Live Review: Zammuto at The Basement

Back in June, The Books’ former half Nick Zammuto opened for Explosions in the Sky at the historic Ryman Auditorium. Replacing Paul de Jong with an arsenal of top-notch musicians and a solo moniker, Zammuto rebounded from The Books’ breakup with astounding tact. I had the opportunity to talk with him back during their first trip to Nashville and was able to learn a bit more about this solo effort.

Building from a percussive foundation (Sean Dixon), Zammuto worked from the ground up when deciding how to structure his new material and subsequent band. The end result was a quartet comprised of himself, Dixon, multi-instruementalist/Books contributor Gene Back and biological brother Mikey on bass. While the names and instruments are important to know, what matters is this: they are better musicians than you.

The Basement is one of the smaller venues in Nashville. Situated directly underneath Grimey’s New and Preloved Music, the space is ideal for intimate performances. Joined by opener Lymbyc Systym, Zammuto and company turned the two hours they had on stage into an unforgettable performance and spectacular sampling of what both groups have to offer.

Brooklyn-based Lymbyc Systym are, for lack of a better description, electronic post-rock. Blending the better features of groups such as RATATAT and Explosions in the Sky, the brother duo punched through a majority of their recently-released Symbolyst. It was their first time performing in Nashville, which is surprising when considering the list of artists they’ve toured with. From Broken Social Scene to Crystal Castles to Buckethead (Buckethead for chrissake!), their touring history is indicative of the versatile and innovative material that populates their catalog.

Then came Zammuto, whose performances are a triple threat; they’re a showcase of musicianship, a healthy dose of video art and – to top it off – pretty damn hilarious. While each member’s understanding of his respective instrument(s) deserves undivided attention, their ability to play off sensitivities sets them above other artists. Back fingerpicks flawlessly through complex riffs such as the opening of “Groan Man, Don’t Cry” against Nick’s auto-tuned melodies. Mikey jams out with a bass style that blends the funkiness of Les Claypool with the technical dexterity of Victor Wooten, and Dixon’s polyrhythmic blitzkrieg of drum kit and pad fill the last remaining traces of empty sonic space. Now take that, and imagine it thirteen more times.

If there is one aspect of The Books that is iconic, it’s the collage tactics in which they constructed music. Blending organic samplings ranging from instruments to spoken word, the result was forward-thinking at its finest. The same element is found in Zammuto, but from a visual approach. Synchronized down to the very second, the videos implemented throughout the performance are perfectly in-line with song cycles and mood. The flaming Christmas tree documentation for “F U C-3PO” embodies the track’s post-chorus cacophony, while samples such as the home video collage during “Classy Penguin” complement the feel-good, summery instrumental. No matter what the vibe, Zammuto has the right video to accompany.

But most importantly, Zammuto has fun, and it shows. I can’t begin to detail how many shows I’ve seen with bands stoically situated on stage, indifferent to their own performance. With The Books slowly devolving into what he felt were, “pre-scripted” live shows, Nick’s solo shows give him the opportunity to perform in such a way that was hands-off for the past decade. The crowd interaction is backed by faux sponsorships (The Stick) and jabs at Back’s dark, flowing locks. Likewise, the members of the group bounce off one another musically with a lackadaisical intuition. Songs such as “Zebra Butt” showcase a blend of this musical communication with a humorous pseudo-rap from a crass Microsoft Anna.

If there’s one major takeaway from Monday night’s Zammuto show, it is that Nick Zammuto is back on the music scene with refreshed perspectives on composition, performance and direction. To watch the four members power through demanding arrangements song after song is both fascinating and entertaining.

Check out the setlist below as well as the rest of Zammuto’s tour dates.

Zammuto Setlist:

- Groan Man, Don’t Cry
- Idiom Wind
- The Shape of Things to Come
- Too Late to Topologize
- Zebra Butt
- F U C-3PO
- Weird Ceiling
- Full Fading (Paul Simon cover)
- 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
- Yay
- The Stick
- Instrumental
- Classy Penguin
- Greatest Autoharp Solo of All Time

Zammuto Fall Tour:

10-03 Denton, TX – Dan’s Silverleaf
10-04 Austin, TX – The Mohawk
10-05 Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s
10-06 Baton Rouge, LA – Spanish Moon
10-08 St Louis, MO – Luminary Center for the Arts
10-09 Chicago, IL – Schubas
10-10 Cincinnati, OH – MOTR Pub
10-11 Pittsburgh, PA – Andy Warhol Museum
10-12 Ithaca, NY – The Haunt
10-13 Northampton, MA – Iron Horse
10-29 Phoenix, AZ – The Crescent Ballroom
10-30 San Diego, CA – Soda Bar
11-01 Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour
11-02 Santa Cruz, CA – The Crepe Place
11-03 San Francisco, CA – The Independent
11-05 Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
11-06 Seattle, WA – Barboza
11-07 Vancouver, British Columbia – The Biltmore Cabaret
11-10 Minneapolis, MN – Walker Art Center

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