Most high school band directors would likely abhor what Mucca Pazza is doing to the time-honored tradition of the marching band—and that’s exactly what makes the “performance art marching band” so appealing.
The troupe wears mismatched uniforms, with musicians sporting a collage of gaudy colors, patterns and embellishments on their bibs and plume-topped hats. In place of a color guard gracefully spinning flags into the air are cheerleaders gyrating with pom-poms made of nontraditional materials (think: crime-scene caution tape). Oh, and they don’t actually “march”—they’re generally stationary, and you won’t find a John Philip Sousa classic anywhere in the group’s repertoire.
It’s a stark contrast to what’s going on across America every fall Friday night during halftime at high school football games. For example, my high school band director berated students simply for wearing white socks with the standard-issue black pants, the school’s color guard upgraded to flipping rifles and sabers into the air, and we learned not one, but three styles of marching to use while rushing to create ridiculously complicated formations (tell me marching band isn’t a sport after you’ve high-stepped half of an eight-minute routine). Bonus: There’s no drum major with a huge ego barking orders at Mucca Pazza’s band members.
What Mucca Pazza has done with its quirky style and high-energy performances is what band geeks like me used to consider impossible: They have made marching band cool. Self-described as “a marching band that thinks it’s a rock ’n’ roll band,” the Chicago-based ensemble has been borrowing from (and maybe poking some fun at) marching band customs since 2004. In that time, Mucca Pazza released four albums, had tracks featured on hit shows such as Showtime’s Weeds and Amazon’s Transparent, and has played for crowds everywhere from the Lollapalooza music festival to Late Night With Conan O’Brien.
And we haven’t even touched on the band’s musicality. Its 30-plus musicians perform funky and soulful original songs, more akin to what you’d hear during a funeral procession through New Orleans’ French Quarter or at a bizarre circus sideshow than the noise happening under the Friday-night lights at one’s hometown football field. In addition to the standard marching band instrumentation (brass, woodwinds, drum line), Mucca Pazza features a “freak” section that includes violins, cellos, guitars and even an accordion, giving added eccentricity and a unique sound to the ensemble. And to boot, the aforementioned cheerleaders direct amusing cheers in between songs: “Ready? OK! Hold! Hold! Please continue to hold! … Your call is important to us. Please remain on the line.”
And staying on the line should be worth it when the band brings its avant-garde audio and aesthetics to The Bunkhouse Saloon April 5. Joining or enjoying a marching band was likely social suicide when you were in high school (it definitely was for me), but Mucca Pazza obviously marches to the beat of a different—and absolutely fucking cool—drum.
April 5, 8 p.m., $12–$15, The Bunkhouse Saloon, 124 S. 11th St., bunkhousedowntown.com