Tuesday, November 09, 2004

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Zen for Primates at Tin Angel, Philadelphia, Pa, Sunday, September 12, 2004

By Victoria Hanks


Headed up by the sardonic and depressed lead singer T. Roth, Zen for Primates is an eclectic and crazy mix of virtuoso musicians, sharp wry humor, and Roth, a charismatic character you can’t keep your eyes off of. And he can really sing too, his voice, at times a deep mesmerizing baritone. The music is a swirl of classical, jazz, folk songs, Klezmer bits and rock and roll madness generated by Jodi Beder on cello, Pete Fluck on sax, Mimi Papp on violin and Mike Krisukas on guitar. Original songs that are stuck in my head include "Pizza Man", an hysterical day in the vacant life of a self-absorbed pizza delivery guy delivering pizzas to self-absorbed suburbanites. His sense of style focuses on his great legs, offset by khaki shorts. T. Roth delivers nearly every word with a sarcastic wit that gives these silly songs a dimension of sophisticated humor that does not seem to exist anywhere else in music today.

Covers of rock standards like "Whole Lotta Love" are transformed into comments on the entire scene of rock star egomania. Roth’s wickedly funny delivery of lines like "I feel nice" in a cover of "I Feel Good (I Got You)", had the audience in stitches. Another cover of the disco romp, "Funky Town," was a study in ridiculous but compelling contrasts. The band’s unflinching stellar musicianship backing the banality of pop music is a unique and refreshing trademark of "Zen for Primates". But, they do at times put humor aside and know how to deftly carry a serious tune, as in Tom Waits’ "Shiver Me Timbers". Zen closed their second encore on this beautiful but mournful note. We could have stayed all night; the crowd was elated and satisfied but still wanting more.

The band seems to have come out of nowhere. For some reason, one day I started wondering whatever happened to T. Roth and Another Pretty Face, an original kind of glam-ish rock band I used to go see in northern New Jersey and Manhattan in the late 70’s. My sister and I worshipped them and used to drive all over to hunt them down. A few Googles later I found Zen for Primates and have been hooked ever since. Check out the Cds It’s Polka Time and Blessed Are the Sheepherders through the BummerTent internet site.

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