Last Night Spreading the Jam
posted by March 24 at 12:46 PMon
Who needs SXSW when you can see four bands at three venues in six hours, all within your own hometown? Last night Seattle really represented on the musical front in seemingly very disparate styles. But by the end of the evening a common thread became apparent, and it’s not what you’d expect.
First up was the Illuminasty Trio, Skerik’s latest mutant jazz monster, at the Triple Door. With Skerik on saxophonics, doctoring his horn with an array of effects, digital and pedal-driven; Mike Dillon on vibraphone, drum kit, and tabla; and New Orleans veteran Andrew Singleton on bass, Illuminasty took all of those hyphenated -jazz threads (out-, free-, skronk-, whateva-) and pulled at them to the point of fraying. These guys didn’t just play their instruments, they played with their instruments, tapping, rubbing, scratching, pulling, blowing, smacking as if these things weren’t designed for a specific purpose but as just general noisemakers, mining unexpected and often hilarious sounds.
Local jazz hero Wayne Horvitz emerged halfway through the set to sit in on grand piano, plucking and pounding on the strings inside the frame as much as fingering the keys. The first half-hour or so was absolutely mesmerizing, each number offering a novel way of utilizing standard instruments to create wild, atmospheric soundscapes with nary a groove or melody to be heard; those novelties stood out less after a while. By the end of the hour and a half set, the band decided on a groove, and their final number actually approached the out-funk that Horvitz, Skerik, and Dillon know so well. Skerik plays in a huge number of totally different bands, turning from metal to funk to free jazz to bop to rock without hesitation. Amazingly, his fans are just as fearless, even following him into the outer space realms that Illuminasty ventured into.
From there it was a quick walk to the Crocodile for Whalebones and Cave Singers. Whalebones had a great buzz going on right from the start, playing with that ideal two-whiskey high that’s warm and loose and upbeat and just short of sloppy or angry. Somehow it’s OK to get away with head-back guitar solos and boogie-woogie jamming as long as the volume is loud enough and nobody in the crowd’s wearing Birkenstocks or patchwork. Lead singer Justin Deary’s thin voice matched his too-short hair, both of which seemed a bit out of place in a shaggy, shambling garage-psych-blues band like Whalebones. But when they shifted into all-out, guitar-driven overdrive the music made perfect sense.
Seated and cozily lit by a lamp on top of a stage monitor, the Cave Singers played midnight work songs for dying coal miners, distant and eerie and full of scarred soul. Singer Pete Quirk was flanked by two acoustic guitarists, occasionally slapping a tamborine against his thigh but mostly content to let his strong, creaking vocals tell the story. They finished with Quirk on electric and one of the other guys on drums on a haunting electric folk dirge. The crowd was surprsingly attentive during the quiet set, riveted by the trio’s earthy, broken blues.
And then it was off to Chop Suey for OOIOO, the fourth group I’d never seen and the greatest surprise of the evening (check out Sam Mickens’ story about them in this week’s Stranger). Led by Yoshimi P-We of the Boredoms, the all-girl Japanese fivepiece were yet another iteration of jam band, unraveling bouncy, beat-driven, freestyle music impossible to define. Backed by a drummer, a conga player, a bassist, and a guitarist, Yoshimi led the group in weird, chirpy chants and call-and-response, like a tree-ful of squirrels and sparrows at an all-forest pep rally. I don’t speak Japanese but I’m pretty sure they weren’t either. Throughout the set, Yoshimi switched from guitar to trumpet, injecting little poppy melodies over the percolating percussion and hypnotic guitar riffs. The crowd reacted either by staring and gaping or totally letting loose. It wasn’t pop or rock or anything else familiar, but it was infectious and fun as hell.
And there you have it—jam bands are hot. From Skerik to Whalebones to OOIOO, each of these groups played with a free-wheeling, improvisational abandon, letting the moment take the music wherever it was meant to go. There were all clearly well-practiced and well-focused, yet they traded strict adherence to song structure for thrilling, off-the-cuff adventurousness. After Whalebones’ set, singer Justin Deary confessed his appreciation for the Grateful Dead; Skerik plays with Galactic and Les Claypool; there was a taper in the back of the room at OOIOO. Killer musicianship, innovative sounds, and changing attitudes are wearing away the stigma attached to the word “jam.” Pretty soon patchwork will be the new tight jeans.