Nick Zammuto, then of the Books and now of the emboldened familial moniker to have gone before, doesn’t appear to all that closely resemble your average Dalstonite, so that he should play the inhospitable doldrums of 33-35 Stoke Newington Road, aka Birthdays, doesn’t quite seem the best of fits. Plasterboard doors part to give a murky, bluish glimpse into a darkened room skint on mirrors but filled with smoke. Sounds emanate – a boorish marriage of Mount Kimbie and Trophy Wife to epitomise all that’s despicable of E8. Plant Plants, perhaps suitably, aren’t the most suitable of backups and, on anything but the same page as Zammuto, prove an utterly extraneous prologue. Elsewhere, however, Nick’s steadfast brigade are treated to a defining night in his artistic annals as his EU solo début consistently astounds with a reserved vigour.
It’s not without its hitches: a recalcitrant projector plays up to begin with, Zammuto and brother Mikey tending to the thing like finely attuned TV repairmen. If you’ll pardon the poor excuse for a pun, that they do so before a quintessentially Bookish crowd – most of which could nimbly work their way around both VGA and SCART cable configurations by the seems of it – makes things begin to resemble sense for the first time this evening. Epson eventually comes good, cascading numerics prompting a lethargically intoned countdown before an ebullient and wholly euphoric Groan Man, Don’t Cry comes into being. Tight as is on record, if a touch more proggy it is skittish brilliance executed to an alarmingly punctilious exactitude. As such, it perhaps may not sound altogether invigorating in description alone though making the in many ways academic out to be in every respect exhilarating has long since been Zammuto’s shrewdest quality. This one, right from the off, only furthers such a belief.
Zebra Butt too, later on in Zammuto’s hour, feels crisp as the flick of a shaven tail as his backing trio play with an outrightly obscene synchronicity. Of course having a bro on bass surely only enhances this, though the role of longstanding collaborator Gene Back oughtn’t go neglected. For his is a forceful impact; a scatty, yet strictly in sync charm. Given the congregated we looks an Audiophiles Anonymous convention suggests this thankfully isn’t to go duly disregarded, though his contribution couldn’t be emphasised enough.
Inevitably, however, it’s Nick upon which every gaze be transfixed; his nonpareil manipulating of the esoteric to chisel a most idiosyncratic niche upon which he may happily perch. At times the intellectuality to it all may appear a little smug. Conceited, almost. Though his is a talent worthy of utmost respect and eternal revere. A rejuvenated The Shape Of Things To Come has us right back in love with Zammuto, its author an angelic figure beneath a lustrous beam of puritanical whiteness. It’s lavish, neoclassic hybridism that, despite being constructed by four bods and a laptop, plays with what sound infinite layers, again embellishing the already ornate mental image of Zammuto as a divine being treading the elaborate fringes of the sonically extravagant – a seraphic practitioner multiplying sounds as once were (maybe only purportedly) silvery fish and leaden loaves.
Yay meanwhile, concerning “chronic back pain”, proves an appositely restive skitter that must surely have the two cymbals of drummer Sean Dixon’s hi hat ringing for divorce from one another nightly and though another cog of sorts in Zammuto’s oily, impeccable mechanism he is indeed another to only enhance its unimpeachable performance. If The Way Out was in fact his covert message to the world that the Books were in need of a good, cathartic slamming shut then this recuperative, and unorthodox rollick too functions as a bursting surge of personal release. Handcrafted signage once scribed reads: the Books beyond his hunky figure, though this is anything but wallowing in the past; it is instead the forging of what we can only hope will surely be a truly prosperous future. Much of Zammuto certainly resembles how one of those audiophiles aforesaid may construe future stuffs musical to go sounding as the streams experimental and main continue to meander into and converge with one another with increased frequency, and though futuristic in aesthetic, for me it’s still years ahead of its time. What’s more is that one song, and one song only aside most of it may be deemed abstruse to the point of alienation. Which again suits when it comes to this anomaly – the irrefutably ruinous (to be read wondrous) F U C–3PO. It is, dare I say it, pop but pop at its unprecedentedly cataclysmic best, as barrages of arsonist imagery inundate the senses. Inflammatory as the “acetone” referenced within, the eerie coincidences attest to how well this show has been put together. It’s flawless, and these instances feel immaculate as Zammuto’s meshing of A with V.
Yet whereas the collagism intrinsic to the Books was by and large expressed musically, tonight it’s done so more visually than anything, with that intractable projector effectively the perpetrator of the perpetuation of this same aesthetic. And with the music as consistently extraordinary as before, the overall effect is of a better honed showing – one led by the caricatured salesmen and footballing Sicilian cousins screened. The place is absolutely heaving, thereby rendering Zammuto otherwise invisible to what I’d reckon to be 80% or so. He’s concealed from view by impenetrable shadow; speaker; avid someones, only his azure outline silhouetted. He’s something of a gently megalomaniacal hermit within such context – the transatlantic take on Alexis Taylor. And never can the two be more acutely paralleled than on a genuinely majestic, if gawky rendition of Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. This proceeds a superfluous, though mathematically precise drum solo during which both Zammutos and Back retune. So although surplus, this again elucidates how scrupulously this show has been composed.
It is not without its malfunctions, both aural and visual: guided through nondescript whiteboy R’n'B by self-professedly “stoopid” Auto-Tune vox, Too Late To Topologize – a track re: finger skateboarding, of course – discomforts as much as Zammuto’s processed chirrups drive to distraction, whilst a “strangely sexual” interpretation of a tatty old folk thing disenchants to a comparable degree. Though elsewhere, if the Books specialised in the cutting and pasting of intricate collages then these more contemporary compositions stand as estimable chefs-d’œuvre. Both old and new evince this: Classy Penguin, the solitary inclusion from the Books’ admirably extensive back catalogue, fulfils the former. Co-written by Mikey, it recalls the harmonic nous of Simon Jeffes and, pure as an as yet untouched glacier (this one’s set against flashing pictures of juvenile tomfoolery), it evokes a saddening sense of nostalgia for a time when they were the Books. Only in hearing Nick’s usage of this plural past does it become inescapably apparent that there are to be no further chapters.
Though as he himself concedes, “there’s no money in records any more.” Instead, they plea for merch purchases; they jest of soliciting sponsorships: “We are non-contractually unobliged to play The Stick.” The Stick may be a fictitious contraption that serves as “a toothbrush for your muscles”, though it is also – and more pertinently – a more Bookish newie which recalls a zippy guitar shop jam powered by immoderate amounts of overly saccharine energy juice. Both instrumental, they serve to suggest that Zammuto finds himself at his most efficacious when ripping away the lyrics, or at least when his vocals are handled a little less heavily by his heaps of unfathomable gadgetry.
Coincidental sensations again intervene here, however: the other of two newly scribed pieces, The Greatest Autoharp Solo Of All Time, plays on the slightly directionless, though folkloric zither-transposed tones of Julia Ward Howe’s The Battle Hymn of the Republic. An encore, meanwhile, contains LP track Weird Ceiling. It sounds like a Braxton-led Battles careering round a haphazard theme park and, beneath an inexplicably bloody ceiling, it would appear Zammuto may have a battle on his hands. Yes, there’s little to no breathing space down here – a reality which leaves him sincerely flabbergasted – but the way in which he speaks of the project as “a new band” desperately in need of all forms of support seems at odds with the otherwise jovial badinage he inspires.
How healthy is the so-called Shape Of Things To Come? Well, unless the experimental shapes and sides really begin to pollute the mainstream then these joyous celebrations of the artistically outré, sonically risqué, and flawlessly formulated may go the way of the Books. For now though, it’s “faces up to the weird ceiling” which is dripping in bodily liquor. Lovely.