The term "gutbucket" was originally coined as a slam against jazz by those who felt it was a sign of social devolution. Little did they know that 20th Century developments in popular musical expression would blossom through the blues influences of jazz to form newer ways to upset the establishment. Meshing jazz with punk, gutbucket combines two styles that have done a significant amount of shaking up in their time. Then they add the kind of in the moment irreverence that will send your already teetering sense of excitement into absolute pleasure.

Last Thursday, the sideshow came to Manhattan's Upper West Side at Makor, a cultural center that has played host to the likes of Topaz, Antibalas and Dr. Didg. The subdued atmosphere of imported brew and circular tables was primed for some antics and gutbucket jumped right on it with blind folds on. I've seen them a few times now and the music keeps me coming back but my curiosity's also piqued with wonder every time to see what's going to come out of them next.

They opened with "Rock n Roll" which is the track I listen to most on their album, InsomniacsDream. The flayed loop that Ty Citerman puts out there on guitar is the constant movement that sets up Ken Thomson's sax. As he strings along the melody, Paul Chufo rocks the bass drum to wake the contemplative start and that's where Eric Rockwin joins to widen the ominous and stomach twisting intensity of the piece. As many of their songs do, "Rock n Roll" unravels into chaotic blasts and blurts but they always come back together neatly so I became even more curious as to how they'd do that when they put the blind folds on.

After a short introduction by Ken, Paul came out to fix Ty's fold so he could lead us into the second song of the night, "Dry Humping the American Dream." Ken was next but his stage presence demanded a lot more than some cloth to cover his eyes. Ken's feel for their tunes comes out as he romps around the stage and, as he did at the Knitting Factory a couple of months ago, off, out of the room, up to the balcony, out in the hall and back. To protect himself, the other guys and the equipment, Ken had a bicycle helmet on and a chain that fastened from his belt to the bass drum. That leash was a perfect example of irony. As each player was blinded in their turn, they joined the build up for one of the band's epics. As it winds through latin, nail-hard punk and back only to flip and twist the styles as they go along, Ty produced some sharp distorted notes from his strings with a fork. Eric was serving up some gibberish of his own on the electric stand up bass and that's when their usual antics began. The fact that they couldn't see one another didn't deter them from messing with one another at all. In fact, they seemed to enjoy it more in later tunes when only certain members of the band couldn't see.

The drum kit started to take a little bit of a beating so full sight was regained and gutbucket played "Liberation," in honor of removing their blind folds. Starting off with a group whistle, they inched out into some echoed repeats and a light touch on the drums that wound into a conversation between the guys that overlapped and fed over one another to the point that I could barely discern who was saying what. It was of no matter, though, because their playful spirit was all over it.

I had a conversation recently with Eric on the merits of not taking much of anything too seriously so I'm glad he found some people to play with who feel the same. Eric's versatility on the bass speaks of disciplined diversity but he lets it loose between his use of a bow, his fingers and bouncing thunder strikes on the strings with a drum stick. This seemed to fuel Ken even further into a tight progressive jazz passage that had each of them bouncing off of seperate corners of the room. Later in the set, we were treated to "Tonight's Oyster Selection" which was only the second time they've played it live. Ty started picking off a half step from the head beat which Paul had a challenge keeping as Ken dragged the drums off their foundation from the other end of that chain.

I noticed a papier mache guitar off to the side of the stage but thought it was some left over prop from something else that went down at Makor. Instead, it was gutbucket's pinata, brought to make added use to the blindfolds. As the band played on, members of the audience came up. One after one, their flailing wiffs lifted belly laughs from the crowd but none so much as the guy who completely missed the pinata and hit himself. Eventually, the music and the candy exploded out all over the stage and everyone was able to savor the treats.

They ended the set with "Insects," the first track on their album. Opening with a stir from the percussion and a head lolling set of phrases on the strings, Ken shredded out severity on the sax that gave way to Ty's uncorked insanity on the guitar. Folding in and out on the lead that they established, this relatively short diddy picked up the pace in a furious way that blew out the boundaries and rose the crowd higher and higher to the crashless climax that hung in the air.

As the music scene continues to open up and bands explore every space of what were once niches, it's more and more difficult to say that any one of them are unique. I can't say that I know of another band that offers the ticklish humor and blend of Latin tones, deconstructive jazz and power romping punk that they do. After a very successful run at the Knitting Factory to end 2000, gutbucket's hitting more venues. You'll be able to find them at NYC's Luna Lounge on April 17th and Wetlands Preserve on the 22nd.

Howie Greenberg
JamBase NYC Correspondent
Go See Live Music! Go See Live Music!!

[Published on: 4/11/01]

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