Soundtrack for an Epidemic: Mucca Pazza’s mad cow punk rock marching band

Who could have known that an astounding circus punk marching band would viciously infect our city? Like the disease itself, Mucca Pazza (“Mad Cow”) has been parading around town reaping fans left and right. This group of self-proclaimed marching misfits, however, is nothing like the disease to which their Italian name refers. In fact, the only harm that this group of band geeks can inflict on anyone is making them wish that they could have rocked out this hard while in high school marching band.

Mucca Pazza has been drawing attention since the beginning of 2004, culminating in recent high-profile appearances at Lollapalooza and on the Conan O’Brien show. Since then, the original ten-piece drum and trombone ensemble has branched out, adding not only new colors to their wacky circus garb but building upon their Eastern European/Balkan sound as well. As the brass and woodwind sections steadily grew, the band created its own unique “Freak” section, which includes two accordion players, a guitarist, a mandolin player, as well as a violinist. Beyond the “Freaks” are the K-12s who resemble a drum section–but according to one of the founders Larry Beers, are “inhuman, yet appear to be more evolved than a K-9.”

Although their numbers vary from gig to gig, Mucca’s players, including the electric ones, will never willingly turn down an opportunity to perform. As quite the complement to their own original tunes, these craftsmen originally make adjustments to their equipment in order to make some of their parading appearances possible (Think backpack amplifiers and speaker helmets). Trust them–these parades are just as far from ordinary (they’ve been known to arrive in canoes) as their covers of Le Tigre and Serge Gainesbourg.

Okay, so not every marching band can claim that they arrived at the “football game” in canoes, but not every marching band is Mucca Pazza. However, according to Tom Howe, a trombone player and UofC alum, the general marching band notion of “good clean love for both the family and nerdz’ enjoyment” is crucial in explaining their outstanding chemistry as performers. Without that love among all of the twenty-eight members, as Elanor “Band Mom” Leskiw adds, “The group couldn’t possibly exist.”

As cheesy as it may sound, the Muccan love for each other and performing can’t go unmentioned. The majority of the band’s members have their hands full with other side-projects that range from theater to hip-hop groups, yet they still find time to make it to “Mucca Church” on Sundays for rehearsals. And drop the notion that these geeks are just a bunch of no-joes goofing around in a mass ensemble: the majority of members dabbles in other instrumentation and put their expert audio knowledge to use to determine their positioning on stage and distribute their sound properly. Aside from the musical circus that is Mucca, the visual component maintains such a potential for astonishment that it just might send Barnum and Bailey on a run for their money. Within a few seconds of a measure’s rest, the “bone” section manages to make friends with security, get offstage, and situate themselves on a mass of stage equipment just to take their audience by surprise. Now, it is possible that any über-cool superband can accomplish the same feat, but who knew that dorks could be so articulate?

Contrary to any notion that Mucca Pazza is the enlarged equivalent to the kid who hung out in the band room and beat on music stands with rhythm sticks and thought it was the next “Hallelujah Chorus,” this band collectively represents that nerd who got in trouble for improvising in the corner instead of getting into formation. Ironically, this deviation from the norm is what books their gigs today. Just recently, the Double Door was double packed, and soon they will be playing film/multimedia festivals around town and traveling to select locations from here to the Atlantic. “Appearing on Conan O’Brien was just the icing on the cake,” says Elanor, “Gigs and just really enjoying performing are two separate worlds to us.” Granted, Conan may have given them a weird reaction upon seeing their performance, but nobody can rain on this parade. “Showing up at gigs is kind of like showing up at a restaurant with a 30-person party and seeing the host’s reaction when we decide to have fun at the bar instead of putting it off for the main course,” says Larry K-12. With that said, when their full-length album comes out at the end of this year, feel free to look Mad Cow straight in the eye and dig in. Bon Appétit!