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A Bouillon Cube of Music

The skewed talents behind Polygraph Lounge play what they know and invent the rest.


Nevertheless, we'll try. Schwimmer says the multilimbed thing he and Mark Stewart invented has "a musical and comedy 'When Worlds Collide' kind of effect," meaning that Mozart makes merry with "The Magnificent Seven" (or the soundtrack, anyway). They are talented enough to entertain crowds in small Brooklyn pubs and large concert halls, and funny enough to pass out nose flutes and get the audience rolling along with "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." An average song can cover snatches of Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance," "Dear Prudence," surf rock and "Swan Lake," and level off with "Goldfinger," all sweeping by in 30 seconds or so. What kind of minds could cobble together such madness?

Schwimmer and Stewart formed Polygraph Lounge in New York in 1997 after a year and a half of drinking and trying to make each other laugh in a bar in the East Village. Most partnerships begun this way would lead straight to disaster, but after touring with Simon and Garfunkel and playing in front of the Roman Colosseum for a few hundred thousand people, that seems to have been time well spent. But these guys weren't ordinary bar pals. Schwimmer has written for film and TV, he's a virtuoso on the theremin, and he's worked with the likes of Muddy Waters and Kurt Vonnegut. Stewart has spent the last few years playing with Paul Simon and working on- and off-Broadway. He makes most of his own instruments.

That's the other thing about Polygraph Lounge: The musicians' toys sound like they come straight from Dr. Seuss' orchestra. Items like the "Trombadoo," the "Claviola," the "Daxaphone," the "Travel Bug" and the "Hawaiian Tremaloha" make up their tools of fancy, of PVC, wire and hope. Sounds ridiculous enough, but Schwimmer assures us that the audience keeps up.

"Almost everything we do is something they know," he says. They tap many sources, some more obscure than others, but most should strike a chord. Schwimmer says people will come to shows and unravel the song that was tickling them from the last time. It's a big puzzle all right, but "if you just let it go, it's just sheer enjoyment," Schwimmer says.

As strong as the music is, it's still a show that's meant to be seen, which is why Polygraph Lounge is more interested in producing a DVD than a CD right now. And they have soprano Melissa Fathman along, "singing and hitting things," according to Schwimmer, making a trio of talents that has to be heard as well as seen. But we still may not quite believe it. S

Polygraph Lounge plays the University of Richmond's Camp Concert Hall Monday, Feb. 14, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $14-$28. Call 289-8980 or go to

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