Balkan Death Grip perform “Men Trinkte Mashke”

Balkan Death Grip

Matt Heckler, Trevor Grassi and Jeff Loops, with unseen members of Balkan Death Grip, perform near Pritchard Park in downtown Asheville, NC.

Matt Heckler and Trevor Grassi lead this incarnation of Balkan Death Grip to hell and back. Well, maybe that’s a bit of a melodramatic way of putting it, but this is a highly melodramatic song. After all, it’s about a man who pays his way by shoveling coal in hell, who plays music that smells of gasoline and who, they say, is around “every time a ship goes down.” It’s also one of the most entertainingly over-the-top tunes ever performed in front of the Busk Break camera.

If you don’t know the name Balkan Death Grip, you shouldn’t feel too bad. Fiddle-playing frontman Matt Heckler and accordionist Trevor Grassi have used the name on-and-off for years for their Eastern European-fueled gypsy, jazzy, klezmer, Roma tunes. While they do have a Facebook page and a long-outdated MySpace account, neither are a good source for content from the band. Heckler, along with frequent Balkan Death Grip bassist Jeff Loops, are core members of NC-based touring band Deep Chatham, which surely cuts down on their busking time.

At the time of this recording, however, Balkan Death Grip was regularly playing around Asheville, and all three core members (Heckler, Grassi and Loops) were living in town. The group’s lineup was in constant flux, but it was always composed of outstanding performers.

Although I’ve recorded Balkan Death Grip several times and in several different arrangements, this is by far the most memorable of the performances I caught. The group had a tight grip on their sound, and were well aware of how solid their songs and lineup were. They were so good, in fact, that I actually forgot one of the most basic questions one asks when recording musicians playing original work, “What was the name of that song?” (I’ve since learned from Heckler that the tune is a variation on the song “Men Trinkte Mashke.”)

Every once in a while, Heckler, Grassi and Loops will perform together as Balkan Death Grip, and it’s entirely possible we’ll see an album or tour from them at some point under that name. Until then, enjoy this one fantastic tune.