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Mutaytor: raw tribal energy meets Vegas

Troupe takes Fanny Hill stage in Snowmass on Saturday

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The Mutaytor, a group that combines music, theater and circus-type acts, makes its local debut Saturday on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village. (Pixie Vision Productions)

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By Stewart Oksenhorn
July 7, 2006

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The Mutaytor began on a perfectly spontaneous note. Matty Nash, a heavy-metal drummer disillusioned with Los Angeles' metal scene in the '90s, headed for the Nevada desert - specifically, the 1998 Burning Man Festival, a wild celebration of creativity outside of Reno. There, amidst an orgy of electronic music, fire dancers, aerial artists, the drum circle Nash started turned into something bigger and more unpredictable.

"I brought out my drums, started a performance," said Nash, a 36-year-old Chicagoan who had moved to L.A. in 1990, just in time to watch the metal scene there peter out. "And organically, a bunch of people came up to collaborate - a belly dancer, a DJ, a juggler. It was unplanned. The audience participation triggered this magic."

Out of that experience, Nash formed the Mutaytor, a multimedia spectacle of music, theater, fire and acrobatics. Drawing from L.A's performance-art community, the group did underground events like raves, house parties and art openings. It also returned to the place of its birth each year and, at the 2001 Burning Man, Nash decided to put some more premeditation into the presentation. The Mutaytor morphed into a large-format spectacle, far more arranged than the original, catch-as-catch-can version. Nash found the transformation, from spontaneity to nearly scripted, much to his liking.

"We really found our voice," he said of the 2001 Burning Man appearance, "found who we were and what content we wanted."

The Mutaytor is now a show that requires a staggering amount of planning. For several years, the show was confined mostly to the West Coast, with a large part of the itinerary focused on corporate events. This year, Nash has brought the conglomerate on tour; the Mutaytor appeared earlier this year at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium and last month at the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival in Kansas. Later this summer, it lands in Minnesota for the 10,000 Lakes Music Festival and San Diego for the San Diego Street Scene. A current swing through Colorado includes stops at clubs in Denver and Boulder and, this Saturday at 7 p.m., on Snowmass Village's Fanny Hill, as part of the free Massive Music & Movies series.

Nash says that, onstage, the Mutaytor unfolds like a concert. "It's built as a concert, not as a Broadway show, or Vegas, like Cirque de Soleil," he said. "There is no overall theme, but songs that have their own vibe and messages."

Getting to the stage, however, is not as simple as driving the bus up and having the band members stumble out and into the venue. The Mutaytor is a modular show that adapts, in size and content, according to the venue and the audience. It ranges in size from a few handfuls of performers to the 35 who assemble for the annual Halloween parade in West Hollywood, to play in front of nearly half a million people.

The Snowmass date will feature a fairly large cast of 24: 10 musicians, 10 dancers and visual performers, plus tech and support crew. "We try to make it look effortless," said Nash. But at the moment, Nash was having trouble pulling off that illusion. Several members missed the plane that was taking them to Milwaukee for an appearance at Summerfest, and Nash and his wife, who handles logistics, were a bit stressed trying to get them to Wisconsin.

Though the Mutaytor has a high degree of structure, and Nash came from the metal scene, which has its own choreographed tendencies, the group tries to connect, as it can, to its improvised beginnings.

"There's a jam band and jazz esthetic we ascribe to, so the person who's seen us a million times will keep seeing something new," said Nash, who divided the show as 80 percent choreographed, 20 percent improvised. "And it lets us flex our creative muscles. It's not the same cues, the same lights, the same thing every night. It's a lot of push and pull."

The various aspects of the Mutaytor can be seen in how wide the span of references is. Nash, at one point in our phone conversation, calls it "a Vegas-style show," a nod to the dancers, costumed parade animals and fire jugglers. The band's website includes a reference to the ultimate in unchoreographed entertainment, the Grateful Dead.

"There's still a tribal element," said Nash. "But now it's this raw tribal energy, but also a polished Vegas approach."

Somehow, that polish appears without the help of a ringmaster. Asked if he acts as director, Nash demurred. "I don't direct the show," he said. "It happens by collaboration and committee. Each act is built by one or two people, and they fit it into the show.

"There's a very mysterious element because there's no dominant personality or leader. Every band member or visual personality has their time to stand out."

Nash preferred to call his role, "air traffic controller," which seems an apt description. The Snowmass show, tailored somewhat for a family audience, will feature fire dancing and fire effects; 3D video projections featuring live cameras and canned video; martial arts; anime characters; belly dancers; and comedy sequences. The music - played by a team of drummers, a bassist and two DJs using laptop computers, but no singers - is all original, electronica-oriented sounds.

Nash said forming the Mutaytor was his way out of metal music. What he stumbled on, he thinks, is a different brand of entertainment altogether.

"I've never seen anything like this," he said. "There are things that are in the ballpark. The closest merge I could do is the Flaming Lips meets the Blue Man Group.

"It's rock, but very visual. And very much like a circus, where you don't know where to look at any one time. I liked the Ringling Bros. when I was growing up, where there was an acrobat and some animals, and there was a battle between your eyes to know where to focus."

Stewart Oksenhorn's e-mail address is


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