Don’t sell the bike shop, Vic Pickles

Bizarre Seattle ska-comedy sensation Nigel Mustafa rolled into Paddlers’ Inn on Friday and Saturday night to promote their disc Rankle Dankle Fish With Hands to half full houses of confused onlookers. The foursome, who finished their tour of Hawaii on Molokai played mostly original material but did play some comedy standards like the fish heads song made popular in the 80’s by Saturday Night Live.

Nigel Mustafa are Neck (guitars), Hung Lo (drums), Fok Chu-Mang (bass), and lead vocalist Vic Pickles, who plays all manner of brass instruments as well as clarinet, guitar, and banjo. The foursome, who bill their unique blend of ska, space-rock, and country music as avant-‘tard, aren’t your average comedy band; unlike many comedy acts who court the Dr Demento audience with jokes simply set to music, Mustafa’s instrumental prowess and style range is quite clear. On some songs, in fact, they even managed to sound Zappa-esque.

The problem is not music ability or even songwriting per se- ignoring the infantile lyrics, there is a certain toe-tapability to the band’s goove- the problem is that the live act relies on audience involvement. Many bands can play to an empty house and sound as good or better than if the place were crowded, but Nigel Mustafa are simply too goofy for that to be a possibility. After all, the only thing more awkward than hearing songs about a mythic “Rasta Ninja” or about parts of the bands’ anatomy is experiencing Vic Pickles doing his musical-equivalent Carrot-top turn of pulling out various big band instruments and belching into the mike in a near-vacuum of audience involvement.

The band is talented, but lacks the comedy niche that other comedy acts- Tenacious D, Mojo Nixon, Weird Al Yankovic- have carved out for themselves. Mustafa’s self-professed avant-‘tard style is perhaps better characterized as Ritalin rock, and it’s subject matter is too unfocused to go beyond satisfying a small group of listeners’ comedy fetish.

Unfortunately, then, the best I can say for Nigel Mustafa is that they could throw a truly entertaining live show for the right audience- a young at heart, highly inebriated audience- and possibly be stalwarts of the college campus scene. Until they either ditch the absurd songs or find an untapped comedy identity, Nigel Mustafa is destined to keep bewildering audiences in local taverns across America.

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