A Gutbucket live show brims over with intensity. You don’t get that soothing ballad to calm your nerves and rest your eardrums. (You did bring earplugs, right?)
Twice, I’ve seen this quartet live and been hacked to pieces. Saxophonist Ken Thomson looks so unassuming as he warms up before the show, but he splatters, hacks, and chainsaws his way through breakneck compositions and merciless solos. Once it’s all over, he’s as sweat-drenched as any NFL player on Dallas astroturf in the dead of August, and possibly just as exhausted. Ty Citerman on guitar can dish jazzy complex lines, but he also clicks the pedals to turn into a metal hero and blast the audience with fuzz and distortion.
Make no mistake, there’s jazz to be had on their new album, A Modest Proposal. The Klezmer passages of “Lucy Ferment?” could match with any number of jazz bands, if you took away the rapidly speeding-up playing, the visceral, screaming outro, and the mind-blenderizing riff in Usain Bolt-fast 7/16 (I think?) time.
OK, bad example.
How about the sax soloing in the clear-headed, melodic “C’mon It’s Just a Dollar?” It’s a chirpy and downright jazzy atmosphere, backed by fuzzed-out rock guitar chords, but it’s overall pleasant. Just don’t try it at the Village Vanguard.
“Side Effects May Include” starts with an out-and-out jazz head, in a very modern, Tim Berne mode. And it stays there, albeit with a couple of angular, offbeat guitar jabs written into the fabric, before flipping into a slower, sad composition that sounds like a completely different song. Then the ending comes back to punch you in the face.
Some songs you have to love just for their titles. “More More Bigger Better Faster with Cheese” delivers like you’d expect, with a snappy/happy, fast beat. It’s on the last track, “Brain Born Outside of Its Head,” that things finally slow down, but only in terms of tempo; it’s still an intense, towering composition.
New York bands don’t get out to the West Coast often; the audience is more sparse, as are the cities. It’s great that Gutbucket managed to visit a few years ago, playing at the Hemlock Tavern, and it’s lucky that I was in NYC to catch a set at The Stone. Maybe if I hang out in enough dark alleys, I’ll be lucky enough to be assaulted and beat up by these guys again.