Years ago, MTV’s Hip-O-Meter declared the accordion and the sousaphone to be the least hip band instruments, so Brian Mitchell and Clark Gayton launched Fatboy Kanootch to prove them wrong.
They’re still at it every Monday night on the Lower East Side, amazing skeptics with their kamikaze duets and a revolving cast of drummers. The band’s setlist leaned heavily on the New Orleans funk that Mitchell favors and Gayton’s ska/reggae/rocksteady enthusiams. They threw in a little James Brown, a few of their original songs and, as always, included a salute to Levon Helm, in whose Ramble band both played during the drummer’s final years.
On this occasion, Brazilian Girls drummer Aaron Johnston popped the beat as they kicked off Smokey Johnson’s “It Ain’t My Fault.” The small bandstand often had them playing face-to-face, although they seldom needed to rely on visual cues. Decades of playing music together has afforded them a sort of musical ESP. Behind his shiny red Roland accordion, Mitchell handled the vocals in his growly fashion while Gayton provided the bassline (and sometimes the melody) on a gorgeous hand-painted sousaphone, so imposing that people on the sidewalk stopped to stare through the window. In Gayton’s hands, the horn not only made a thrilling sound but also proved a good dance partner as Mitchell crashed into the familiar Professor Longhair number, “Big Chief,” followed by “Hey Joe.”
They began the second set with The Band’s “Ophelia,” and gave it all they had for their old mentor. The rocksteady beat of Gayton’s “Brooklyn Girls” brought in a cool Jamaican vibe and Mitchell took it further south still with his dramatic “First We Tango, Then We Fall in Love.”
A casual spot with gourmet bar food, The Wayland occupies the site of the former 9C, later Banjo Jim’s. In warmer weather, the band will start the night with a second line-style parade down Avenue C. As the band likes to say, Fatboy Kanootch can’t be stopped!
– Kay Cordtz