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POP MUSIC REVIEWS

Squirrel Nut Zippers Get Fans Hopping

August 19, 1996|CHUCK CRISAFULLI

The Palace sees its share of moshing these days, but it has probably been quite a while since spontaneous Charleston pits erupted at the venerable dance hall. Such was the case Friday night when North Carolina jazz revivalists the Squirrel Nut Zippers had the crowd stepping lively to a wild, wailing set of jumping jive and heavy swing.

Using the likes of Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan as musical touchstones, the Zippers write original tunes that hark back to the loose, devilishly playful sound of jazz combos from the '20s and '30s, and are touring in support of a new album, appropriately titled "Hot." With a shifting lineup of guitars, horns, violin and banjo atop a masterful rhythm section, the eight-piece band was able to create juke-joint shuffles, tropical stomps and exceptionally jittery jitterbugs. Three engagingly droll vocalists took turns giving each rascally tale a distinctive spin.

Some terrible soundboard mixing knocked the band's sound severely out of balance and rendered most vocals unintelligible for a while, but the Zippers would not allow for any dampening of spirits--the energy of their set escalated until they were at the point of frenzy, with the players spinning mad tangles of Dixieland improvisation. The Squirrel Nut Zippers have an ear to jazz history, but there's nothing dusty or academic in their sound. Their newly tooled oldies offer some of the smartest fun a listener could hope to tap a toe to.

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