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posted: 8/9/2013 6:00 AM

Mutts hides joy, passion behind a smoky growl

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  • Mutts is Bob Buckstaff, left, Mike Maimone and Chris Pagnani.

    Mutts is Bob Buckstaff, left, Mike Maimone and Chris Pagnani.


Tom Waits definitely has his hands in this one. Not literally, but it's undeniable the guys in Mutts drew heavy influence from Waits. At first listen, the whiskey-soaked vocals are shrouded in the same smoked growl popularized by the acclaimed American singer-songwriter.

But there's more to this band than hero worship.

My first play of 2012's "Separation Anxiety" made me think it would be a perfect soundtrack for a heist film. I could see the unsavory characters huddled around a bottle of something strong in a darkened bar in the basement of an old office building on the shadier side of downtown. Whatever they're planning, it won't be pretty.

But then I heard the piano. And the joy. Behind the stories of struggle and the looks at the darker side of people, there's a true happiness. You can tell this isn't just a job for the guys. It's a passion. They really and truly love what they do.

And their star is moving up. Started in 2009 by Bob Buckstaff and Mike Maimone and former drummer Chris Faller, the band was for a while a side project, a hobby they loved for musicians who were part of other bands, namely Chicago-based Empires and Company of Thieves. The trio had stories to tell, and a few EPs later they were fairly established locally. When Faller left to devote more time to Company of Thieves, the guys were joined by Palatine native Chris Pagnani on drums.

The stage has called the trio, and on any given weekend you can find them playing their jazzy, funky, folky rock somewhere in Chicago or the suburbs, or traveling around the Midwest. And they have a few upcoming shows that promise to be unique. The first, Friday, Aug. 16, is a Tonic Room performance of the band's first three EPs, reaching back to 2009 and 2010. The show will be taped for a live album, to be released somewhere down the line. Next, on Sunday, Aug. 18, is a rooftop show at Uncommon Ground in Chicago to celebrate the video premiere of "Prizefighter," a song off their recent album, an acoustic "Object Permanence." I've seen the video, and I don't mind saying I got a chill up my spine. It's a powerful piece illustrating a powerful song. However, admission to this show is limited, so check the Facebook event for details.

Their next show is an exciting triple bill shared with Murder By Death and Chicago's Maps & Atlases. This Thursday, Aug. 22, gig is at Durty Nellie's in Palatine, a well-established showcase for local music and a scene Mutts fits right into.

I've never quite understood the draw of Tom Waits. And while he has influence here, the Mutts have broken beyond that. I'm happy to say the piano-driven "Object Permanence" is in this week's heavy rotation. Check it out at

• Mutts live recorded show: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, at the Tonic Room, 2447 N. Halsted Ave., Chicago; $5-$8, 21 and over; (773) 248-8400 or

• "Prizefighter" video premiere party: 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18, at Uncommon Ground, 1401 W. Devon Ave., Chicago; no cover, all-ages show, reservation required (see Facebook event for specifics);

• Mutts w/Maps & Atlases and Murder By Death: 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, at Durty Nellie's, 180 N. Smith St., Palatine; $15, 21 and over; (847) 358-9150 or

• Brian Shamie is a Daily Herald copy editor who loves when music gives him a chill. He writes about the summer music scene every Friday.

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