Pulsars, Magnetic Fields, Squirrel Nut Zippers

At the Knitting Factory, NYC

Chicago's Pulsars played their first ever concert in New York City to a very warm reception. They are a vocal synthesizer, guitarist/vocalist, and manic drummer. When they took the stage, the lead singer turned a sample of his voice into a crashing, scraping, swirl which became the background for the first song. Their lyrics deal with things like driving through a tunnel, computers ("my pet robot"), and aliens. The drummer in the course of the evening broke more than one set of sticks smacking the skins like a crazy person. This band has a lot of potential, especially since the Rentals got so huge.

Magnetic Fields were truly brilliant. I had never heard the band before I decided to go see them. Their name appears in the list of featured bands at the end of Nickelodeon's Adventures of Pete and Pete (one of the coolest kid shows ever) so I took a chance. In concert, vocalist/guitarist Stephen Merritt has a cellist, drum machine, and another guitarist, completely departing from the retro- synth sound of their albums. Truthfully, I like their live sound better. They are actually so different it's hard to compare them. Stephen Merrit is truly a master of the pop song, evidenced by classics such as "All The Umbrellas In London", "Smoke and Mirrors", "Born On A Train" and "With Whom To Dance." Their charm is irresistible.

Squirrel Nut Zippers took their name from a candy that goes back to the '40's, just like their music. I'm almost at a loss for words to describe this unique band because they play vintage 40's and 50's ragtime jazz. Remember that Warner Brothers cartoon with the singing frog ("Hello My Baby, Hello My Honey")? If Betty Boop sang that song, that's what the Zippers would sound like. They play guitar, banjo, stand-up bass, trumpet, trombone, and sax. Even their clothes made them seem like something from a faded photo from before World War II. This is a very talented, very original band.

Pulsars have a 7'' they released themselves. Unless they come through your village you probably won't hear them. Magnetic Fields have several albums on Chappel Hill's Merge label. I assume that the Zippers are too since they are from the Carolinas themselves. I can't understand why else they'd play the same show as the Fields.

Dave Robbins
© 1996, Rational Alternative Digital