The tone for the night was set at the entrance, where a man in a sweater vest arrived at the same time as us to complain about the noise. Too Many Zoos were playing a 9pm set at Riverside, a venue not known for keeping things at a civil volume or closing up in time for everyone to get home to an Ovaltine and a solid 8 hours. Since he would surely be used to less-than-peaceful nights, his beef this time must have been with the music itself.
And Too Many Zoos are nothing if not piercing. Frontman Leo P’s tone fluctuated somewhere between a didgeridoo and a wild mother elephant. As if the throaty buzz of a baritone saxophone wasn’t enough, he occasionally kicks in an octave pedal to add a pitched down version of his sax to act as a bassline. Leo trades melodies with Matt – the trumpet player – who supplies swooping trumpet to the mix, occasionally recruiting the crowd into a call and response until he gets bored and flies into a solo. Backing them up is drummer Dave “The King of Sludge” Parks, who didn’t do anything remotely sludgy and in fact does the work of an entire drum kit on one modified marching band bass drum.
Like dancehall, but really, really brassy
The band has coined the term ‘brasshouse’ to categorise their music. It was very kind of them to do this, because it is super hard to describe without making a new word. Like dancehall, but really, really brassy. If Herbie Hancock had started a band with Sam and the Womp, then replaced every instrument with something you blow or hit and released live bees into the audience, it might have come close to the way Too Many Zoos sound.
The accessibility of brasshouse may have been reflected in the size of the crowd - Too Many Zoos brought in a surprisingly small number of people. Plus, many chose to line the gangway above the dancefloor or loiter near the door and miss out on Leo’s intense glare. A packed room would have been better used by the band, who probably weren’t getting the response they deserved from an enthusiastic but sparse gang of fans. The night ended early after a spirited-ish attempt from the crowd to get an encore could only galvanise the band into playing one more song.
Too Many Zoos and Leo’s other band Lucky Chops were catapulted into the spotlight in videos filmed on the NYC subway. If you live in the NE1 area, use headphones when watching to avoid upsetting any nearby fans of sweater vests.