No sips: Jazz? Funk-grass? Beats me

Peyton Tochterman
at the Shebeen
September 24

"This next one is a song I wrote in the shower about peanut butter and jelly," explains singer and guitarist Peyton Tochterman as a chuckle ripples across Friday's packed house at The Shebeen. I take a sip of my drink, not realizing that I will probably forget to swallow it for two or three minutes, instead focusing my attention on trying to decipher the display that's about to unfold on stage.

The band tenses slightly as it readies itself at the starting block, fingertips jumping to frets and keys. Then, all of a sudden, out comes...

...well, I don't exactly know. Peyton is sporting his twang with pride, but there's no country in sight here. At first I'm inclined to liken it to a funk repertoire from a bluegrass ensemble– perhaps because Andy Thacker has found the sweet spot on his mandolin's volume control, jumping out of the mix for leads and settling right back in for accompaniment.

Then they start trading solos like a jazz combo, and once again I find that I don't know what to make of this.

Ordinarily, bassist Pete Spaar and drummer James McLaughlin would make for a fairly traditional lineup. The moment you throw a trumpet into the equation, though, you're no longer formulaic. Thacker and John D'earth weave around one another in a careful balancing act that prevents either instrument from emerging as the primary melodic force.

Even Tochterman comes out to play every once in a while, occasionally trading in his vigorous strums for percussive single-note snaps– and, in the process, banishing polyphony from his band entirely. Somehow, the P.A. still seems to be packed to the brim, and I can't figure out how they're pulling it off.

Tochterman and D'earth are equally unconventional: They defy pigeonholing. The unexpectedly grating timbre of the trumpet stands out as glaringly as the often jagged vocals, which provide a curious aggression in contrast to the saccharine cooperation offered up by everyone else.

Occasionally, one of the two romps through a chorus with reckless abandon, and my skepticism about halfway through always seems to fade into appreciation by the end. Every third or fourth line or so is an argument between my expectations and the performance. I usually lose.

"You're sweet and tasty, and I'm nuttier'n hell, but we go together so right" sends another laugh through the crowd as Peyton makes good on his implicit promise of cultivated absurdity. For all I know, he could be talking to his band.

I still haven't swallowed.

Peyton Tochterman