Zammuto at the McGuire Theater, 11/10/12
McGuire Theater, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
November 10, 2012
Nick Zammuto made a triumphant return to the Walker Art Center on Saturday night. This time, the former member of the Books brought his new project, Zammuto, to the McGuire Theater, delighting the crowd with an inventive collection of songs from throughout his experimental musical career. He was backed by three talented musicians, including his brother Mikey on bass, which gave his new material an organic, more accessible tone while still maintaining the imaginative sonic qualities which garnered the Books a small but dedicated following in the first place.
The 80-minute set, which brought Zammuto's first full-scale North American tour to a close, grew more unorthodox as the night wore on, as they started the show with "Groan Man, Don't Cry," which Nick said was about the road trip. And indeed, striking images of views from the road flashed on the screen behind them, while their ace drummer, Sean Dixon, kept the pace with his on-point rhythms and guitarist/keyboardist Gene Back gave the track some texture and teeth.
The Bob Dylan-homage "Idiom Wind" was soon followed by "The Shape Of Things To Come," and it was apparent at this point that Zammuto's new direction was far more conventional than his previous band, as these rather straightforward tracks took on a more natural vulnerability than his innovative but aloof previous work.
But that doesn't mean that Zammuto lost his playful, whimsical nature. Not only are the track names fanciful themselves, but Nick's charming onstage persona shines through even more in this new arrangement. While introducing "Too Late to Topologize," the auto-tune on Nick's microphone accidentally switched on, but he carried through with his distorted intro anyway, "It's such an honor to be back here at the Walker. The Books played here five years ago and it was one of our most memorable shows ever. This next song is about finger-skateboarding." And images of cool finger-skateboarding tricks only augmented the sportive pulse of the song.
The set truly found a spark during a dynamic, lively take on "Zebra Butt," which Nick introduced lightheartedly, "This song is called Zebra Butt, and it's about Zebra Butts." As a shocking and hilarious number of different images of Zebra butts flashed on the large screen behind them, the band churned up a driving, untamed melody that really had an infectious swing to it. Frightening images of Christmas trees catching fire and engulfing entire rooms in flames accompanied the awesomely-titled "F-U C-3PO," before the band slowed things down with a moody, simmering take on "Harlequin."
The expansive McGuire Theater stage allowed Nick to try something he hasn't been able to do yet on this tour, as he pointed his camera towards Dixon and projected his image on the big screen as he launched into an energetic drum solo, getting the crowd to snap their fingers along to the beat while he occasionally dropped out to check and see if we were still keeping time. That slowly morphed into a relaxed, mellow cover of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," which found Nick joking afterwards, "We all love that song, and so do my sons. But the disco breakdown simply had to go."
"Now we're going to attempt on of the strangest transitions that a band can do--this next song is about chronic back pain," Nick explained, as the band eased into "Yay," which featured dramatic, humorous images of people in the throes of back pain (typically no laughing matter, but not on this night). Zammuto then reached what Nick called "the commercial portion of our set." He lamented how bands can't make money by selling records anymore, and they need corporate sponsorship to survive. So, while an infomercial for the self-massager The Stick (which Nick described as "like a toothbrush for your muscles") played behind them, the band kicked into a jocular song of the same name. It was indeed as preposterous as it sounds.
Nick then gave a nod to his musical past, as the group delved into the Books catalog for "That Right Ain't Shit," and "Classy Penguin," which Mikey wrote a long time ago. To echo that sentiment, endearing home video footage of Nick and Mikey played behind the band, giving the track a warm, personal touch. Before the main set came to an end, Nick took another moment to sincerely thank the Art Center, "Let's hear it for the Walker, there's no other place like this," while also encouraging all of us to go see the Cindy Sherman exhibit. They closed with a rousing cover of "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic," playing along with an instructional video of a man playing the patriotic track on an autoharp. Somehow, strangely, it all worked, and the crowd rose to their feet in appreciative applause.
After the briefest of breaks, the band returned for a two-song encore which featured the wildly inventive "Weird Ceiling," before closing with a stark, stripped-down version of the Books' "Smells Like Content." The group took a well-earned bow as the second standing ovation of the night saw them off, sadly without playing their cover of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down," which they've been playing regularly on this tour. While Nick has taken his sound in a different, more straightforward, direction with Zammuto, his sonic inventiveness and genial personality still shines through in both his music and his engaging live show, and that winning combination is what ultimately made this performance so memorable.
Personal Bias: I loved the Books since the moment I heard The Lemon of Pink. And as Nick's sound has evolved over the years, I've been willfully following right along, and will continue to do so.
The Crowd: A nearly full-house packed with old-school fans of the Books, and people just curious to catch a show at the Walker on a Saturday night.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I can't believe how many different pictures of Zebra butts they have."
Random Notebook Dump: Eluvium, the sonic brainchild of Matthew Cooper, opened the evening with a lovely set full of atmospheric, understated songs. His mainly instrumental material was built around ambient electronic effects, but had a real soulful, pensive quality to them that perfectly set the stage for the headliner.
Groan Man, Don't Cry
The Shape Of Things To Come
To Late To Topologize
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover (Paul Simon)
That Right Ain't Shit (The Books)
Classy Penguin (The Books)
Battle Hymn Of The Republic (Julia Ward Howe)
Weird Ceiling (Encore)
Smells Like Content (The Books)(Encore)
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