Noteworthy: a weekly music column

By Peter Walters

This spring break I found myself bowing lower in a church than I ever had before. We were on our knees, slapping our open hands on the dirty wooden floor. We wanted an encore. Chicago folk know the zany sousaphone-in-your-face style of Mucca Pazza. The Italian name meaning “mad cow” brings an instant smile to those who have had the pleasure of catching the band at one of Chicago’s well-known venues, or a more likely locale, the street.

Mucca Pazza is really not like anything you have heard or seen before. They describe themselves as Punk circus marching band, or simply Nerd-core. Any marching band that has a marching electric guitar player, accordion, violin, and cheerleaders is hard to stick into a genre, but iTunes classifies them as rock.

All of this loses meaning when you see them live though. The songs on their CDs sound perfectly normal, in fact they sound great, but listening to Mucca Pazza at home just won’t cut it. Mucca Pazza needs to be seen, thirty of them on stage, squeezed into their marching band uniforms from high school, some wearing helmets with mini amps strapped on top. The live show is where the fun comes in. They like to mingle, and take shows out of the bar into the street. They like to surprise people on the street, and play at great venues like the Mansion (former Masonic Temple in Logan Square). Essentially, Mucca Pazza is a marching band on crack. I say that in the most endearing way possible.

Two weeks ago they played at Epiphany Church on Chicago’s west side. It was a benefit for the Iraq Veterans Against the War. My friends and I scrounged up some change and took the train down, we got off at Ashland and walked past Union Park to the seemingly ordinary Episcopal Church where our friendly neighborhood marching band awaited us. It was funny to see Union Park so empty, it looked a lot smaller without all the high fences that surrounded the Pitchfork music fest back in July.

We got to the door, paid our dues, and stepped into a cavernous nave with the pews pushed to the side. I’ve seen wine sipped in church more times than can be counted, but the amount of drinking in church that night was enough to make dinosaurs cry. Two openers played. The first suffered from the acoustics of the space, which are designed for organs, not indie bands. The second was a punk band with two front ladies and a kick ass lady drummer. Before the moment I had been waiting for anxiously came, there was a speech from a recent Iraq war vet. When I say recent, I mean he had gotten back to the states the day before.

After some powerful words came silence. I felt cold metal brush past my elbow. It was Mark Messing’s sousaphone and behind it was a mutton-chop adorned grin. The guitar player kicked in and they opened with their crowd favorite song “alarm”. The crowd parted and a drum circle formed, the horns swept through and made sure the audience members were light on their feet. They then turned their attention to the stage (sanctuary) and filtered their way out through the excited fans.

They played other favorites like “Bump”, “Coat Czech”, and “Moriya”. The cheerleaders got people moving, and the rhythm section took care of the rest. They love to see people dancing, but they also know the pricelessness of suspense. They threw in a few somber violin or accordion pieces and then brought back the full band again to bring the quiet gypsy waltz into a swollen crescendo.

We danced, and danced, and danced. They played their last tune, and marched away. The room let out its own crescendo as three hundred pairs of feet stomped on the dirty wooden floor. This brings us back to where this story started. Banging on the floor, begging Mucca Pazza for just one more song.

Thanks for taking the time for glancing at this part of the paper and noticing my new column dedicated to the appreciation of music, Noteworthy. My name is Pete, and I’m a sophomore with too much free time. I don’t really consider myself a music critic, but I do like music and writing, so here we are. I’m in a band called The Dogs (THEDOGSMUSIC.NET!!!), and when I’m not shamelessly advertising them I’m trying to write new songs for them. My love for music started with the Beatles and a Pearl Jam CD I stole from my older sister. I listen to a lot more indie these days, but I really enjoy anything that’s had some heart and hard thought put into it. My favorites include Neil Young, Radiohead, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Microphones, Phil Ochs, Elliott Smith, Area, Fleet Foxes, Paul Simon, Animal Collective, etc., etc. My hope for this column is that through all my rambling, you’ll find something that you really enjoy, something… noteworthy.