Critters Buggin @ Neumo's (12/16/06)
Critters Buggin is a Seattle-based ensemble that features experimental saxophonist/keyboardist Skerik, percussionist extraordinaire Mike Dillon, bassist Brad Houser and drummer Matt Chamberlain. This veteran lineup specializes in groove-based experimental music that relies upon heaping doses of polyrhythms, noise and punk/dub influences.
I’ve noticed a lot of strange things since I moved to Seattle this past August including torrential rains, wind storms, the tireless vigor of meth addicts in my neighborhood, the nuances of non-smoking bars, and the constant presence of at least one to three people on University ‘Ave.’ wearing gigantic Juggalo-style jeans. Maybe it’s the lack of sunlight or my general computer-induced malaise, but for some reason it’s all starting to make sense to me. Perhaps that’s why it seemed so normal to be bumping elbows with a random assortment of hipsters, punks, old music nerds, and a few ecstasy-drenched hippies at the Critters Buggin show the other day. Critters Buggin is a Seattle-based ensemble that features experimental saxophonist/keyboardist Skerik, percussionist extraordinaire Mike Dillon, bassist Brad Houser and drummer Matt Chamberlain. This veteran lineup specializes in groove-based experimental music that relies upon heaping doses of polyrhythms, noise and punk/dub influences.
It takes a special kind of person to forgive a band name like ‘Critters Buggin’ and I am not one of those people. While a band’s name may be an insignificant, minor detail in a world marred by war, hunger, racism and poverty, I’m still baffled such a linguistic travesty. All pettiness aside, I was totally impressed by the band’s compositions as well as their overall performance on December 16th. Skerik, whose numerous side projects include Crack Sabbath (think Ozzy meets John Zorn), the Syncopated Taint Septet (featuring a six-piece horn section and a Hammond organ), and the Dead Kenny G’s, is well known for his ability to produce a wide range of saxophone sounds with various effects pedals and loop sequencers. I’m typically skeptical when it comes to ‘experimental’ saxophonists because many of them disguise their lack of originality/rhythm with erratic shrills, squonks, and bold pretentiousness. My previous encounter with Skerik’s bands Garage a Trois and Black Frames put some of my anxieties to rest, but his live presence with Critters Buggin clearly demonstrates the fact that he is one of the most innovative and creative musicians to pick up the tenor sax. Skerik plays the sax like someone who grew up listening to punk records, and it’s not altogether surprising that his background is in punk/rock music. Despite his extensive involvement with internationally acclaimed musicians, he exudes a level of sincerity, humor and energy that is rarely found in contemporary ‘jazz’ music. But to focus on Skerik is to ignore the vital dynamics that exist in this talented line up. Matt Chamberlain, a renowned session musician, is a deceptively complex drummer whose crisp playing and seamless use of electronics pushes the impulses of the band and simultaneously holds their improvisational moments together. In addition, Brad Houser is an accomplished bassist who weaves interesting leads, subtle rhythms and dynamic accents into his style. Each of these musicians bring a unique contribution to the songs, but the percussionist/vibraphonist Mike Dillon, aka Mikey D, is by far the most awe-inspiring aspect of Criters Buggin. To put it simply, Mike Dillon is the shit. His ability to skillfully move between Tablas (hand drums native to India), Congas and Timbales (typically found in African, Latin and Caribbean music) is rare amongst percussionists, but his total mastery of the vibraphone sets him apart from any I’ve ever seen. With two mallets in each hand, Mikey D plays the vibes like he has a score to settle—his arms flail, his forearms (like Popeye) pulse, but at the same time he is totally on point. I’m no expert on the vibes, but I’d be shocked if he wasn’t one of the best (and most heavily tattooed) vibraphonists walking the planet right now.
Critters Buggin played a percussion-heavy two-hour set that featured a number of groove/funk oriented songs (ala Medeski, Martin and Wood), a fair amount of improvisation, and a handful of arrangements that would have made Slayer proud. One of the things that impressed me the most was watching how much fun the band seemed to have playing together. It’s easy for bands that have been together for over ten years to simply go through the motions—but with over a dozen side projects/bands between the different members, it’s clear that these guys take full advantage of the rare occasions they have to play with one another. Most importantly, Critters Buggin don’t seem to take it all too seriously, which makes it even harder to not love watching them perform.Critters Buggin can be found online.
Zack Furness is a member of the Bad Subjects Production Team and a Pittsburgh native.