The concept of fame is becoming increasingly murky in the age of YouTube and Instagram celebrities. For the three-piece band Too Many Zooz, which was launched into the spotlight after a YouTube video of the three musicians busking on the New York City Subway went viral, the welcome wider sphere of attention is accompanied by a less welcome perception.
“We were all professional musicians before the subway happened — (it) kind of puts our talent out of context, ” percussionist David Parks — who goes by the moniker King of Sludge — commented in an interview. “We didn’t learn to play in the subway.” The band members expressed their feeling that the concentrated attention through that one video created a first impression that misrepresented their musical training and flexibilities.
But that’s not going to change — their success was a product of the internet and a form of typecasting is inevitable, however insulting the resultant narrow impression of their abilities might be.
Last Thursday night The New Parish played host to this dichotomy.
The band presented a brash, rhythmic amalgamation of trumpet, baritone saxophone and drums, which sounds sort of like if a marching band, an electropop synth and a funk musician had a threesome. It’s a new genre of music the band calls brasshouse, and it transformed the cramped venue into a sort of brass instrument rave until well past midnight.
It was a marathon of a show — the band opened with a 30-minute-straight performance before the first break. Though the band’s singles and album tracks last only a few minutes each, in their live renditions, the concept of a “song” as an individual unit disappeared into unbroken stretches of melodies which left the extent of improvisation unclear.
At the second musical break two-thirds of the way through the show, Parks explained the unusual concert structure: “We decided to give you the subway experience tonight.”
In the interview before the show, trumpet player Matt Doe described that busking experience: “In the subway, we are playing to the audience a lot more because especially in the beginning it was just about finding ways to keep the audience there and to keep the flow going and keep money dropping in the bucket,” he explained. “That’s really what’s in a lot of ways shaped how we play music and how our songs sound — it’s because we were recognizing what people were enjoying.”
But The New Parish and the New York City Subway are considerably different venues, demanding different types of performances charged by disparate intentions — a distinction the members of Too Many Zooz need to implement if they want to diverge from the identity they feel the viral video has wrongly assigned to them.
A big part of that is accepting the valuable — and nonmonetary — influence the audience’s presence can have when performing live in a club, rather than regarding it with relative indifference, as two of the band members expressed in the interview.
“For me, it’s all about having fun with the guys playing on stage,” Parks said. “I tend not to think about the audience so much, so not saying I’m not feeling them but it’s more about my communication with the guys on stage from where I’m at.”
Likewise, Doe’s enjoyment of performing on stage doesn’t hinge on any audience interaction: “Music for me is almost, like, therapeutic in the way that it’s like the time of day when I can put everything else down and kind of just focus on that — let my brain chill a little bit.”
Baritone saxophonist Leo Pellegrino (who goes by Leo P.) is the only one who truly likes to interact with the crowd, shuffling, strutting, bouncing, grinding, waving his hand to increase the energy.
“I’m mostly trying to find my mate to mate with,” Pellegrino said with a straight face. “So I do like a mating dance and I kind of just look around the room for single females.”
(Apparently the girl who stood smushed up against the stage beckoning to him for 10 minutes wasn’t the one.)
At the end of the day, the audience didn’t care about the minimal engagement the band had with it — the crowd’s bizarre combination of pumping fists and sensual swaying never faltered — but if the band truly does want to leave the subway-players trope behind, it should commit fully to doing that, and start by reaching out to its audience.
If it can do that, it will only augment the band’s performances. Parker, Doe and Pellegrino are already great to watch live; there’s a spontaneity and roughness to their performance that engenders the exciting feeling that only accompanies watching up-and-coming musicians — they’re wildly talented and that’s enough for now.
Olivia Jerram covers music. Contact her at [email protected].