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Review: Zammuto, AU, Me Vale Madre

Me Vale Madre, PJ Waxman, MVM

PJ Waxman of Me Vale Madre, all photos by D.Wallace

After being so impressed by Yellow Minute at the Apache Lake Music Festival, I was a pleasantly surprised to find myself in front of Me Vale Madre where PJ Waxman from Yellow Minute plays lead. MVM has a different brand of rock — and I’m buying it. Tony Patiño stands in front of a plethora of midi controllers, pedals, and a mixer on the floor, as there was no room left in his personal electronic laboratory. Me Vale Madre was engaging, exciting, and made beautiful, beautiful noise. Since the band is local, I will without a doubt be at the next show.

AU, Luke Wyland

Luke Wyland of AU

AU was next, with just as many cords, wires, pedals, and controllers. All that plus a clarinet that was attached to the powerful Holland Andrews and drummer Dana Valatka armed with hand bells. Keyboardist/vocalist Luke Wyland was fantastic to watch but Andrews stole the show. And after a solo piece, when we were all thinking “this gal could hold her own with just that voice, clarinet and some looping pedals,” Wyland announced that she had a solo project, Like a Villian. AU was able to manipulate its myriad of electronic components with ease and without pretension. The musicians are passionate performers, and I was completely blown away by the diversity of sounds and talent, and their sheer relentlessness.

Nick Zammuto, Zammuto

Nick Zammuto of Zammuto

And now for the headliner: Zammuto. You never know who is going to stop by Phoenix, so when I got the announcement that Zammuto would be at Crescent Ballroom, I was pretty damn excited. Nick Zammuto, composer and vocalist for the group, was part of the duo The Books. I was introduced to the band’s music about five years ago and they remain one of my favorite bands, even though the duo is no longer together. Zammuto’s music is genuine, sometimes funny, and always intriguing. Not to mention that he actually uses powerful meter and tempo changes (thank you!).

Zammuto’s set up was quite minimal compared to the other ensembles — keys, two guitars, bass, kit, projector, and a few other tricks. Several of the Zammuto tunes had very precisely synced video… my favorite of which was “Too Late to Apologize.” And yesterday I learned that the tune is about finger skateboarding (or is it? that’s what they said). The video? Well, old footage of finger skateboarding. Although “Zebra Butt” did come pretty close to being my favorite, you can’t ignore good music about finger skateboarding (maybe). Overall, the various subject matter was not so much bizarre as it was oddly common. Zammuto has a song titled “Yay” about chronic back pain (which is just not fair to sing in front of an audience that has been standing for three hours, but then again, that was probably the point). They also have a tune about an old infomercial-type “self-massaging tool” (no, not that) called “The Stick” (really, it’s not what you think). There are no lyrics, save those provided by the video. I immediately thought of Jacob TV who is known for chopping text from infomercials and TV to create tracks for piano and other various instruments. You’ll understand more of what Zammuto was doing if you check out this Jacob TV video.

There was a greater sense of ease on stage for this last set. Zammuto is a band of wildly talented, seasoned musicians and it shows in more ways than one (Sean Dixon on drums, Gene Back on guitar, Mikey Zammuto on bass). They don’t take themselves too seriously (you can’t when you are showing videos that pretty much stifle the desire to dance around. If you’re wondering if that means the videos were that interesting or that awkward, well, it was both), but giving anything under 100 percent isn’t an option. After revving up the audience with images of Christmas trees igniting in living rooms, the show ended with “The Greatest Auto Harp Solo of All Time,” also known as the liveliest rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” ever performed. This song can only be heard live. And you missed it. Ancient autoharp video also included. As dedicated fans do, an encore was requested and the evening concluded with a few favorite songs originally by The Books.

Nick Zammuto’s work doesn’t end with his new band. He has scored several documentaries and he and Paul de Jong (the other half of The Books) have worked with The Bang on a Can All-Stars. More of his work: Soundcloud, documentary about Nick Zammutodocumentary scored by Zammuto.

  • PJ Waxman of Me Vale Madre PJ Waxman of Me Vale Madre
  • Tony Patiño of Me Vale Madre Tony Patiño of Me Vale Madre
  • Mike Bell of Me Vale Madre Mike Bell of Me Vale Madre
  • Luke Wyland of AU Luke Wyland of AU
  • Holland Andrews of AU Holland Andrews of AU
  • Dana Valatka of AU Dana Valatka of AU
  • Sean Dixon of Zammuto Sean Dixon of Zammuto
  • Mikey Zammuto of Zammuto Mikey Zammuto of Zammuto
  • Gene Back of Zammuto Gene Back of Zammuto


One Comment

  1. This was an awesome, awesome show. To bad there were only about forty people there. I’m glad I was one of them. Nick Zammuto was super friendly and gracious, as well as all of the members of AU. As the article says above, I was also blown away by Like a Villain/HA. She is a powerhouse of talent and voice. Zammuto was also a great experience. I can’t wait for his new album, Anchor to get released, as well as his return to Phoenix in September of 2014. Now if we can only get AU (with Holland) back to the southwest…….

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