Brad photo by joshc, taken from the Stranger Flicker pool
Barack Obama, Brad, the Dusty 45s @ Showbox Sodo
The above quote came from one Kerri Harrop, one of maybe three familiar faces in the 1,000+ person crowd at last night’s “Generation Obama” campaign event, when I told her I was there to cover the night’s music. (BTW, I hereby suggest “Obama Nation” as a rocking campaign brand.) She continued: “What are you even doing here? All you care about is getting high and going to the disco.”
Touché, Kerri. But she makes a good point (not about the disco, although, yes). Where was Seattle’s music community? Do we really only care about getting high and going to the disco? Seattle, after all, has a huge music business—labels, venues, promoters, musicians—and this event is probably the best attempt at rocking we’re going to get in a primary campaign rally. The only other music types I ran into were there working for the Showbox. (As a side note, those Showbox employees don’t seem worried about the venues recent buyout by AEG Live. One employee told me, “Everyone gets to stay. It’s actually a really good thing. It basically just means AEG’s going to fund all our ideas, but they’re not changing anything.”) So, a few theories occur to me to account for the seemingly low turnout of music industry people: 1. They don’t care about politics, 2. They don’t have $100 to drop on a show unless “Diamond” Dave is gonna be there, 3. They don’t actually support Obama, 4. They don’t like Brad and the Dusty 45s.
Of those, I guess 3 and 4 seem most likely to me. Some people don’t like flaming trumpet solos, just like I guess some people don’t like rad populist rhetoric. I’m not about to parse all the reasons why someone might or might not support Obama—I’ll leave that to Eli—but I can certainly shed some light on Brad and the Dusty 45s. First of all, I was all ready to bust out with the “Dusty 45s? Why that describes just about the whole darn crowd!” but then the crowd had to go and actually be kind of diverse in terms of age—college kids and a couple adolescents all the way up through kindly looking seniors. Hell, compared to the last time I was at the Showbox Sodo to see a charismatic, political person of color (M.I.A.), this crowd was even fairly racially diverse.
And the Dusty 45s weren’t the worst band you could book for your campaign rally. Yes, they were by-the-book rockabilly—stand up bass, check; polyester cowboy shirts, check—but they were also tight and energetic. Their first song was an original number whose chorus encouraged, “chase your dreams!” and “start a rock’n’roll band.” It’s political message, briefly, was “dreams = good; corporate greed = bad.” Their next song was about going to the beach (“beach = good” too, in case you were wondering). A couple people were halfheartedly swing-dancing, many more heads were bopping to the band’s walking bass line. They played a cover of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues (“I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”). Lead singer/guitarist/trumpeter Billy Joe lit his trumpet on fire for a final solo. Not bad at all.
No, the worst band you could book for your campaign rally would be Brad. After an intermediate pep talk (“Let’s have a good time, but let’s also commit to being active!”) about caucusing and how to get text-message updates about the Obama campaign (cool), and a little rock show humor (‘Who’s bought a t-shirt? Who’s wearing one right now? Your that guy!), Brad took the stage and put things to sleep, in the veterinary sense. Singer Shawn Smith introduced the band by mumbling unintelligibly into his microphone, then they launched into some slow, downer piano chords, and some song about “Maybe you’re not my buttercup,” whatever the fuck that means. There may have been a lyric about butterflies, too. Next, there was the patient apathetic refrain of, “It’s just a matter of time.” Really rousing stuff, and the music was equally subdued white soul and Blueshammer plods. At one point, someone near me shouted: “Upbeat! Play something upbeat!” But Brad must not have heard him.
Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard was playing with the band, and he introduced the next song: “I’m Stone Gossard. I’m honored to be playing with Brad, and we’re proud to endorse Barack Obama! We have a lot of fish to fry in the democratic party, and we need to get our shit together.” They played a cover of Woodie Guthrie’s “Deportees,” a song about “Woodie’s Mexican immigrant friends.” Finally, this was at least a lyrically stirring song, and a not-too-subtle jab at Republican immigration policy, and it was the highlight of Brad’s set. They brought the Dusty 45s back out for their last song; they announced they were playing a song called “Mind Your Own Business” and for a moment I thought they were about to do a Delta 5 cover, but no, it was just a sorta libertarian blues number about leaving your neighbors alone.
During the break, they played Aretha Franklin’s “Think” and Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration”—typical Big Chill, boomer rally stuff, but still way more lively than the just-finished live act. Norm Rice delivered a seemingly drunken introduction for Obama, saying, “It’s a long time past the winter of our discontent” (which sent Ralph Wiggum running scared), “Maybe America can be a dream where everybody’s dream comes true,” and calling Obama “a candidate for all reasons and all seasons.” Um, yeah.
Finally, Obama took the stage with a “What’s up, Seattle!,” and he exuded more rock star charisma than both bands combined (which is probably as it should be), though he graciously praised the bands as “Two outstanding musical talents.” He praised the size and diversity of the audience. He did a bit about Republicans whispering to him that they supported him across party lines that had him coming across a little like Dave Chappelle. He got big cheers for saying schools need to be “providing art and music.” Some Showbox staffers were watching rapt from the stairs to the bar. After the speech, the sound system was playing some dreadful modern rock song on repeat. A staffer wasn’t sure what song it was, but said, “If we’re playing it, it’s an approved song.” It turned out to be All-American Rejects’s “Move Along.”
So, yes, of course, it’s not about the music, but the music is part of it, whether as filler or background noise or rousing anthem, and last night’s music was a mixed bag. Some obvious better choices for the event would have been the Presidents of the United States of America—they’re upbeat, fun, poppy and populist, and with that name, I mean, duh—or Blue Scholars—who are politically righteous, locally revered, and, more than any of these other bands, young (presumably part of the generation that “Generation Obama” would love to connect with). Eli suggested that maybe Obama was trying very hard not to associate himself with any scary notions of blackness (though, at a recent rally, Obama had Chicago rap duo the Cool Kids on his stage (coincidentally, they opened that recent M.I.A. show at the Sodo), who are certainly black, if not at all “scary”). Maybe it would’ve been a problem because of that one song on Bayani where they talk about shooting a man just to watch him die. But probably, they were just busy getting ready for the Program. Still, that would’ve been a fired-up show.