Squirrel Nut Zippers, the Palace, LA, 8/4/98
Thank goodness for the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Perhaps the grandest dark horse entry to save us all from the horrendous blight that is modern rock radio today. (Oh pardon me, I forgot to preface that sentence with "Warning: opinion in use." Sorry. I'll get it right next time.) I'm kind of curious how it all came together, from the early days when the band members ended up at their first gig on a whim as something else to do besides sitting around eating fried chicken in their time off time from various jobs. What started so small and haphazard has blossomed to the point that they have a full stage set, all kinds of lights, and hordes of little helper monkeys running about and swapping out their instruments (and are on a label which has been assimilated by the Disney collective). It's all so different from where they started, but I put good odds on their ability to age with grace.
So what's it all about? Well, let me tell you. As the stage lights come up, their music comes at you full force like some recklessly careening contraption, full of brass and bombast - the kind of music to boogie to while the markets are crumbling, to dance to when the ship is going down, to leave your cares behind and forget that Rome is burning and that the emperor has no clothes. And then, when you wake up hung over amidst the smoking, smoldering rubble, Katharine Whalen's smoky sultry voice carefully emerges like a ghost from some forgotten 78 record to guide you all the way back home.
Swing is big now. It's cool to learn the Lindy Hop. Folks like the Cherry Poppin' Daddies are all over the airwaves. Heck, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy even effectively had their own movie. But there's some sort of timeless element that seems to have been left trodden in the dust in the mad stampede to the cash register. A visceral soul that ties it all together and bestows a timeless spirit. The Zippers have got that. One could say that they are a 'revival' band - of swing, of hot jazz - call it what you will. But I think it's something a little deeper - perhaps a kind of mystical posession by a spirit from the early part of the century. It's all there - the lilting vigor, the dangerous curves, the reckless tempo, the seductive energy that drove Gatsby to his Greatness.
It's really hard not to let yourself get swept away - but why in the world would you want to hold back?
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