This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, September 2004.
"God save The Zutons!" someone screamed from the balcony as Liverpool's acclaimed "scouse-pop" ensemble materialized on the Irving Plaza stage in New York City. Their indefinable debut release, oddly titled Who Killed The Zutons, has catapulted this young, spunky ensemble from relative anonymity to rock ‘n’ roll celebrity. These Zutons are now revered by their contemporaries the Scissor Sisters, compared (somewhat unfairly) to The Coral in their bustling, music-crazed hometown, and hailed as true descendants of “Captain Beefheart via the Kinks,” in a major UK publication that shall remain nameless to protect the guilty. Lead singer, chief songwriter, and tireless ring-leader Dave McCabe affords a simple answer to the question of what it means to be a Zuton. "We're just a home grown band and have never really been the 'hot,' 'cool' or a 'hype' group" he reveals with a poker face. "What I love about us is that we've grown organically. I think we get an honest reaction. People like us for the right reason, which is the music!"
McCabe, a husky 23 year-old lad with shoulder length blonde hair and a voice like sand 'n' glue, built The Zutons from scratch in 2002 with the divine intention of crossing jazz, funk, rock and soul akin to his heroes Sly & The Family Stone, Dr. John, and the Talking Heads. With kindred spirits Boyan Chowdhury on lead guitar, drummer Sean Payne, bassist Russell Pritchard, and the band’s final addition - super-charged saxophonist Abi Harding, The Zutons set in motion "the soul-funk-voodoo vibe which we suddenly realized made us exciting." With their debut record already a huge hit in Europe, The Zutons are primed to conquer the mainland in the grand tradition of their hometown Fab Four forefathers on their first American tour opening for The Thrills.
Commencing with their rave-up theme-song "Zuton Fever," Pritchard's rumbling Fender bass lines provided the anchor for Harding's maniacal staccato sax licks whilst McCabe’s raspy vocals and chunky rhythm guitar navigated the rapid shifts in the band’s dynamics and tempos. Harding is obviously the Zuton's attention-grabbing sex symbol. All eyes are on the lithe, shaggy coiffed figure with her Soul Train inspired dance moves, and alluring lip-synch of McCabe's every utterance. Laying down harmonic accompaniment in the absence of a keyboard, tossing off short, sharp melodic solos, and rendering backing vocals as a femme fatale foil to McCabe - Harding overtly appealed to both sexes in attendance – many of whom approximated her gyrations with stunning accuracy!.
Playing America is a dream come true for these merry Liverpudlians who are soaking up the culture as fast as they can –from fast food to record shops to clothing stores. "Yes, your country is wild," exclaims McCabe. "One day it's the hardest place in the world, the next day it's the best place. I can never quite comprehend how massive it is, especially on a cultural level. It's a continent disguised as a country." "Pressure Point" afforded Chowdhury and McCabe an extended opportunity to exchange scratchy guitar solos as Payne kept time with a sturdy cow-bell / bass drum pattern worthy of a Blue Oyster Cult Saturday Night Live spoof.
Introducing "You Will You Won't" as a song "your mum will like," McCabe led his posse through a wild array of electric soul grooves that you’d expect on your parents’ dusty Chambers Brothers Greatest Hits collection. McCabe is pleased with the comparisons to his American heroes. "We made this album as a complete statement so that people could have a cool thing to put on," he emphasizes. "All the songs are different, but they are us – which is what makes a great record." On the fate of the long-player as opposed to the instant gratification of "i-Pod mania" the singer shot back in his thick brogue "people still care about records! If entire albums ever die, it'll be because there's no good music about." Slowly McCabe turns…step by step…
The folksy mid-tempo tale of hard labor and hard love lost, "Railroad," featured sweet four-part CSN &Y reminiscent harmonies. Slinky grooves, throbbing tom-toms, sinewy riffs, angular sax lines, and a gradual rise in intensity defined the marathon reading of The Zutons first English hit "Dirty Dancehall" which concluded with a cacophonic meld of guitar feedback and fans gone blotto.
McCabe notes that "in the States, folks come up after the gig and praise us, which is great for our confidence. And they always invite us to come back again, which we're looking forward to." Liverpool and New York City are worlds apart to McCabe, yet he is quick to note that the two cities share certain similarities. "Manhattan is huge, and there's plenty of nice women. Our home isn't even one-third the size of here. But Liverpool is also a port city. There's a lot going on. The music scene is booming, we enjoy so many good local bands like the Little Flames, Dead 60s, and 747s. On this tour, I'm going to get me a switch (credit) card and buy some guitars and records. The one bad thing about being in a successful band is that you don't get time to do anything normal anymore!"
Politely declining an encore to make way for the headliner act The Thrills, McCabe and company are eager to return. "The wildest behavior we've seen here so far was someone smacking his own head and face to the beat of our music. It was out of celebration…of course!"