When the Zutons' debut album, "Who Killed . . . the Zutons," was nominated for Britain's esteemed Mercury Prize earlier this summer, many American rock fans thought: "Never mind who killed them. Who are the Zutons?"
Turns out a dark-horse victory wasn't in the cards for the fresh-faced Liverpudlian rock outfit -- (nu-new-wavers Franz Ferdinand took the honors) -- but that didn't stop the Zutons from winning a bevy of new fans at the Black Cat Saturday night.
Warming up for Dublin retro-darlings the Thrills, the Zutons established their charisma from the word "go," opening with the slinky surf-rock of "Zuton Fever."
Bassist Russell Pritchard and guitarist Boyan Chowdhury bopped along with drummer Sean Payne's click-clack beats while saxophonist Abi Harding fired well-timed squawks from her horn. Singer, guitarist and head Zuton David McCabe charmed the crowd with his soulful delivery and cherubic good looks -- his melodies often recalling the friendlier moments of mid-career XTC.
The band also took frequent cues from the Sly Stone playbook -- songs such as "Pressure Point" and "You Will You Won't" featured plenty of singalongs and hand claps to go around. And while the clapping was excessive at times, the group vocals were a revelation. The band mesmerized its wide-eyed audience as it gracefully launched into five-part a cappella harmony for the finale of "Railroad." After initially garnering only polite applause, the Zutons had earned a thunderous roar by set's end.
Flawlessness may be the Zutons' only flaw. The ovation itself was the only remotely raucous moment during their 10-song set. Even the primal screams unleashed by McCabe and Pritchard over the dark rumble of "Dirty Dancehall" were tight and on schedule. Perhaps with some more scuff marks on their spotless pop veneer, the Zutons can expect to hear roaring crowds the world over.
-- Chris Richards