Show Review: Squirrel Nut Zippers Bring Carnival Act to the Stage and Wow ‘Em

Show Reviews

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Americana Highways saw the Squirrel Nut Zippers a couple weeks back, but we had published an interview of carnival frontman Jimbo Mathus on their new album Beasts of Burgundy that same day, so we decided to space our show review out a bit.   That leg of the Zippers tour has ended but another round is coming up southbound across Texas way, so we suggest you check the calendar and pick your date and then put it on your own music calendar with Sharpie, or virtual Sharpie, or, well, make sure you have a chance to see them before they’re filling up the big places where you can’t see the stage anymore. And now for the concert review.

At the Birchmere a few days back, the Squirrel Nut Zippers paraded out onto the stage with fiddle player Dr. Sick in the lead on a Tom-Tom drum, in near darkness, playing their twisted intro “Conglomeration of Curios,” which Mathus announced was their “Tom-Tom Orchestra.” “This way ladies and gentlemen, to see the greatest conglomeration of curios ever gathered together under one canvas tent… Never before has anybody seen such a marvelous collection of rarities…”

The entire night unfolded very unlike an average listening room gig and very much like a reincarnation of a burlesque carnival show.   Dr. Sick switched to banjo and was playing it with the fiddle bow, and Jimbo Mathus asked the audience: “Are you ready for the Big Show?” and the audience was transfixed as the band regaled them with “Karnival Joe From Kokomo” with burlesque performer Cella Blue, Tamara Nicolai on bass & Neilson Bernard III on drums; and the trio of brass – Dave Boswell on trumpet, Steve Suter on trombone and Henry Westmoreland on saxophone — in full swing with piano player Leslie Martin.

“Papa Never Told You” was a bit of a burlesque reenactment, and again Dr. Sick got into the act, removing his jacket in a hilariously mock sultry way, with Cella Blue. Then there was “Pray the Lord My Soul to Keep”, “Grandaddy” and then Blue entertained the audience one more time with “What Your Mama Gave You.”   The audience collapsed into giggles with the silly irreverent “Blow That Rusty Trombone.”

Jimbo Mathus switched to cowbell for the motivational “West of Zanzibar” with its African rhythms, then Cella Blue returned to commandeer the scene alongside an extended trumpet solo by Dave Boswell.

Banter was in keeping with sideshow slapstick punnery.   There were truly silly jokes where Jimbo Mathus said “Dr. Sick takes care of me,” and there was a long procession of “ba dum bum” bird puns.   “The other day I was in his office. Here’s what happened. A pigeon walks by, and it was the cutest little thing, so I picked it up and kissed it. A couple days later, I had “chirpies.” It was a “canarial disease,” “totally untweetable.” With Dr. Sick protesting the level of corniness and shouting “wait!” in between, and Mathus acknowledging: “sorry guys, these jokes are fowl, they quacked her up though!”

The band played a couple off the Hot album: “Bad Businessman” and “Hell,” with Mathus brandishing his craggly walking stick; during which time the entire nine-piece orchestra created a processional line throughout the entire venue, weaving in between tables and brushing past delighted fans.

The encores included: when you lose the one you love there’s always “Plenty More,” and then, some might say they saved the best for last with the showstopping “Hey Shango.”  The night left fans with plenty to think about regarding the uniqueness of the Squirrel Nut Zippers show.  The Zippers shook hands and posed for pictures in the lobby afterward which not everyone has the drive to do, and the fans, including this one, were grateful they took the time.

Check out their new album Beasts of Burgundy here  and check their tour schedule Read our interview with Jimbo Mathus here:

Beasts of Burgundy by the Squirrel Nut Zippers; album art by J.D. WIlkes

2 thoughts on “Show Review: Squirrel Nut Zippers Bring Carnival Act to the Stage and Wow ‘Em

Leave a Reply!