark past and pay homage to the grotesqueries of the circus.

And just as the veiled singer approached the microphone, her voice about to rise in tandem with her accordion …

She forgot the lyrics.

“I thought, ‘Oh, maybe he’s just doing an extended drum intro or something,’ ” Beware the Vine singer Aimee Klein said of bandmate and drummer Todd Ruzicka.

You can forgive Klein her jitters – not many bands hold their first performance in a haunted house. Ruzick describes that first gig at the famous Palmer House in Sauk Centre, Minn., as “magical,” complete with a lightning storm.

The mood perfectly suited the Fargo-based band’s penchant for dark cabaret music and love of theater and costumes.

When playing live, the duo looks like they might have wandered off a silent film set. Ruzicka dresses in all black, complete with bowler hat, white makeup and dark eye liner and lipstick. Klein dons a dress fit for vaudeville and a coy black pillbox hat and veil over her eyes.

The combination was spawned from Klein’s desire for an outlet that combined some of her loves: the smoldering mood of dark cabaret singers like Jill Tracy, off-kilter circus sounds, freak show imagery, ragtime, and the thrill of dressing in character. Appropriately enough, she lifted a line from an Edward Gorey poem for the band name.

“Cabaret is very theatrical in nature,” Klein said. “I’ve always been involved in theater. I took a little break from it and played in some cover bands, but I never felt 100 percent myself onstage. Then, I started doing improv comedy and it actually helped me be a better musician. With Beware the Vine, the two halves became a whole.”

Ruzicka, a Fargo music scene veteran, performed in several metal, industrial and glam-punk bands before joining forces with Klein. He was drawn into the aesthetic and the stage presentation, noting that Beware the Vine provides a sharp contrast to the ill-preparedness and lack of effort that plagues much of live music.

“Rock music really doesn’t excite me, but this is something really different and outside of the norm,” Ruzicka said. “I’m invoking this character, but when I’m in makeup onstage, I feel more like me. I think our audience gets that, too – that we’re all freaks, and we love them.”

That humanity and warmth with a bit of humor creeps in to the band’s stage persona, reminding the audience that the whole circus freak thing is all about performing in character. Klein said she and Ruzicka love to interact with the audience and give them a few laughs.

“It makes them feel like they’re a part of the show, which is very important,” she said. “Sometimes, if we happen to make a little flub, we’ll turn that into a joke and the audience can laugh with us. The audience can be along on our journey no matter how freakish and weird it may be.”

Ruzicka said it hasn’t been easy for the band to find appropriate venues that showcase the Beware the Vine show, but they’ve managed to build up some steam nonetheless.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Klein and Ruzicka released an album at the end of the summer entitled “Sex, Drugs, and Cabaret” (available on their Reverbnation page) and have begun finding gigs throughout Minnesota. The duo is trying to focus on playing living room concerts in the area as a way to keep an intimate feel for each show.

Ruzicka said that the genre of dark cabaret is unfamiliar to a lot of people’s ears, but that only seems to fuel their audiences’ curiosity.

“People seem really excited and inspired by us,” he said. “We’re really coming out of left field for a lot of them, but they get it. And that’s really encouraging for us.”

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, visit theartspartnership.net/artspulse.