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Live Review: Zammuto in Portland, OR

Very, very, very rare are the live concert experiences you can look back on afterwards and say, “That was truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before”, but I am here to testify that seeing a Zammuto show is one of those experiences. I’ve now seen Zammuto twice, once in 2012 after the band had just formed and was opening for Explosions In The Sky at the Georgia Theatre (which you can listen to here), and now this second show at Portland, Oregon’s Doug Fir Lounge, and both shows are live concert experiences I’ll never forget. That’s not hyperbole folks, the live show is just that good.

The multimedia Zammuto experience is the brainchild of Nick Zummato, formerly of the critically-acclaimed NYC band The Books. After that band’s ten year run came to a seemingly contentious end in 2010, Zummato was left wondering if he had another run at the fickle music business left in him, but went to work on a new project at the urging of his wife and close friends. It’s a wonderful thing he did, because two albums and a few tours into it’s existence, the band is making quite a name for itself, on both wax and in the live setting.

This year’s excellent Anchor has received praise across the board, and with good reason, as the record bounces from eerie, futuristic space jams to soulful funk numbers without batting an eye. Nick Zammuto’s unique falsetto is the perfect foil for the intricate numbers his band turns out, and if they played their live show straight, the overwhelming talent of the band would be enough for a wonderful live experience.

However, Zammuto certainly does not play it “straight”.

The foursome takes the stage with two members on each end of a large projection screen that basically serves (or appears to serve) as another member of the band, projecting found footage images that can vary from wild close-ups of about 200 wild animals’ eyeballs over the course of a four minute song, to an old audio and video recording of a man playing “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” on autoharp. The band is so in-sync with each other and the projections that it’s hard to tell who is leading who up there. In a way it’s disorientating to watch, but disorientating in the best way possible.

The show-closing version of “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” is worth the price of admission alone, and sums up the overall Zammuto experience quite well. A man introduces the song with some corny banter about his autoharp, and then slowly starts the song. Once he gets to the refrain, the audio and video skip back a bit while the band slowly fills in the space around the song, using the autoharp sample as a blueprint for their own version of the traditional classic. It’s fun, it’s challenging and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

Rarely will you leave a rock show hearing the awed conversation you’ll hear at the end of a Zammuto show, as the band has cemented itself on my (and many other’s) list of favorite live bands. Absolutely one of my favorite sets and albums of the year. It is impossible for my (or anyone else’s) words to do the live Zammuto experience justice, so check out the band’s full list of tour dates below, and get thee to one, post haste.

Zammuto 2014 Tour Dates:
9/23 San Diego, CA Casbah
9/24 Phoenix, AZ Last Exit
9/25 Tucson, AZ Flycatcher
9/27 Austin, TX Holy Mountain
9/28 Dallas, TX Index Fest
10/26 New York NY LPR
10/27 Philadelphia PA Boot & Saddle
10/28 Washington DC DC9
10/29 Durham NC Pinhook
10/30 Atlanta GA Drunken Unicorn
11/01 Asheville NC The Mothlight
11/02 Nashville TN High Watt
11/03 Louisville KY Zanzabar
11/04 Cincinnati OH Southgate House (Revival)
11/05 Columbus OH The Basement
11/06 Buffalo NY Sugar City
11/07 Boston MA Great Scott