The last time I heard the Squirrel Nut Zippers, I was probably fifteen years old, sitting in my parents’ living room eating a bowl of Marshmallow Mateys at 6 a.m. while watching music videos on MTV before going outside to catch the school bus (yes – music videos. On MTV). The video for their single at the time, “Hell” was one of the few videos on MTV that I actually enjoyed watching. It wouldn’t be long, though, before I lost interest in the music that MTV had to offer and admittedly, I lost track of the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
But a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t need to think twice before taking the opportunity to see them play live at the Triple Door here in Seattle. They opened up with “Good Enough For Grandad” a song that flaunted an impressive solo from the trumpet player. Katharine Whalen’s vocals were showcased on many of the songs – and rightly so – she’s got an incredible voice. Vocal duties were divided pretty equally between her and Jimbo Mathus throughout the entire set. Katharine also plays a mean tambourine.
Interestingly, the Squirrel Nut Zippers as a group seemed to have quite a knack for fashion. Between the eight of them, their attire was an unusual blend of formal and casual – not too different from their music – a little jazz and a little rock. Katharine’s giant top hat with its huge white feather and Jimbo’s silver shoes and straw hat emphasized the playfulness of the music, while the sax player’s full suit and tie and the trumpet player’s wingtips brought attention to the swing and jazz influences in the songs.
As the night went on, the band’s energy level rose and they brought out plenty more upbeat and creative songs. The entire horn section was extremely talented and each of them had their chance to take the spotlight at least a couple of times throughout the set. I have to admit that I spent a lot of my time at the show anticipating the band playing the song “Hell”. Just when I thought there was no chance, all of the lights went red and the familiar guitar strumming and blend of horns filled the room. Henry Westmoreland threw down a wicked sax solo a minute in to the song and the crowd went nuts.
After hearing them perform “Hell”, bringing me straight back to the living room waiting for the bus in 1997, my night was complete. The only thing that might have made the night better was a bowl of cereal, though something tells me the Triple Door doesn’t serve Marshmallow Mateys. But that certainly didn’t stop me from enjoying their other songs like “Put a Lid on It” and “My Drag” that I’d never heard before. It also didn’t stop the crowd from pounding on the tables and clapping, demanding an encore. The band happily obliged. Everything about their set was enjoyable – from their interactions with each other on stage, their unique dress, and of course their distinctive blend of jazz, swing, and rock.