Swing Crazy

More than half a century ago, when folks were kicking the gong around and asking if youse a viper, bands like the Squirrel Nut Zippers haunted speakeasies by the dozen. Now, the Zippers find themselves among only a handful of bands that embody the raucous spirit of those unbridled days, the era that spawned Cab Calloway, Betty Boop, Louis Jordan and other icons of swing and slink.

This Chapel Hill ensemble uses its small big-band lineup to the fullest: a pair of horns that twist and wah-wah so provocatively they almost deserve a parental advisory; a thumpy standup bass and trap set that keep the train on the tracks even as the group threatens to derail it; guitar banging out jumpy jazz chords; ukuleles and oddball percussives thrown in for that jug band attitude. And four members of the band can sing, meaning a zippy change of pace is always just a tune away.

What's perhaps most impressive about the Zippers is that while they borrow freely from another era, there's nothing retro about the musicians or the music. The band's latest CD, Hot, has nary a cover on it, and the sound never strays from the land of the living. Groups having as much fun as this outfit used to be called novelty acts, but the combination of talent and execution puts the Zippers in a category by themselves.

-- Bob Burtman
Squirrel Nut Zippers perform at 9 p.m. Wednesday, December 18, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $7. Lucky Strikes open. For info, call 869-COOL.

V-Roys -- It's risky business predicting the quality of an unseen band's live show, but Just Add Ice, the debut CD by Knoxville's V-Roys, suggests that the quartet's first ever Houston gig will kick ass you didn't even know was there. The V-Roys deal in bad women and worse men, and all manner of romantic patheticism with the self-deprecating twang that comes from knowing that however lame things may have been up 'til now, there's a fair chance they'll get lamer soon, so we might as well play a song that rocks more than life sucks. Even if the disc is only a hint toward what the band might do in person, you've got to assume that Steve Earle, who chose the V-Roys to kick off his E-Squared label, wouldn't throw his weight behind some wuss live band. At the Urban Art Bar, 112 Milam, on Saturday, December 14, with Wayne Hancock. Tickets are $6. Doors open at 8 p.m. 225-0500. (Brad Tyer