Inviting the Squirrel Nut Zippers to host a swing party makes about as much sense as inviting Santa Claus to Easter dinner.
Regardless, zoot suits, top hats, and flapper dresses arrived at Club Omni in spades, with the crowd prepared to swing the night away. And swing some did, although the Zippers' music proved too much of a challenge for most dancers relegated to a lone Lindy Hop dance.It took almost 20 minutes for the primarily teenage crowd to hear a recognizable, simple beat, when the band kicked into "Suits are Picking Up the Bill," the closest thing to swing the band plays.
Beyond that, the band capably sampled a potpourri of styles, driven by the complex drumming of Chris Phillips. Much like the band, he easily moved between dark blues, be-bop bounce, and punk rock cymbal crashes. He even included a moment of fruit juggling, possibly a musical first.
The impressive performance moved to soul-shaking during songs by vocalist Katherine Whalen. Evoking memories of Ella Fitzgerald, Whalen carried the show with her emotionally evocative voice on "The Kraken" and "Put a Lid On It," a duet with her husband and the Zippers second vocalist, Jim Mathus.
The band's third singer, Tom Maxwell, stayed away from the microphone much of the show. Yet when he did grasp it, such as on their Top 10 hit "Hell," the showmanship went up a dozen notches. Wildly flailing arms, melodic screaming, and a stumbling finale were only portions of his performances.
Sadly absent from the show was violinst Andrew Bird, whose play on the Zippers studio works adds a scent of bluegrass to many of the songs. Bird was especially missed on "The Ghost of Stephen Foster," where Maxwell's saxophone failed to replace Bird's violin. Luckily, that song still had the drive of Mathus' vocals. He drew wild applause from the alcohol-free crowd for shouting, "Ships are made for sinking, whiskey made for drinking! If we were made of cellophane, we'd all get stinking drunk much faster!"
Disappointingly, the band's set lasted barely over an hour and ended promptly at 9:30 to make room for a Latin disco party.
Opening band Bio Ritmo also played an impressive but short set, with a half-hour of salsa flavored tunes which mixed Spanish and English lyrics with fast-paced percussion. Once again, the complex beats and improvisational playing confused the swingers.