The Zoo Peculiar is awake (and demanding your attention)

Zoo Peculiar Frank Lambshanks

Frank Lambshanks

Looking for an enjoyably challenging way to spend a Saturday night? Try this.

Invite a group of friends over, put the debut album from The Zoo Peculiar on the stereo, then try to classify what kind of music they play.

You’ll hear some interesting repsonses.

It’s been tabbed “carnivalesque experimental rock” or even “polka punk.”

The Zoo will settle for “experimental pop rock.”

Whichever label is applied, the Zoo’s first album, Teat, is entertaining and simply fun.

“It’s got enough ironic tension between being spooky and almost creepy, with music that is being upbeat,” lead singer, keyboardist and lyricist Fran Altomare (A.KA. Frank Lambshanks) said. “I think we are just different enough that people can identify our sound with something but they are not exactly sure what it is.”

Ryan Zoo Peculiar

Ryan Gatsby

Truth be told, the album is something Tom Waits and Frank Zappa might have conjured if they wanted to create some sort of subversive circus (And trust me, they do).

“We started throwing in these weird time changes just to make it challenging for ourselves and also to make it a different kind of music than people are used to listening to,” said drummer Ryan Panucci, who plays under the stage name Ryan Gatsby.

The result is an album that sounds much richer than a three-piece band should produce.

Teat isn’t a long debut – it features only nine true songs and an instrumental tune-up – but it provides some intriguing characters, including drunken clowns, a depressed, atrophying strong man who can’t lift his spirits and a fortune teller who’s never wrong but still isn’t believed.

Altomare, a research fellow at Florida Atlantic University, isn’t afraid to get a little silly with his storytelling, as the “If you think this is soupy / get out your fork and spoony / this isn’t even that soupy to me” verse from “Too Kooky” whimsically suggests.

Hearing the Zoo is one thing. Seeing them live is an experience. All three members perform wearing theatrical costumes. Stuffed animals fly into the crowd. Altomare, as the ring leader, is one part Elton John and one part Alice Cooper.

Rod Zoo Peculiar

Furious Rod

“The music has to speak for itself but the one thing that sets us apart from other bands is that we are interesting to see,” Altomare said.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Zoo Peculiar live is that they are able to pull off the intricacies of the recorded album, which means that at any moment bass player Rod Moore (Furious Rod) will reach back and grab a melodica, slide whistle, thunder tube or clacker for just the right sound.

The resulting show is a three ring musical circus that P. T. Barnum might envy – and even casual music fans should embrace.

“The reaction has been really, really positive,” Altomare said.

To which Moore adds, sounding somewhat mischievously disappointed: “We haven’t been chased with pitch forks yet.”