10 August 2011


I’ve heard it called jazzabilly. Zoe and the Buttercups are an oddly named band (no guy could lead a band with this name) and the lineup is somewhat heterodox given its paired horns with paired guitars that can switch to banjo and acoustic. But it’s a fabulously entertaining and eclectic sound that’s postmodern in its irony and its habit of collecting titbits of style. I enjoyed the CD, was surprisingly taken by their performance at JU2010, and adored this latest outing at the CJP. This one was particularly intimate, being in a small, slightly muggy theatrical space with stage lighting and decent sound and Viennese mirrors and Parisian café tables with the band on the long wall and the audience arrayed closely around it. I loved it, and obviously the band did too.

This music is delightfully and unchallengingly lyrical with melodies that are simple and just plain lovely. Buttercuppin’ is a theme tune and it’s pure and played unadorned and with heart and it’s just plain beautiful. Gut for garters was Zoe’s pirate song (“every band needs a pirate song” says Zoe) and was mysterious like the giant squid or the white whale. Sludgebucket was the heavy rocker with screaming guitars. Zoe mentioned Mahavishnu, but this is heavy like Beatles’ I want you (she’s so heavy), not metal. The Buttercups have too much wit and love for genuine heavy (good on them). But great guitars! Brother Ben is a favourite of mine when he lets go, which he does on this tune, but I also noted some nicely restrained overdrive from Aaron. These guitarists are a feature of the band, with Aaron’s airy reverb behind so many tunes, and Ben’s banjo defining the rhythm on others. Banjo? It’s disconcerting but joyous and just one of the Buttercups’ little idiosyncrasies. The Buttercups don’t get together so often these days (Ben is in Melbourne; the others in Sydney), but you wouldn’t know it. The rhythms were tight and supple from Zoe’s easy bass and brother James’ sharp drums. The harmonies were sweet, from the horns, but also sometimes in unison with one or other of the guitars. If there were weaknesses in performance here, I didn’t notice it. The band was concentrated but relaxed and the tunes were genuinely song-like: rollicking good feels with those attractive melodies. Oddly, at one time there was even jazzy disjointedness as feel-good decayed to free and atonal then back again to sweet song. Clever - they are jazzers under the hat, after all. But the whole is joy and sonority. Everyone likes a sea shanty, and I can’t imagine that everyone wouldn’t like the Buttercups. As for me, they bring wit and joy with impressive playing and I thoroughly enjoy them for that.

Zoe and the Buttercups is a project of Zoe Hauptmann (bass). Zoe’s blokey Buttercups are Ben Hauptmann (guitar, banjo), Aaron Flower (guitar), Dan Waples (sax), John Hibbard (trombone), James Hauptmann (drums).

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