Wednesday, June 7, 2006

That old chestnut about necessity being the mother of invention sometimes proves itself in unusual ways.

Take the Norwegian trio Hurra Torpedo. If the group’s original drummer had not left in the early 1990s, bass player Kristopher Schau might never have been forced to switch to percussion, a move that ended up giving the band its trademark sound.

The sound, that is, of kitchen appliances, the percussion the band members turned to because they couldn’t afford a proper drum kit.

“Appliances were standing around on every street corner in the part of town where Kristopher lived. It was basically a slum,” bass player, guitarist and vocalist Egil Hegerberg explains via e-mail from Norway. “We started playing the appliances almost as a joke, but we quickly discovered that they had a great sound.”

The band, already popular in its home country, will play for the first time in the Washington area tomorrow at the State Theatre in Falls Church.

The appliance-heavy lineup may have been a one-time joke, but the band began to gain a following at its early shows in 1993. The buzz continued to build in 1995 when a Norwegian TV show aired a clip of the band playing a cover of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

Without ever putting out more than a few singles, Hurra Torpedo managed to attract full houses in its homeland and made an annual joke of playing “farewell/reunion tours,” says Mr. Hegerberg. By 2005, the trio was thinking of finally retiring when a video of “Total Eclipse” hit the Internet and became a cult hit.

Hurra Torpedo made its first trip to the United States last fall but missed the capital area, an oversight it will remedy this time around.

Banging on appliances might sound easy enough for a toddler, but there’s a science behind the band’s methods. As Mr. Hegerberg explains, the “central piece” in the percussion kit is a deep freezer, with a sturdy handle and a light lid, that has a hole drilled in its side to make it easier to capture the sound with microphones.

They also use European electrical stoves, preferably from the 1970s, because they give off a better sound than larger American stoves. Other equipment includes a front-loading washing machine with a separate centrifuge that can be removed for use as a cymbal, a working tumble dryer that is filled with broken glass and a waffle iron that doubles as a castanet.

“The appliances have a richer, fuller sound than any other percussion instruments known to man,” Mr. Hegerberg says. “The downside is that it is very heavy to play them and Kristopher gets very exhausted, but he is a very strong guy, and very willful, so he manages.”

Picking songs that will sound good on these motley instruments is a challenge, but one the band embraces. On its debut album, “Kollossus of Makedonia,” just released in Norway, they cover Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and Tatu’s “All the Things She Said,” both popular on the pop charts here.

For the State Theatre show, they are considering doing a Fugazi cover and often play “These Boots are Made For Walking” in their live sets. The live material is interspersed with original songs that are almost solely the brainchild of singer, songwriter, guitarist and percussionist Aslag Guttormsgaard.

The album doesn’t come close to a Hurra Torpedo live show, which Mr. Hegerberg says is a good thing.

“Who would like to have three guys in blue track suits running around in their kitchen, destroying everything every time they put on a record?” he says.

• • •

Mason Jennings might not yet be a household name, but he certainly deserves to be one. It takes a special talent to be able to draw in an audience with just a voice and a guitar — and like Bob Dylan, James Taylor, and more recent talents such as Jack Johnson and David Gray, Mr. Jennings falls into that camp.

His major label debut, “Boneclouds,” is out now and it should help expand the audience for the eclectic singer/songwriter. For those who want to hear what all the fuss is about, though, it would be a far better idea to check him out live.

As luck would have it, he plays an early show Saturday at the 9:30 Club in the District. See him now before he begins filling up stadiums.

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