It has been almost two years since the last time Caravan of Thieves played a concert in Bennington, and now, with a new album on the horizon, they're ready for a triumphant return to the Vermont Arts Exchange. And when they get here, you'll know -- this isn't a band that likes to blend in.
"People sometimes compare us to artists with a gypsy flavor, or with a folky sound," said singer and guitarist Fuzz Sangiovanni, who started Caravan of Thieves with his wife, Carrie. "But the thing is, we've tried intentionally not to fall into any particular box that other groups have created. We want to carve our own path."
Six years into their career as a band, Caravan of Thieves have started to earn a reputation for their wildly enthusiastic live concerts and unique musical vision, which incorporates eclectic elements of many musical and performing traditions.
"When we first started we wanted to have a very focused concept," said Fuzz. "We had two or things in mind, and they were to incorporate gypsy jazz music (essentially the Django Reinhardt sound and style) with a pop vocal, which was primarily us trying to emulate The Beatles' songwriting and singing and harmonies. There's also a little bit of macabre -- wild and dark storytelling -- which you could say is like Tom Waits or Tim Burton or Dr. Seuss.
Over the years, Fuzz said they've expanded this vision to include elements of ragtime and old-timey music, Duke Ellington and Count Basie-style swing music and percussive rhythmic sounds reminiscent of latin music. While these new influences have broadened the band's sound, Fuzz says they're still committed to the band's original concept.
"We're not all of a sudden going to become a reggae band or a techno band or anything like that," he said.
This sense of originality is especially apparent in the band's cover songs, which have become crowd favorites. While they primarily play their own (predictably unique) original songs at shows, they have also been known to bust out raucous acoustic versions of rock hits like Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads, "Thriller" by Michael Jackson and various Beatles tunes. While these songs are well-known, Caravan of Thieves performs them like you've never heard before, infusing such immortal compositions with their own energy and gypsy jazz flair.
Over their years as a touring group, Caravan of Thieves' self-carved path has taken them from their hometown of Bridgeport, Conn., to the country's biggest cities and small towns alike. While most bands dream of "making it" in major markets like New York and Los Angeles, Caravan of Thieves say they've taken a liking to smaller towns like Bennington.
"From our standpoint, playing the small markets is actually better," said Fuzz. "Sometimes when you're one of four events going on in town, compared to one of 150 things going on, it's a little easier to get through to the crowd."
"It's more fun to play Bennington than it is to play Nashville, if you ask me," he continued. "We know we're going to have a good time there. It can be hit or miss in Nashville."
Carrie Sangiovanni -- Fuzz's bandmate and spouse -- agreed, explaining that crowds in smaller towns are "usually full of people that are really psyched about supporting and enjoying music and getting involved with the show."
According to the bands, the benefits of small-town concerts are even greater upon return visits like this one, as the band last played here in May 2012 at the Vermont Arts Exchange and they have also performed at the Bennington Center for the Arts.
"We're always out and meeting people who come to the show and the people who run the show," said Fuzz, "so it's nice to get back and see familiar faces."
"Last time we were in Bennington I think we hung out pretty late into the night with everybody who put together the event," he continued. "Matthew, the guy who runs the Arts Exchange, was really cool, and we all wound up walking around the woods and the town and having drinks -- it was a full-on hangout. It's great that we've had that experience, and now we get to come back. It's like seeing old familiar friends."
Although Caravan of Thieves has played in Bennington before, their fans (who they lovingly call "freaks") can look forward to hearing some new songs on Friday, as the band is in the process of testing out songs for a new album. Following "The Funhouse," which they released in March 2012, they hope to start recording their next record "in the next month or two."
Caravan of Thieves is playing at the Vermont Arts Exchange in North Bennington tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 28) as part of their Basement Music Series. Tickets will be available at the door, or you can purchase them in advance at brownpapertickets.com. The show will start at 8 p.m.
Jack McManus can be reached on Twitter at @Banner_Arts and by email at email@example.com