Review and photos by Fred Kuhlman
Venue: Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)
Date: Sunday February 27th, 2018
I remember a program back in the late 80s or early 90s that would play on Cox channel 98 late at night called Freak City. It was a music program that played live performances by artists outside of the mainstream at that time. This is where I was introduced to Techno and other forms of music. One night there was this strange group playing that consisted of all these different instruments and they started to play in this freeform style. At first, I was confused but as I listened to it I started to really enjoy it. Since that time, I can say I have now seen 2 different groups that reminded me of that program, Gorilla and Squirrel Nut Zippers. Squirrel Nut Zippers music is a fusion of Delta blues, gypsy jazz, 1930s–era swing, klezmer, New Orleans Jazz, and other styles.
Squirrel Nut Zippers is made up a collect of musicians from North Carolina but in reality, they sound more like bands from New Orleans. I could see them marching down a street in New Orleans playing and leading a large procession. The ring leader and founder of this group is James “Jimbo” Mathus. He is flanked by Dr. Sick and Cella Blue. They all provide the vocals and Dr. Sick plays fiddle, banjo and guitar. They are accompanied by bassist Tamara Nicolai, drummer Neilson Bernard III, piano player Leslie Martin, Dave Boswell on trumpet, Steve Suter on trombone and Henry Westmoreland on saxophone.
It has been over 15 years since Squirrel Nut Zippers have released a new album. The concert was a mixture of new songs from their latest album, Beast of Burgundy and their 1996 album Hot. They started the show with “Karnival Joe” with Cella providing lead vocals. Throughout the show Dr. Sick was dancing around playing either a fiddle, banjo or guitar. At one point he even did a teaser and took his jacket off to striptease music. Jimbo is the ring leader and he played banjo and guitar. At one point in the show, bassist Tamara brought her upright bass out front and while she was playing, Jimbo climbed up on the bass and moved around shaking his snake cane. During another song, Jimbo put on a skeleton mask with a snake coming out of the eye holes.
They ended the show by forming a parade that lead from the stage, through the crowd and out into the foyer where they met with the audience. You could purchase merchandise including the new album and have the different band members sign it. Jimbo even was having his picture taken with a number of people (I was the one using each person’s phone to take the photo). If you get the chance to see Squirrel Nut Zippers it is a really fun concert and you will be dancing along with them as they leave the hall. Also, the MIM is an excellent venue for this type of band. I roamed to both sides of the stage and at the top of the venue and the sound was great.
Photos © Fred Kuhlman 2018
Squirrel Nut Zippers Setlist: (Album)
Karnival Joe (Beast Of Burgundy)
Put a Lid On It (Hot)
Blue Angel (Hot)
Axeman Jazz (Beast Of Burgundy)
West of Zaqnzibar (Beast Of Burgundy)
Rusty Trombone (Beast Of Burgundy)
Use Want Mama Gave You (Beast Of Burgundy)
Fade (Beast Of Burgundy)
Beasts of Burgundy (Beast Of Burgundy)
Bad Businessman (Hot)
Ghost of Stephen Foster w/ video (Perennial Favorites)