Punk rock marching band to play Otto’s


Courtesy of Eric Harvey Brown

By Jerene-Elise Nall

A thirty-piece punk rock marching band is coming.

Mucca Pazza will play at 9 p.m. Saturday at Otto’s, 263 E. Lincoln Highway.

With thirty pieces, such an ensemble had to find some way to section off. However, for this group, typical ensemble sections would not suffice.

“There’s the trumpet section, the trombone section, the sax section, the percussion section– they call themselves the K-12– then, the freaks, which is all of us instruments which are not typical of a marching band,” said Jeff Thomas, guitarist and composer of Mucca Pazza. “I was the first of the freak section, the section with the electric instruments.”

From humble beginnings that included members like Thomas and musical director Mark Messing, Mucca Pazza grew and grew.

“There were about half a dozen of us that started rehearsing in 2004,” Messing said. “We thought we’d like to put together a band that could be mobile– not in a chair or tethered to an amplifier. We started out rehearsing with drums and brass, and musically it was pretty interesting, pretty open– not limited to traditional marching band music. Word got out, and that initial group grew to the size it is now.”

For such a large and diverse group of musicians, finding a space in which to practice was the first challenge.

“We were forged out of the remnants of metal gathered in alleyways here in Chicago,” Thomas said. “We started playing in a parking lot at a steel foundry called Finkle and Sons.”

As the group gained confidence, Mucca Pazza marched into the local venues of Chicago and made their debut.

“We started playing at a club called the Hideout on Monday nights,” Thomas said. “From there, people started seeing us and hearing us and thought we were really interesting and amazing, so I guess that’s how we got to where we’re going.”

Messing said members of Mucca Pazza have all sorts of backgrounds in music and the performing arts, which is what gives the group its distinctive sound and presence.

“A lot of us grew up in marching bands in school, and orchestras and traditional wind ensembles,” he said. “A lot of us have been in regular old rock bands. A lot of us have been in traditional theater. Some of us have been in dance. So, when you put all of those types of people in the same area and say, ‘Okay, collaborate,’ that’s when things get interesting. It’s the crossing of all those lines.”

Besides a big marching band sound, Mucca Pazza prides itself on delivering a larger-than-life, moving presence.

“We don’t have set formations, although we have some kind of guidelines in our movements but they’re flexible and open to improvisation,” Thomas said. “We’ve worked with a couple of choreographers, who helped us understand what that improvisational movement means, especially with us being musicians.”

Movement is an essential piece of the group’s performance, and Mucca Pazza has found a way to adapt their particular style to venues large and small alike.

“Every space is different, so our movements and spatial ideas are based in the venues we’re playing,” Thomas said. “Some venues have a balcony that we can use. Some venues are really tight on space, so we’ll look at the tightness and use that as a movement base– almost like a marching band in an elevator situation.”

Adapting to each space wasn’t the only issue with the band’s antsy, must-move nature– the group had to overcome technological issues, as well.

“The biggest challenge was how to do movement stuff with the electric instruments. And that’s where the speaker helmet came from,” Thomas said. “It’s a battery-operated amplifier, and we taped it to the back of a hockey helmet and mounted a little horn speaker to it. So, we can run around and play with the band.”

Mucca Pazza boasts innovation, talent, and generally impressive musicianship– making them a must-see, especially for the musically inclined.

“I think the music students will enjoy it,” Thomas said. “We have some really, really accomplished musicians in the band, and it will be a real treat for them,” said Thomas.