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Still Crazy, Mucca Pazza is Still Crazy-Good

By Kim Bellware in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 25, 2010 9:40PM

Mucca Pazza (photo by Kim Bellware/Chicagoist)

Try and tell Chicago’s much-loved “circus punk marching band,” Mucca Pazza, what to do. Chances are good that they won’t.

We’ve seen Mucca Pazza plan many times, before, but Wednesday’s gig at Lincoln Hall was the first time we ever considered the cadre of musical freaks and geeks to be…well, kind of subversive.

Marching bands, by definition, march. Mucca Pazza, on the other hand, could hardly be contained to a single floor, let alone the stage. There was no planned out formation as the band filtered in the main floor at Lincoln Hall, weaving in and out of the crowd that was packed so tight more than a few fans must have been (accidentally) bonked in the head by a slide trombone. The balcony suddenly sprouted a brass section, while a sousaphone snuck up behind us on its way to the middle of the floor. The band sports a handful of instruments found nowhere near your typical marching band (these players, affectionately known as “The Freaks,” comprise the mandolin, violin, accordion and guitar players). As for their blue-haired, Mary Katherine Gallagher look-alike cheerleaders, they don’t make pyramids or rah-rah the crowd; instead they wave pom pons made of barrier tape and stack themselves on amps to jump, dance and lead witty chants.

Each dressed in his or her own version of a band uniform, Mucca Pazza’s players are winningly hammy, creating a visual and musical kaleidoscope of styles. Over the hour-long set, the band played in the crowd, on the stage, tucked into the balcony and spread out across the entire room giving virtually everyone, at one point or another, the best seat in the house. The set stuck mostly with dynamic pieces that morphed from traditional concert numbers to snaky, Balkan-style tunes and back, each section getting a prominent solo or breakdown. Especially memorable were the violin-led songs and the subsequent response from the band, building on the delicate solos with well-balanced oomph.

With so many instruments and colorful characters, all of whom give the appearance of playing easily and improvisationally, it’s easy to forget that for all of its freewheeling fun, Mucca Pazza is disciplined and seriously talented—just not conventionally so. It’d be predictable for their songs to break down into free-for-all jamming (but then again, they might not sound too great, either), which makes their ability to happily marry so many instruments, styles and rhythms all the more outrageous.

Mucca Pazza plays tomorrow at The Tour de Fat in Palmer Square (3100 W. Palmer Blvd.) at 3 p.m. Admission is Free.