It's not surprising that, while the swing craze has come and gone, the Squirrel Nut Zippers are still gaining new fans who don't believe the right cuff links make for the perfect listening experience. Born inside an unadulterated scenester vacuum, the Zippers became the unexpected byproduct of a late-night chicken fry held at Jim Mathus and Katherine Whalen's rural home in North Carolina. Up to that point Whalen had sung only in her car, hesitantly lending her sultry cartoon drawl to old jazz recordings; her husband Mathus contented himself to twiddling on his guitar, making puppets, and teaching Whalen to play banjo. After that first hot meal and "hot music" jam session, however, other similarly disaffected musicians from Chapel Hill sought out the duo and the band was formed. The Zippers' subsequent albums, The Inevitable, Hot, and Perennial Favorites, offered a sweltering brew of Southern roots music -- swamp jazz, Dixieland, jump-blues -- that fit in nicely with the emerging neo-lounge trend. As the Zippers gained slots on Late Night With Conan O'Brien and at Bill Clinton's second inaugural ball, swing kids lined up at their gigs to show off their new dance moves. Still, the Zippers remained slightly separate from their faddish peers, opting for comfortable clothes and faithfully inspired music that often delved into darker subject matter and was accompanied by oddball meters unconducive to jitterbugging. On Bedlam Ballroom, their first album in two years, the Zippers dip into lighter-but-no-less-peculiar fare, using Whalen's distinctive voice for 'toonish lopes, boogie tickles, and Latin tantalization. While lead songwriter Mathus still takes up vocal duties on old-timey R&B grinds rife with snide winks and contemporary nuances, it is when Whalen sings that the Zippers seem most likely to have stepped out of time. The Squirrel Nut Zippers perform on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 16 and 17, at 9 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall. Tickets are $20; call 885-0750.
If having the first laugh is as important to you as having the last, you are probably among the devoted and privileged fans of Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation (the first in America to showcase the irreverent humor of Beavis and Butt-head, South Park, and Wallace and Gromit.) This year's festival offers 16 new animated shorts, including Angry Kid, the latest outing by the Chicken Run creators at Aardman Animation; Rejected, a work from cult animator Don Hertzfeldt that was commissioned and discarded by the Family Learning Channel; Stinky Monkey, an encounter between a precocious little girl and an unsuspecting primate; The Hangnail, a tragedy about a man, his best friend, and the little piece of skin that tears them apart; and Coco, the Junkie Pimp, the saga of a jive-talking clown searching for the punk who stole his hos. Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation screens Friday through Thursday, Nov. 17-23, at the Roxie Cinema (3117 16th St.). Admission is $7; call 863-1087 for show times.
Winding down from -- and improving upon -- the polyester Latin sex-funk freakout of their 1998 debut, New Sound of the Venezuelan Gozadera, Los Amigos Invisibles arrive again on our shores with Arepa 3000: A Venezuelan Journey Into Space, a space-age soundtrack for the slightly more mature bachelor's chill-out pad. While New Sound was filled with slavering pelvic thrusts and sweaty mirror ball flashbacks, Arepa offers ostentatious dance-floor lounge better suited to a kooky couples' dance than a center-stage showoff. From the Xavier Cugat--stimulated easy listening title track to the Charo-conjuring "Cuchi-Cuchi" to the shag carpet serenade of "Si Estuvieras Aqui," one gets the impression Los Amigos are looking for a love that might last all the way until morning. Or, perhaps, on a higher creative plane, the group is attempting to slide an aural interpretation of Peter Sellers' The Party between its swirling synth and Nuyorican boogie. Los Amigos Invisibles perform on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 18 and 19, at Justice League with Los Mocosos opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15; call 289-2038.