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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Notes From the "Seattle City of Music" Press Conference

posted by on October 30 at 10:30 AM

-Mayor Nickels kicked off the Seattle City of Music event with an "informal" (and inaudible, since he was speaking at the foot of the Paramount stage without a mic) press conference. When told by someone close enough to hear that Nickels said "nothing substantial," the ever-quotable Dave Meinert replied, "Well, he's a politician." As soon as Nickels was done, the Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal" played, crystal clear.

-The theme of the night was to "grow" Seattle as a city of music, according to Nickels, who took the stage with a mic for what I guess was the formal part of the presentation. He said Seattle is a "great place to make music" and he wants to make it a "great place to make a living making music." He then rattled off a list of non-music-related Seattle based business, and told the story about his mom dropping him off for a date at a Rolling Stones concert. He claimed, dubiously, that "Austin has nothing on Seattle."

-The 12-year plan has three fronts: music education, music venues, and music businesses. The idea is to foster all three of those things, although the specifics of how to do that were still pretty vague.

-James Keblas argued that Seattle's strength was that it's "not LA or NY," to say nothing of Austin.

-Growing the music business in Seattle seemed to hinge on growing the wider economy, a rising tide and ships and all that, which is bad news given how the actual economy is going, although the guy from the chamber of commerce lost me when he started talking about "specialty beverages." He was one of three guys in suits, including Nickels, to invoke the word "soul" (not one of them accompanied the invocation with a black power fist, sadly).

-Tom Mara from KEXP told us that the station's CD collection could more than fill two accordion-style metro busses, and that he hopes to see it fill three someday.

-Megan Jasper from Sub Pop and Josh Rosenfeld from Barsuk were the first people to acknowledge that times are actually kind of grim for the music business right now, to say nothing of the wider economic meltdown. Returning to the theme of Seattle's exceptionalism, Rosenfeld said that there isn't another city where everything comes together as it does in Seattle.

-It really is bizarre to hear that voice come out of Vince Mira's body.

-The New Faces look like the Jonas Brothers and sound like Interpol. They'll probably be huge.

-Somewhat depressingly, the goal for music education is primarily just to restore all the programs and funding to historic levels. One speakers called music education a "race and social justice issue." The Seattle Rotary wants you to donate musical instruments to them to give to schools.

-The VERA Project's Dustin Fujikawa was probably the most engaging and animated speaker of the night, and he brought up some serious issues—gentrification, health care, a living wage—that I'm not entirely sure this plan can really address.

-Things were dragging on, so we skipped the last round of speeches, about music venues.

-The goals of the plan are great, of course, and, as a parasite on the music industry, I absolutely hope that Seattle remains and improves as a City of Music. But there was not much in the way of specifics last night, and it really seems like fostering music education and music businesses is going to be challenging in a time of economic downturn. There are some cost-effective things that could be done to make Seattle more hospitable to music venues, but most of them involve reversing the clampdowns—noise ordinances, nightclub stings—that this very administration has initiated, or else things that are out of the Mayor and the City's jurisdiction, such as the WSLCB's puritanical regulations (in Austin, LA, and NY, I'm pretty sure you can drink a beer onstage). Still, there are some really good people behind this thing; I remain tentatively hopeful that some concrete good will come out of this.

-Oh, also, the official "Seattle City of Music" website that I couldn't get to load yesterday is up and running now, and while it's, again, long on goals and short on specifics, it has a more detailed list of, really, pretty inspiring goals than I was able to jot down from last night's speeches. Check it out.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Frightened Rabbit, Crystal Castles

posted by on October 29 at 11:24 AM

Or "Real Band? Fake Band?" pt. 2:

Frightened Rabbit are pretty much the epitome of a "real" band: they began as the solo-acoustic pub act of Scott Hutchinson before his brother Grant and others joined making them a full band, they all play guitars and drums (although, it should be noted, there is a keyboard onstage and even—gasp!—a laptop), and Scott sings like every chorus is ripping his heart out, his voice pealing up and away from him, straining as though he's about to burst into tears or maybe flames, like he "really" feels it, man (think Bright Eyes with an accent and more triumphalism). Their best songs build into these fucking huge choruses, all stomp and ringing electric guitars and Scott and Grant howling in harmony. And you know what? I'm a sucker for some of that "meaningfulcore" shit, and I'm totally taken by Frightened Rabbit. These are songs built for bigger rooms, bigger things, and I'm pretty confident they'll get there. Highlights of their set included "The Twist" and "I Feel Better."

It doesn't hurt that just about any banter at all sounds grret in a Scottish accent, and Scott's banter was actually pretty charming: He (rightly) complained about our city's asinine law against having a drink onstage, suggesting that Chop Suey install a beer-spraying fire hose in the bar so that he could get beered without actually having a drink onstage; he then joked that there was plenty of booze onstage it was just already in his belly (which, to the point, Seattle's law doesn't actually keep drunk people offstage, just drinks), adding that his water bottle was "pure vodka, as well." Until "world-class" Seattle fixes this puritanical shit, we should prepare to be the laughing stock of fucking Skelkirk, Scotland (population 5,839). Introducing one song, Scott noted happily that he no longer has to write the letters of the keys down on his keyboard anymore. Apparently, there was another Scotsman in the audience, and some of Scott's banter was directed to him, as was one song dedicated. Another song was dedicated to a couple of strangers that gave Scott a pre-show hug in the bar. Between that sort of thing, the huge applause for every song, the people visibly singing along in the crowd, and what Scott described as "Jesus Christ, there's the closest we've ever come to a mosh pit," it was pretty clear that the crowd last night loves this band.

This isn't the best quality live video of the band (and it's not from last night's show), but I think it gives the best impression of both Scott's winning stage manner and the band's sound, so:

Still, though, it was a smaller crowd than the Crystal Castles' sold out all-ages show down the street at Neumos, and the Crystal Castles are almost your stereotypical "fake" band: they were conceived as little more than a joke, they allegedly rip off unknown chiptune artists' creative commons tracks, they in fact ripped off the visual art of artist Trevor Brown (they supposedly did this unwittingly), their live show, although now aided by a live drummer, could pretty much be just Ethan Kath "pressing play" and Alice Glass shrieking and swinging a strobe light around. And yet, they were playing to a very real sold-out crowd; I guess the kids didn't get the myspace blast about the importance of authenticity and guitars.

Not to get all "but I was there" about it, but, well, I was there on Crystal Castles long before they played a Seattle show (I even, as if anticipating this week's discussion, proclaimed them "not a band"—hilarious), and I've seen them every time they've played here except for the last time, when they opened for fucking Nine Inch Nails at the Key Arena (I was on the lookout last night for true, black-blooded goth-industrialists, but I didn't see any, sadly). Which is only to say, that even though they're just now selling-out their own headlining show at Neumos, to me it seems (wrongly, apparently) like their moment has already come and gone. Don't get me wrong, I still think the Crystal Castles have a handful of killer songs—"Love & Caring," "Crimewave," "Magic Spells," "Air War," lots, really—but I was perfectly happy hanging back in the crowd and letting the kids have their fun up front (and the kids really were tearing shit up; the whole place was pogoing wildly, the floor bouncing up and down like a trampoline). That was, until a friend of mine showed up who I think had never seen them before and dragged me into the crowd, where the enthusiasm was infectious enough to make me forget about whether or not the band's moment was up or what I was going to write about them today and just enjoy the show. Whatever the novelty or authenticity of Crystal Castles' spectacle last night, those songs still sound plenty fresh on the dance floor or the mosh pit or whatever that was.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fujiya & Miyagi @ Chop Suey

posted by on October 28 at 11:44 AM

If nothing else, Fujiya & Miyagi proved last night that the more I hear it, the better the archetypal motorik groove sounds. That two-thirds of the Brighton, England quartet’s set reminded me of Can’s “Mother Sky” should have annoyed. Instead, we—all 300 or so of us; not bad for a Monday night—couldn’t get enough of this aerodynamic-as-fuck rhythm, which, as I’ve probably written many times before, induces a sense of easy, swift, perpetual motion down the carefree highway (Gordon Lightfoot reference unintentional, but it’s a great song; you should check it out).

F&M cruised with no-nonsense precision through 16 cuts over 65 minutes, pretty evenly splitting the content between Transparent Things and the new Lightbulbs. Their songs—really, more lean boogies and stark rambles than traditional songs—have a deceptive funkiness. The gorgeous “Goosebumps” is maybe the one exception; it’s a wistful ballad that recalls first-LP King Crimson or Harmonia at their most pastoral.

Visually, these pasty Brits are about as sexy as an umlaut, but their music possesses a sly sensuality (enhanced by David Best’s sibilant whisper) that gets the ladies yelping and gyrating hips. With their sparse, efficient crispness, F&M make most groups sound bloated and needlessly fussy. When they finally ratchet up the intensity during the encore (especially “Hundreds & Thousands”), it had an incredible impact after an hour of sotto-voce, streamlined funk.

When executed well (as Fujiya & Miyagi do), motorik-flecked krautrock—even faux krautrock—sounds immune to the ravages of time and jadedness, chugging in eternal youthfulness toward the horizon line.

"In One Ear and Out the Other" live


Friday, October 24, 2008

A "Wii Music" Review

posted by on October 24 at 1:28 PM

The Notwist @ Neumo's

Didn't know what Notwist to expect last night, so I spent most of the run-up to the show holding back all of my stupidly high expectations. Maybe they'd be bored of their breakout 2002 record, Neon Golden, so many years later. Or they'd play songs much like the restrained, highly synthesized stuff on their latest discs and therefore be a bore. Or these guys in their late 30s and early 40s would merely fake their way through the concept of a rock show. Or they would answer my hopes and praye--ah, crap. Hard to hold that one back after waiting almost ten years to see 'em, I guess.

Turns out my stupid expectations were met. The German quintet delivered the best of Neon Golden, along with a solid heaping of tracks from newest disc The Devil, You + Me, and set all of it on fire, and then ran around the stage to fan said flames. Most of the songs were dragged out an extra few minutes with riotous, guitar-led meltdowns--though "Pilot," in particular, went the opposite direction, turning into a German house masterwork that recalled the best of Michael Mayer. Almost every song had a new, intense rebirth last night. And there were a lot of 'em, thanks to two encores. Thrashing around the stage, loading the mix with the perfect mix of organic guitar rock and synthetic accoutrement, sweating like mad... hopes and prayers, not so bad.

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Even with such a great set, the crowd might've been most intrigued by Martin "Console" Gretschmann's liberal use of two Wii remote controllers as an instrument. Homebrew jockeys know how hackable the things are--easily connectible to a PC via Bluetooth--and have coded software that tracks the remote's movement on all axes. As a result, Gretschmann's digital handiwork was far more visual than seeing him hunched over knobs and sliders; his wrist rotation, side-to-side, and up-and-down movements all created tweaking and decay of whatever sound effects he helmed at any given point, and he could even change and insert sounds with their buttons.

Compare this to Wii Music, a digital noisemaker released this week that tries to be the super-simple Rock Band for the whole family. Lots of problems with this game: The song selection is campy, loaded with public domain fare. Even if you like these songs, they sound awful, because the real instruments have been replaced with MIDI noises. The drum simulator sucks, because instead of using the motion controller to hit different drums in space, you instead hold different buttons for each part of the kit.

The worst flaw, far as I'm concerned, is that Wii Music doesn't feel interesting the way Wii Sports did. In that game, each angle and rotation had its own immediate, unique impact on tennis, bowling, and so on. In Wii Music, you snap your wrist for every time you want to make a noise. That's it. No variation based on motion, velocity, or angle. Compare that to Gretschmann's motion-sensitive conduction last night--what if Nintendo tucked that elaborate noisemaker into Wii Music? Calling the game "kid-focused" gives no credit to kids; if I were six years old, I'd know the difference between a one-dimensional noise-along game and a freakish, wave-the-remote synthesizer.

Gretschmann left the below note on stage for fans wondering how his rig worked. Not that it makes complete sense--wuz a komputer?--but I've included it so that our friends at Nintendo can check it out and get a clue.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Get Loweded Got Apocalyptic

posted by on October 21 at 11:48 AM

Every third Monday at Re-Bar Get Loweded presents Get Apocalyptic, the drinking game / variety show where there are prizes, videos, music, comedy, and sex dances. The apocalypse has arrived. Jackson Lowe preached. Little Becky Poole played an amplified saw that was fed through effects. Danielle Radford held a Star Wars trivia contest against a mutant. The mutant spat green bile. Evilyn Sin Claire grew a hose cock and got it on with an old school robot with faucet dick. Concoction shots were doled out from the bar. 3-D movies were shown. A guy and a girl were picked out of the crowd, put to the side of the stage, and fed all they could drink. Then they hooked up in a tent, to repopulate the world.

It was a riled up night. Cabaret activity set to Pabst. Y’all need to see this next month. Get Loweded needs to be seen and partaken in. You won’t be sorry. Here’s a gander:


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Stereolab @ Showbox at the Market

posted by on October 18 at 2:54 PM

Seeing Stereolab in 2008 should almost be like catching the Rolling Stones in 1981 or something. Stereolab should be a sagging shadow of their former selves by this point. But no. Stereolab in 2008 are as buoyant and charming as ever. Their songs have aged as well as Barack Obama.

A six-piece for this tour—two keyboardists, a bassist (Simon Johns), a drummer (Andy Ramsay), Laetitia Sadier on vocals and Moog, and Tim Gane on gjuitar—Stereolab coolly and calmly rocked the near sell-out crowd’s world. I could bitch about them leaving out some of my favorite material (“Golden Ball,” “Metronomic Underground,” “Trippin’ with the Birds,” “Fuses,” “Blue Milk,” “Jenny Ondioline,” etc.), but that would be churlish. For nearly 90 minutes, Stereolab defied the deleterious effects of aging that afflict most rock groups. Even this late in their career, Stereolab can draw several Seattle techno heads who rarely attend rock concerts, at least two members of U.S.E, and folks approaching retirement age.

Sadier, looking MILFy, as always, dorkily danced and sang in her smart, measured way as she and the boys rummaged willy-nilly through their vast back catalog with robust authority. The ’lab rock much harder in person than on disc, but they also show nuance with their space-age bachelor-pad output and morose continental ballads, too.

The new Chemical Chords album received much attention (including “Neon Beanbag” and “The Ecstatic Static”), of course, but Stereolab reached way back for “Ping Pong” (Meghan McCain’s favorite Stereolab tune; more urgent and purgative than on record), “Stomach Worm,” “Mountain,” “John Cage Bubblegum,” and “Super-Electric,” too.

The slower numbers still carry a sweet, swaying brilliance and the midtempo ones still radiate a cosmopolitan suavity, but Stereolab excel most when they accelerate. The set’s eighth song (title escapes me now) boasted that classic motorik groove and Gane went wild on his Fender. It was an über-krautrock jam that made everything old seem Neu! again.

The night peaked during the encore’s fourth and last tune, “Stomach Worm,” which sounded like the Velvet Underground’s “Run Run Run” and the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner,” but trebled in speed and intensity. Stereolab extended the song into stroboscopic, speed-freak rock that kept on cresting like the sonic equivalent of Tantric sex. I glanced back at one point and noticed a 30ish Caucasian couple furiously simulating doggy-style copulation. Oh, hell yeah. This is how you end a motherfucking show…

This 1996 video of "Stomach Worm" doesn't come close to capturing the majesty of last night's version, but it'll have to do.


Monday, October 13, 2008

!OD YDWOH

posted by on October 13 at 1:34 PM

Last Night as in Saturday night.

The Admiral Theater in West Seattle has been inaugurated. The first show in the new music room went off this weekend. Bands were Brent Amaker and the Rodeo, the Hands, and Panda and Angel. It’s a big room deep inside a quiet neighborhood on the far side of town. Matt ran the sound. There were a few kinks soundwise (first night running sound in a new theater sort of stuff), but overall it sufficed. Once kinks and feedback issues are worked out, the room will be good for sound. The theatre still has all the seats in it, which might need to tweaked with as well, for the music shows that is.

Some people up front couldn't hear the vocals, a typical sound problem for those ears standing right at the front of a stage, directly in front of the mains. The people sitting down in the theater had a better mix. Amaker said, “I wish there was a way to give the room one mix, and a separate mix up front for the true fans.”

For the Rodeo’s show they had Ted Nugent’s lighting guy, John Schlick, running the lights. They showed their "adults only" grind-core music video “I’m the Man Who Writes the Country Hits” on the big screen right before their set. In the video there is killing and sex. Amaker stabs someone through the head with his guitar. When the credits rolled, the curtains pulled and the Rodeo walked on stage and started playing. Amaker made his entrance from the rear of the theater and Schlick covered him with a follow spot. It was a real live, fog machine enhanced, twang rock, West Seattle music show. Here’s to the Admiral sticking around. Pictures to come. Here’s that adults only video now:


The Rodeo is about to leave for a US tour ending at CMJ in New York. They play the National Underground in Manhattan on Oct. 24th. They have a new van for the tour. Amaker said, “The new van is HUGE. Plenty of room for five men in cowboy hats, one ace photographer / cape man, and all the gear. Shit, there’s elbow room. It will be nice after a few days on the road to have some out of my face space.”

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

KFO Wins 2008 Northwest Laptop Battle

posted by on October 12 at 5:53 PM

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KFO's Guitar Heroics help him to triumph at this year's Laptop Battle. Photo by +russ.

KFO (Bryan Newman) won this year’s Laptop Battle Friday night with a flamboyant, dynamic performance involving a Guitar Hero MIDI controller. (I only caught KFO during an early round; the abundance of steakhead bros in the crowd and another show forced me to an early exit from Nectar, which was packed by 10 pm; nice work, everybody.)

Newman took home several prizes [see the list below]. In addition, he will play the closing set at the Battle of the MegaMixes Oct. 18 at Nectar Lounge. Congrats to KFO and all the other contestants.

NI - Synth
Ableton - Instrument
Mackie - Multi - Track
Audio Damage - EFX Plug
Sonic Charge - Drum Machine
FabFilter - Stereo Tape Delay Plug
D16 - Distortion Plug
Puremagnetik - Sample Pak
Electric Baby - Laptop Sleeve

Soul Night

posted by on October 12 at 5:51 PM

Jesus Christ, it was packed at the Lo_Fi last night. The people in the crowd/the women wearing trippy vintage stuff/the men wearing women's scarves around their necks like ascots/the goofballs on the dance floor/the smokers outside were some of the most attractive people currently living.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Deerhoof, Experimental Dental School @ Neumos

posted by on October 8 at 11:22 AM

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Deerhoof: Still tight after all these years.

Portland’s Experimental Dental SchoolShoko Hirakawa (drums, vocals) and Jesse Hall (guitar, vocals)—play taut, tart art pop. Their songs careen in semi-unpredictable directions, like Polvo compressed into Minutemen-sized portions. The duo’s fragile, understated vocals contrasted nicely with the strident zig-zagging of their compositions. EDS strike a balance between challenging and accessible, much like their tour mates Deerhoof.

It was encouraging to see Deerhoof pack Neumos on a Tuesday night, as they support their new album, Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars). The show was all ages and skewed pretty young, but it’s a good sign when you spot a pudgy, balding 50something guy in the front row. That’s proof that a band’s reached a rarefied level of popularity.

The Bay Area quartet are old pros at sounding youthful and vigorous. Singer Satomi Matsuzaki deftly played a Hofner violin bass made famous by Paul McCartney and sang in that feathery, ultra-sweet way that many Asian female vocalists do. Again, her voice provided an interesting counterpoint to Deerhoof’s jagged dynamics. Their citric, staccato pop was at once cute and tenacious, like Blonde Redhead wound tighter and minus the melodramatic melodies.

Drummer Greg Saunier kind of stole the show, guiding the Deerhoof ship with masterly hairpin change-ups in a style that combined Charlie Watts’ casual funk with Keith Moon’s maniacal, manic power. Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich’s guitars often sounded Stonesy (think the coiled, crunchy lines in “Start Me Up” and “Honky Tonk Women”) when they weren’t chiming in delicate beauty or surging in a euphoric clangor. They moved through their 75-minute set with an incredible tightness, like a well-(b)oiled machine.

Deerhoof leaned heavily on Offend Maggie material (on initial listens, it's generally more melodic and less strident than earlier output), but sprinkled in many older favorites, too. The crowd was rapt, cheering the intros of nearly every song and demanding an encore. And the geezer down in front had a smile on his face most of the night.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Sigur Ros @ Benaroya Hall

posted by on October 6 at 2:39 PM

There were no string sections, extra horns, or even a waifish entourage behind Sigur Ros last night at Benaroya Hall. It would've been an ideal venue for the band's overwhelming orchestral assault, much like they delivered to the Paramount in 2005, but their four-piece arrival made sense in regards to their latest record, Gibberish That I Don't Understand. Other than a blast of horn here and there, the band plays that album as if they were some sort of rock band. Crazy, I know.

But what made Sigur Ros' set special last night wasn't the new or poppy material. Stomping single “Gobbledigook” was actually hampered by Benaroya's acoustics, buried by the crowd's compliant, echoing clap-along (though at least it respected singer Jon Birgisson's request in broken English to “clap in beat”). To be fair, the rocking material was unilaterally strong, and one song even got members of the crowd to stand up in the stuffy, sit-down room and dance along to a vivid, Technicolor display. But this delivery is the Sigur Ros we've heard before—the forceful falsetto that dominates and captivates, the masterful melding of piano and xylo/glocken parts without resorting to echo delays, the over-pedaled guitar that's bowed to bloody death.

Rather, the most striking moments came when the band used its fifth member—its sense of white space between the other instruments—to great effect. Granted, anybody can pause or let notes linger and turn a two-minute song into ten minutes of junk; what Sigur Ros did, rather, was take its older, orchestral approach and condense it into beautiful recipes of tone. For example: one part vocal cry, one part guitar pluck for every vocal shift, and stir within Benaroya's cavernous space.

There they were on second song “All Alright,” standing yards apart on the massive stage and allowing piano notes, (what looked like) a farfisa organ, and Birgisson's peaking falsetto to warble through open space, mingling together in that aforementioned fashion to incredible effect. Convenient that this song is their only one in English, as the band laid itself most bare on it last night--“Singing in tune, together / A psalm for no one,” their lead singer cried, as a woman's face was rendered on the stage's massive screen in two-tone simplicity. The attentive crowd was particularly fond of this use of silence and space, watching so quietly that the only noise at times was the very last breath of Birgisson on a particular vocal section, and after that, only the rattle of Benaroya's A/C unit. (The fuck was that on for, anyway?)

Strangely, the same power was found in Sigur Ros' new, scorched-earth take on “Popplagid,” the final track on ( ), which closed the show with harsh crimson and harsher tones colliding, pausing in the air, and allowing Birgisson to turn this sad song into an angry, burning condemnation. Strings, horns, and other accompaniment would've filled the hall with too much distraction; the new take, with its drawn-out feedback, burning into silence before breathing fire again, made just enough room to let the song's new sense of frustration linger all the way up to Benaroya's massive ceiling and back down again.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Ponytail: Makes Me Wanna Holler

posted by on October 3 at 10:21 AM

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Did the Vice Presidential debate last night wear you down, too? You should have gone to see Ponytail at Nectar immediately after. It was the perfect tonic.

Seriously, parsing every word and phrase that Joe Biden and that woman who I do not refer to directly (because she falls under what I call “The Courtney Love Rule”: Naming them out loud only gives them undeserved influence) had left me exhausted. For 90 minutes, the English language, which I love so dearly, was twisted and pulled, this way and that. (What is up with politicians who insist on mispronouncing “nuclear”? New + clear = nuclear.) Watching the post-show pundits on CNN dissect which exotic names the candidates had nailed, and which they had fumbled, was just a blow upon the bruise.

Ponytail has little use for the English language. (At least in their songs. Their stage banter was cute, and they were cordial as all get out when I bought my T-shirt.) Of course, I didn’t realize that when I bought their awesome album Ice Cream Spiritual. I was initially scared to play it on my radio show, because I assumed any music this incendiary had to contain FCC-inappropriate words—even if I couldn’t decipher them. But then figured out that the Baltimore quartet sidesteps that concern, by tapping straight into the primal power of the human voice, sans lyrical clutter. Molly Siegel is not a mind-blowing vocalist in the technical sense, like Diamanda Galas. But she and her band mates have created their own vocabulary of sounds, in which her cries and glottal attacks are just as vital, cuckoo, and inventive as the intertwined guitars of Dustin Wong and Ken Seeno.

The comparison that came to mind, post-show, was the Cocteau Twins. Their music sounds nothing alike—Ponytail’s jumping off point, stylistically, seems to be an endless childhood game of Cowboys & Indians, all gleeful war whoops and racing around in circles—yet both bands whip up wordless worlds that the listener can easily get lost in. And last night I wanted to get lost. I wanted to dance (apologies to the dude whose foot I crunched—my fault, entirely) and holler and make that crazy bird trilling noise I emit when a band fills me with glee. Ponytail revitalized me like a jolt of electricity through my tired, grumpy old bones.

Now that I think about it, the most powerful moment in the VP debate was when Joe Biden was talking about his son, and got so choked up he couldn’t speak. Language is overrated. That's my cue to sign off.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Benefit for Martha of the Wild Rose

posted by on October 2 at 3:44 PM

Martha Manning, co-owner of the Wildrose, was badly injured in a freak accident at a local gas station. Chop Suey hosted a benefit last night. It was frickin' packed and tons of fun. Some were there to see bands Leslie and the LY's, Connie and the Precious Moments, and Team Gina—but ALL were there for Martha. It kinda restored some of my faith in humanity. Also, if you unable to attend, but wanted to, donations can still be made at the Wild Rose, attn: Shelley Brothers.

Here's some pics, and lots more after the jump!

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Continue reading "Benefit for Martha of the Wild Rose" »

Tussle, Lemonade @ Comet Tavern, Oct. 1, 2008

posted by on October 2 at 1:58 PM

San Francisco trio Lemonade radiate a feral yet focused energy and creativity as they put edgy post-punk movements through a dubadelic filter. They sound lo-fi and junkyard, yet still robust. They avoid much of new indie rock’s anemic primness and give the impression that they might actually, you know, have sex, while making music that could theoretically soundtrack said activity.

Fellow SF band Tussle joined Lemonade onstage during their last song, accepting the funky-percussion baton with grace and ease. Seamless transition executed, Tussle proceeded to give a seminar on rhythmic origami and motorik propulsion. Live, drummers Warren Huegel and Jonathan Holland face each other front and center, signifying the band’s emphasis on rhythm. The first track sounded like an ideal merger of Neu! and Konk, a pell-mell kraut-latino soundtrack for speed-oriented sporting events. The next cut evoked Kraftwerk’s warped, pastoral synth textures within a funk juggernaut framework. “Third Party” sounded like a dubbed- and funked-up version of Can’s “Hallelujah”, which is already dubby and funky as hell. A later piece emitted My Bloody Valentine-like squalls via Nathan Burazer’s synthesizer over wicked polyrhythmic interplay and liberal smatterings of cowbell.

Toward the end of Tussle’s set, Lemonade wandered back onstage and the beats multiplied exponentially while the bass lines deepened. Seemingly everything in the room became a percussion instrument, including people's asses. A random 50 Cent-looking dude in a Broncos football jersey somehow found his way into the rock-ribbed ruckus and chipped in maraca- and tambourine-shaking. People moved with 61-percent more sexiness than they had done before the show. This was one drum… not circle exactly, but rather drum hexagon, that you hated to see end.

Leslie and the LY's at Chop Suey

posted by on October 2 at 9:24 AM

leslie1.jpgBy Sacha Maxim from the Stranger's Flickr Pool

leslie2.jpgBy Sacha Maxim from the Stranger's Flickr Pool

leslie3.jpgBy Sacha Maxim from the Stranger's Flickr Pool


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My Bloody Valentine Last Night in San Francisco

posted by on October 1 at 4:16 PM

My Bloody Valentine @ Concourse Exhibition Center, San Francisco, 9/30/2008I flew down yesterday for the My Bloody Valentine show here in San Francisco since they weren't coming up to Seattle. It was completely worth it, even with my post-Decibel fatigue.

The Concourse is a terrible venue, a huge ski lodge-esque box that someone decided to use as a concert space (there's no way a competent architect designed that room for shows). I showed up in time to catch the tail end of D2 Affinity's flute-drone, but there was too much shuffling about and getting settled to really pay much attention. Second opener Spectrum were similarly dull, matching the audience's lack of inspiration, despite them playing some Spacemen 3 songs (there are S3 members in the band).

I was hoping that the crowd would come to life once MBV arrived on stage, but despite the strobe light blasts the crowd remained sedate, showing no signs of excitement over the reunion. My Bloody Valentine didn't show much excitement either, only pausing twice to thank us for coming, but that's their schtick, so no matter on that. They let the lights and the music do the talking, and holy hell, if they've lost a step in the last decade, they certainly made up for it with volume.

Musically, they played a "greatest hits" set, with plenty coming from Loveless, which still somehow wasn't enough to get people excited. As expected, the mix was guitar-heavy, with the vocals almost an afterthought, forcing you to strain to hear anything over the guitars' collective roar. As expected, the set closed with a lesson in how to build mountains out of decibels, with a deafening twenty minute steamroller of sound during "You Made Me Realise." I alternated between thinking it was like being in the middle of a launching rocket or convinced it was the sound of the end of the world - it was truly epic. Some people couldn't handle the noise and left, but the majority that remained were treated to the band coming back into the song to finish it out. The resulting applause was the most animated of the night, but still didn't quite live up to the excitement I'd expected.

Another review with the setlist.

Short video of the wall of sound after the jump. A couple more (also short) vids and my pics are here.

Continue reading "My Bloody Valentine Last Night in San Francisco" »


Monday, September 29, 2008

Decibel Festival v.05, Night 4

posted by on September 29 at 3:10 PM

I cosign on what Eric said about Randy Jones/Caro and will add that he’s one of the most unlikely-looking soul men working today. And that he achieves the remarkable feat of making house music sound fresh in 2008. And that he probably has an amazing cosmic-disco EP (at least) in him.

Detroit’s Jeremy Ellis surprised the hell out of me with one of the most enjoyable sets of this year’s Decibel. While I don’t have the same qualms about Ellis’ voice as does Mr. Grandy, it is the least impressive aspect of his skill set. Besides the discussed mad MPC abilities and beat construction Ellis displays in real time, he’s also a deft keyboardist with enough soul to play with Parliament-Funkadelic member Larry Fratangelo and Carl Craig. Another thing that marks Ellis as a huge talent is his gift for imaginatively arranged cover versions. He played revamped renditions of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Hot Butter’s “Popcorn,” James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn,” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” all of which made you appreciate those classics in a new light. Plus, he paid extended homage to the late, legendary hiphop producer J Dilla. During Ellis’ set, a respected Seattle techno producer astutely noted, “Somebody’s going to get their fuck on if he keeps this up.”

Later that night at Neumos, the Decibel Finale got off to a lovely start with Mexico’s Fax (Ruben Tamayo). Using guitar, laptop, and effects, Fax launched My Bloody Valentinesque plumes of lavender fuzz tones and alternately languorous dub and brisk techno beats. The bulk of Fax’s set blurred shoegaze rock into dubby techno, and the result was music of understated exhilaration.

Winnetka, California’s Flying Lotus, by contrast, brought a post-Dilla jaggedness to instrumental hiphop, informed both by IDM’s scabrous textures and astral jazz’s lofty atmospheres. And he brough some heavy, heavy funk. Amid his own tracks from Los Angeles and new cuts, FlyLo dropped Lil Wayne’s “A Milli,” something by Kode9, and that TI$A/Daedelus song with the refrain, “fuck what ya mama say/I’ma vote Obama way.” As much as the crowd dug it, nobody is more into Flying Lotus’ music than Flying Lotus—he really radiates an infectious glee behind his PowerBook.

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The Bug's Warrior Queen finds a real man at the Decibel Finale. Photo by Ken Roeder of Soulful Elements Photography.

The Bug (London producer Kevin Martin) done fucked my mind—and probably my very atoms—something fierce. His apocalyptic bass pressure battered and fried me like so much human tempura. Martin essentially turned the entire venue into a vibrator. The material off London Zoo had incredible torque and the beats carried a crushing force. While the heavily FX’d rewinds that punctuated every (truncated) track got on some attendees’ nerves, I could’ve listened to that rippling, bleepy sound for hours. When Warrior Queen got on the mic, her rapid patois upped the energy level. I couldn’t understand a word she said—until, crazily enough, she started rapping in Spanish. The Bug’s dubhall/grimestep assault wasn’t everyone’s cup of hemlock, but no one could deny that this set stood apart from the rest of Decibel like a nuclear missile among Colt .45s.

Neumos emptied a bit after the Bug finished (maybe to catch Noah Pred, who inspired several texts to the effect that he was killing it), but Supermayer—Kompakt Records mainstays Superpitcher and Michael Mayer, playing vinyl and CDs—patiently built up the dance floor again with some Mr. Oizo, House Master Boyz’ “House Nation,” Lindstrøm’s “I Feel Space,” and some funky techno tracks and sweet cosmic/kitsch disco cuts. This wasn’t the devastating climax that past Decibels delivered, but it felt celebratory nonetheless. Director Sean Horton’s traditional closing speech didn’t happen (he reportedly lost his voice) and the lights went up around 2 am. People walked around dazed and smiling, some scheming about the afterhours gig with yet more Supermayer action, others angling toward their beds or perhaps the hospital (thanks to the Bug).

Decibel v.05 provided many indelible memories, plus some deep regrets from the amazing shit I missed. Sean Horton again went all out to book a diverse, high-quality lineup and make Seattle—over the past four days/nights—the epicenter of electronic music in America. He and his able crew of volunteers deserve utmost respect (and, one hopes, some financial reward) for their strenuous efforts.

Decibel Finale: Flying Lotus, the Bug, Supermayer

posted by on September 29 at 12:50 PM

By the time last night's big Decibel Finale at Neumos rolled around, I was in serious need of a second (or fourth, or fifth) wind. I eventually got back into it, but it took until the very last act of the night.

Which isn't to say the opening acts were sub par by any means. Flying Lotus played a set of immaculate hip hop instrumentals surrounded by dubby effects, gunshots, and Wilhelm screams. Steven Ellison (aka Flying Lotus) rocked back and forth, bobbed his head, and flashed a wide, open-mouthed grin throughout his set (according to some laptop spotters, he didn't do much else though, only tweak effects while a pre-planned set played out.) That grin, though, was hard not to rally behind. Ellison played Mr. Oizo's "Stunt" as well as possible another Oizo track; he played his Robo Tussin remix of Lil Wayne's "A Milli," Daedelus' "Hours:Minutes:Seconds," Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker," and TI$A's "Vote Obama Way"—all fused together with his own instrumentals, warped to his own style. For the Obama track, he tried and largely failed to involve the crowd in some call and response; Seattle or perhaps just Decibel crowds not so much feeling the call and response this weekend. Still, he maybe had the biggest, most obviously enthused crowd of the night.

decbugjpg.jpgThe Bug by Ken Roeder, Soulful Elements Photography

I missed the first half of the Bug's set, which sounds as though it was somewhat marred by Kevin Martin's far too frequent rewinds on the CD decks (a staple of the style, sure, but apparently he was spinning tracks back after only 30 seconds or so). By the time I arrived, though, MC Warrior Queen was on stage, and Martin was providing her with minutes of music at a time. I've had trouble with patois before, but I think Warrior Queen was harder to translate thanks to some extra fiery craziness on her part. She kept talking about doing a song for "all da real man in da house," but Martin either wasn't into it or couldn't find the right track, so that the song was introduced and diverted multiple times before finally landing. She rapped in Jamaican accented Spanish. She called for the legalization of marijuana (shock horror). Dancehall, even of this digitally distressed variety, isn't exactly my scene, but Warrior Queen was an entertaining MC, and more importantly Martin's bass was just unbelievable, probably the heaviest rumble of the whole festival.

Unknown.jpgSupermayer by Ken Roeder, Soulful Elements Photography

But it was Supermayer who really got my spirits back up for one last dance at Decibel (much of the crowd, though, took off after the Bug; either Supermayer don't have the same level of hype as the previous two acts, or else people just had to work the next morning). The duo, looking elegantly elfin as always, entered to orchestral fanfare and started their set with a Mr. Oizo song (was yesterday his birthday or does he just make universally beloved tracks?), all analog synth bass and beat, and they kept things simple like that for some time, hard, thumping beats with truly minimal action in the spaces between. I suppose I had expected them to hit more of the fey disco acoustics of Save the World or their recent killer remix of Hot Chip's "One Pure Thought," but this was much more like Speicher territory—they played Sascha Funke, possibly Closer Musik, and "House Nation," all in this vein. They took turns selecting and mixing records and maybe CDS, and when either of them wasn't busy DJing, they were lithely dancing, Superpitcher sometimes waving his hands around as though beckoning or hypnotizing the crowd. It's cute. After a seemingly interminable, drum-less breakdown lit by monolithic strobe light, they finally got into some more euro disco territory with Baxendale's epically cheesy "I Built This City For You" and a dub of the Foals' "Olympic Airways." They played on after the club brought the lights on, and the crowd kept dancing.

Afterwards, there was a private party for the Decibel staff, volunteers, artists, and whatever press could beg their way in. A lot of people do a lot of work to make this festival happen, many of them as volunteers, and it was great to see everyone finally unwinding, happy in a job well done. It was maybe the first time I saw Sean Horton looking relaxed and dancing all weekend. Earlier in the festival, a friend observed that Decibel is great because it makes you feel, for a weekend, like you live in some other city (one Decibel built for you, I suppose), where the parties go all weekend, full of people from different places with different foreign accents, headlined by high-caliber international artists. With each year's increasingly successful Decibel run, though, one imagines it feeling less like a departure for Seattle and more like a part of its regular fabric. Here's hoping.

RE: Not Even The Comet Can Hold Those Monotonix

posted by on September 29 at 11:17 AM

Turns out the Sunset can't either.

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For more pictures and words read after the jump...

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Decibel BBQ

posted by on September 29 at 10:43 AM

Havana%20BBQ-2%A9%20Brian%20Geoghagan.jpgSun Tzu photo by Brian Geoghagan

Saturday's Decibel in the Park may go down as the single coolest event of this year's fest—not necessarily the best sets, or the wildest party, but just a really great time. In similar spirit, but with sunny parking lot asphalt instead of grassy lawn, was Sunday's Decibel BBQ. Hosted by Sun Tzu in the Havana parking lot, with chicken or brisket (and sides) for sale along with drinks, the event was a fine way to ease into another day of Decibel (in fact, the one complaint I heard at Decibel in the Park was that there should have been food vendors). It was sparsely attended for Kid Hops' enthusiastic set of sunny dub—after some weakly realized "whoa-oh-oh/yeah" call and response Kid Hops asked over the PA if Dixon had really killed it so hard at the previous night's afterparty that we all just couldn't even talk. Basically, yeah.

The place began filling up a bit for Caro, though. I hadn't seen Caro (aka Randy Jones) for a while, and either he's become really impressive in that time or I just wasn't paying close enough attention before. Jones played lightly buzzing electric piano, a miniature analogue synth (Yamaha CS-01 for the nerds), and laptop. He sang in an overdriven, slightly clipping funk croon. He built rhythmic loops out cowbell, shakers, and his own ohs, ahs, grunts, and exhalations. As one breakdown gave way again to a thumping beat, he deadpanned, "C'mon now," to the slowly warming, moving crowd. It was a great set, combining a touch of Jamie Lidell's vocal tics and live looping with Matthew Dear grooves. He played some new stuff, and apparently he's at work on another album; based on today's performance, I predict that record will be ace.

Next up was Jeremy Ellis, wearing a pale yellow cotton suit and a black leather cap out of which emerged a long red ponytail. Make no mistake, Ellis has some fancy fingers when it comes to the MPC, tapping out busy improvised break beats and drum fills with real skill, as well as summoning up samples and bass and melodies. It was like watching some savant playing Simon. I've previously praised local ER Don's facility with the ubiquitous sampler, but Ellis is in an entirely different league here (although the bit where Ellis plays the MPC with his chin just doesn't look as bad-ass as, say, playing guitar with your teeth—sorry). That said, every time he got on the mic to do some ska scatting or sing a pinched, "soulful" version of "Nothing Compares 2 U" I wanted him to stop. Technically, he's tuneful and skilled on the mic as well, but his style there is just not my bag by a long shot. Still, the music was fine, ranging from soul bounce to loping reggae loops to a drum filled finale that sounded like he had the entire JBs and James Brown in his sampler, which he very well may have.

Sun Tzu did their thing next, combining funky house with live congas and the occasional spot on the mic with the kind of easy skill that has made them an institution around here. It was a perfect way to wrap up the BBQ—breezy, fun, and groovy enough to get the crowd loosened up for the night's big finale at Neumos.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Not Even The Comet Can Hold Those Monotonix

posted by on September 28 at 9:49 PM

Mono-006.jpgphoto Alex Crick

Oh, you Monotonix! The Band Too Wild for BumbershootTM topped themselves, again, Saturday night. Or rather, they big-butch topped their audience, playing nearly their entire set literally ON TOP of the crowd - a rowdy pack of rabid, sweaty, and supremely accommodating super fans. I've never ever seen ANY band crowd surf both themselves, and all their instruments right out of a club, onto the sidewalk, then down the street to a Shell gas station, then BACK into a club.

I kept expecting someone to drop one of them.

mono-ko-3.jpgphoto Kelly O

But it didn't happen. Not even one drum stick hit the ground. In fact, they made it look EASY. I mean, look at this girl holding up singer Ami with just one hand...

Continue reading "Not Even The Comet Can Hold Those Monotonix" »

Akimbo's Tenth Birthday @ King Cobra

posted by on September 28 at 4:02 PM

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Helms Alee just might be my new favorite local band. I’ve been spinning their debut full-length Night Terror constantly over the last month, but somehow I had missed seeing them live until last night. Though the record is great, their live show is amazing. They are loud and brutal, dark and mysterious, melodic and triumphant. Their wall of sound is all-consuming, something you might expect from a guitar player who builds amps in his spare time. There was some conversation on Line Out a few months ago (in regards to Tacocat I believe) about positive and talented female bands in Seattle. Somehow Helms Alee didn’t come up in the discussion, which is a shame, because as a 2/3 female band, not only are they the most talented girl band in town (technically they're from Tacoma), they’re one of the best bands, period. In fact, I would go as far to say that I have never seen a female drummer as impressive as Helms Alee’s Hozoji Matheson-Margullis. She is pure talent – precise, creative, dynamic, explosive… I was blown away.

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I missed Steve Von Till. My buddy was in town from Oregon, and well, Neurosis dude lost out. But I made it back over for Akimbo, as this was their big night and I love them dearly. They played their new record Jersey Shores from start to finish, and from the initial live debut it would appear that they’ve got a great record on their hands. It’s got the trademark blistering riffs they’ve made their name on, but Jersey Shores sees Akimbo slowing it down, moving into territory that’s almost reminiscent of ISIS. After seeing the band play virtually the same set for the last few years it was great to hear all new material (even though Jersey Shores was recorded in the same session as their last record Navigating the Bronze, and they've just been sitting on it). Though they’ve decided to slow it down a bit after ten years, Akimbo is not about to become a drone metal band. The waters settle only momentarily, then explode into a full-blown shark attack.

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A perfect cap to the evening: I leave King Cobra to go see if I can check out any of Monotonix through the Comet window and find the entire crowd has spilled out onto the streets, with singer Ami Shalev scaling the side of the building, jumping into the crowd, and running down Pike street followed by a line of screaming fans, banging on a snare drum. It was tough deciding not to see that band, but the taste of craziness they gave me for free out on the streets should be enough to tide me over until next time.

Decibel: The Sight Below, Audion, Carl Craig

posted by on September 28 at 1:53 PM

2895472379_a5cf7192c0.jpgCarl Craig photo by Jeanine Anderson from the Strangr Flickr pool

Seattle local and new Ghostly signee The Sight Below got off to a late start at the Baltic Room's Ghostly International showcase last night, which already had a line out the door at 9:30. Once he got started, though, it was sweet—slow motion, television tube distorted video clips looping above his head while he drew washes off smeared guitar sounds and minimal beats out of his laptops. The comparison that's coming up most with this act is the Field, and while there are some similarities to their dreamy, shoegazy sounds, their methods and their results are markedly different. Where the Field builds his ambiences out of discrete, finely-chopped microsamples, the Sight Below generates his using guitars and pedals, leading to one indistinguishable mass of sound just punctuated by bass, kick drums, and hi-hats. The Field is pointilist, creating the illusion of a constant sound by getting your ears to fill in the blanks, while the Sight Below is impressionist, blurring sounds together with no space left over to fill in. It was a good show to start the evening with, as conducive to spacing out as it was mildly warming to the dance floor.

Up at Neumos, Audion took over from Orlando Voorn, who left him with some low volume loop (and one sudden, jarring stab of sound), practically dead air and hard to tell if it was the tail end of Voorn's set or just some fiddling around between sets music. In any case, Audion had to bring the room up from almost nothing to peak hour, and his set was sensibly one long, unfurling build-up, starting with the more minimal sound typical of Audion's most recent releases and transitioning into harder and more acidic material in the end. The set did its job, stirring the dance floor in anticipation of Carl Craig, but I think it peaked early during a passage where a vocal sample saying, "Burn it down" looped just off time with Audion's bass pulse, beats, and synth lines.

Carl Craig took the stage to some big, bombastic classical fanfare. He dropped the beat and his set was instantly on 10, jumping right into peak hour thump with no delay and staying there for the entirety of his set. He played "Spastik" and "the Bells" and a lot of techier tracks in the first half of his set, switching to housier numbers marked with perfect piano chords, like "Strings of Life" and "Good Life," towards the end. A lot of times you don't know what to expect with the "legends" of a genre—will they lean more on their status than on the sharpness of their skills? But there was no need to worry about Craig; he was fantastic. It was honestly just the most relentless DJ set I've seen in a long time—it wasn't the longest set in the world, but it still never, ever let up for even a minute, it was just on. Afterwards, Sean Horton hopped on the mic to thank the performers and the crowd and direct revelers to the afterparty, and his voice was just shot. One more day left, and it looks like it's going to be gorgeous—time to go get me some BBQ.

Decibel Festival v.05, Night 3

posted by on September 28 at 1:34 PM

What Eric said about Decibel in the Park. Plus, er, respect to the 60something free spirit with boils on his back who was rocking nothing but orange mini-briefs and a tangled, gray, white-man ’fro. I will never forget you (damn it).

Dazed and almost recovered from that traumatic sight, I later headed to Northwest Film Forum in time to catch headliner Akira Rabelais’ performance. Hunched over his gear stage left, he began extremely quietly with keening tones, pings, wispy drones—all of it somnolently engaging. That piece segued into crystalline flakes of Budd-Eno piano plangency, undergirded with microbial susurrations. Rabelais’ lowercase pica music somehow wrung exquisite beauty from the tiniest gestures.

Over at the Baltic Room, the Ghostly International Records showcase drew swarms of fans; a long line stretched far down Pine St. Recent GI local signing the Sight Below hustled over from Rabelais’ set, breathless and a bit late, but he showed us why GI honcho Sam Valenti IV’s a savvy judge of talent. The Sight Below laced his velvet-lined, 4/4 kick drums with vaporous textures and spectral luminescence. His bass tones seemed to bulge the Baltic’s confines in a manner that made me think of those garbage-can icons on your computer screen when they’re full. The accelerated hippo heartbeat rhythms and choral sighs and murmurs recalled Gas and, as Seattle icon DJ Eddie noted, Gustavo Lamas. Sadly, I missed most of Deru’s excellent glitch funk excursions and all of Lusine and Tycho’s sets, but reports from trustworthy sources were glowing.

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Audion fed us weird things. Photo by Donte Parks.

To Neumos, where the Detroit Techno showcase was gathering momentum. DJ Chuck Flask ably set the table for Audion (aka Matthew Dear) to tear it up, live. Audion’s shit was so tight, I decided it would be blasphemy to try to take notes. Suffice it to say, his tracks were demonic, druggy, and disturbing, treading into his False style for M_nus Records while keeping the floor thrumming with acidic gusto.

Carl Craig appeared to be using Serato for his DJ set, but nobody cared, because he proved why writers reflexively precede his name with “legendary.” His selections ranged from deep and soulful to accessible and sing-along (Goldfrapp) to twitchy and highly percussive (the way he chopped up Plastikman’s “Spastik” was the sickness) to classic Day-twa techno nostalgia (Derrick May’s “Strings of Life” still instantly provokes arm-waving and cheers). From start to finish, the audience (a way more of serious but kinetic techno-head bunch than was here for Deadmau5 Friday) was putty in his skilled hands. The response bordered on charismatic-church-goer OMFGness.

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Carl Craig: People quite liked him. Photo by Donte Parks.

In fact, two of Seattle’s finest electronic-music producers—Jon McMillion and Splinters—told me that they were so inspired by Audion and Craig that they went home and immediately started working on tracks. And those are only the ones I know about...

I’m sure the afterhours party with Dixon was awesome ("Best set ever," according to Jeremy B.), but after the Detroit Techno shebang, anything else would’ve seemed anticlimactic… except maybe tonight's Decibel Finale at Neumos.

Decibel in the Park

posted by on September 28 at 1:24 PM

2894233844_231eaba1bd.jpgJacob London photo by Jeanine Anderson from the Strangr Flickr pool

Yesterday's free Decibel in the Park at Volunteer Park was ideal. It was sunny and warm, with a big crowd spread over the lawn and in front of the band-shell, from goofy looking ravers to park regulars. Jacob London kicked off with samples of an audience cheering at what sounded like Bobcat Goldthwait grunting and growling and whining and stuttering. Good as Jacob London's productions are, their sense of humor is perhaps their strongest suit. They warped the vocal tics to a rhythm, dropped a beat under them, and got rolling into some bumpy techno. Maybe a half hour into their set, they blew a fuse or something and lost all sound; they did a little Ashley Simpson jig while waiting for it to come back on. After a few minutes, the sound came back, and someone named Sonic MC came on to reheat the crowd while Jacob London powered back up; he said "fuck" and then apologized because of all the "tots" that were around (there were a good amount of kids and families there). Starting over from dead air, Jacob London switched gears to slower tempo, hip-hop and dancehall inflected tracks, with an MC on some tracks and a clipped Modeselektor sample on another. They worked their way back up into some housier territory for the final part of the set. One wonders if the set was going to be so ranging even before the power out; it worked well for the situation.

Truckasauras kicked off with a new song, full of Korg MS 20 bass burps and digital-sounding keys, followed by a few new-ish songs, all of which sound really promising for another record. Tyler Swan wore a Legend of Zelda NES cartridge around his neck as a medallion; maybe some nerdcore dude somewhere has already done this, but I'd never seen it before and it was kind of a perfect look for the Truck—a little bit hip hop flash, a little bit (8 bits) nerd. Adam Swan rocked a big Pepsi cup instead of the usual bottle of whiskey. The other Swan brother stalked the stage in a red, white, and blue top hat, looking like he might try to sell you a used mattress, attempting to get the attentive but stationary crowd's hands up. The Truck also lost sound for a minute, but they were able to recover quicker, gear still dialed in, right on the same beat as where they left off. They played the usual older songs, smoothly transitioning from one song to another where they usually pause between songs, the bass booming rich and deep over the lawn.

2893579411_52cc8711ea.jpgGlitch Mob photo by Jeanine Anderson from the Strangr Flickr pool

The Truck may not have elicited much physical reaction from the crowd, but headliners Glitch Mob sure as hell did, the whole crowd suddenly filling the "pit" as soon as the band took the stage and dancing enthusiastically for their whole set. Today, Glitch Mob was two guys behind a laptop and mixer, one of them an affable, confident MC on the mic. Their set started with a deep, muddled voice intoning about "next level shit," "west coast," and "the future" before a rap-rock big beat dropped followed by layers of crunchy, distorted synths. Soon a vocal loop—the MC?—was repeating,"One love make the world go 'round," then "the game is not over" (sadly not a tease for some T. Raumschmiere)—it was like they were nailing every lyrical/sloganeering cliche possible. Brandon Ivers observed that they sound like the music that might play while Xzibit yelled at you about how he installed a playstation in your car. They played a mix of "Lollipop" by Lil Wayne. It was all like Ed Banger for dummies, which I think is saying a lot, the kind of techno you'd expect Zach de la Rocha to drop a "fiery" politcal verse over, perhaps. Kids—literal little kids—were bouncing and flailing around stage alongside candy ravers in fishnets and platform boots. B. Shorty was there with a little dog. All in all, it was about as next level and futuristic as the Space Needle. The crowd sure dug it, though.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Decibel Festival v.05, Night 2

posted by on September 27 at 2:41 PM

Stark contrasts marked Friday’s slate of Decibel events.

The afternoon panel discussion on the future of music journalism (titled “Wasted Words?”—upbeat!) in which I participated, touched on Lester Bangs, the difference between blog writing and writing for print publications, the dearth of good editing these days, Lester Bangs, Luigi Nono, adjective depletion syndrome, critics as shills for labels, Lester Bangs, press sheet flaws, artist responses to criticism, shrinking editorial space, dwindling attention spans, approaches to writing reviews, and Lester Bangs.

Following that event, I somehow fended off suicidal tendencies and made it to Northwest Film Forum's Optical 1 Audio/Visual showcase to catch the last five minutes of Jeff Greinke’s set. He was finessing out elegant wafts of heart-rending, Eno-esque tone breeze and sonic dust motes. You could hear a pen click (that was mine; sorry!).

William Basinski—an artist who commands utmost respect from me—took the stage next. He solemnly handled half-inch strips of tape as if they were sacred eels and examined them under a small lamp. Then he either put them in a beaker or threaded them around some implements whose function I couldn’t discern. It was very ritualistic and baffling.

Decayed, murky drones gradually emerged from his arcane setup, which also included a PowerBook plopped between two ancient tape decks, I think. Gently wavering waves of seashell roar—first tidal and tranquil, then amplified and intensified—filled the small theater. It sounded like an orchestra from a half-mile away slowly sinking into the sea. On the screen behind Basinski were reeds in a pond, placidly rippling. The performance was fairly static, and after 35 minutes, I’d gotten the gist. It wasn’t The Disintegration Loops, but it was delicately entrancing enough.

At Neumos, by contrast, the Dirty Dancing showcase was packing in the well-heeled condo dwellers, who seemingly were rolling on their monthly Ecstasy binge and absolutely mad for it. They were rushin’ and largely Russian. Eastern-bloc immigrants, represent.

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Luca Bacchetti at the controls. Photo by Kelly O.

Luca Bacchetti had his share of haters among the Decibel hardcore, but he had me thinking Italians do it better. His tracks were psychedelic, sexy, and clattering—and, yes, repetitive. Hello? Techno is pretty much by definition repetitive. To diss it for that is like bitching about fire being hot. It’s what you do with those samples and loops that separates good techno from meh techno. And when you bring in pitch-shifted woodblock hits, you fucking own, as pitch-shifted woodblock hits are currently the best sound in the universe. Bacchetti’s main-room business set my notebook on fire. So I’m going to have to wing it from here on out. Wee!

Over at Sole Repair, Derek Plaslaiko was playing ballistic, acidic techno—will-to-power, Motor City motherfucker stuff, bassically [sic]. However, points off for using CDs. Former Seattle/now Berlin jet-setting superstar DJ Jeff Samuel muted the shuddering-teshno assault a notch with his patented true-head cuts, subtly pummeling and expertly contoured with state-of-the-art percussion touches. Any time one can hear Matthew Herbert on a fine sound system is a treasurable moment. Believe the Jeff Samuel hype.

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Derek Plaslaiko after going ballistic. Photo by Kelly O.

Speaking of which, I had to see if Deadmau5 deserved his share of it. Nearing 1 am, he had the packed Neumos crowd raising arms and “woo”ing on cue. The body heat generated by this nouveau-riche rave was impressive. I also saw Donte Parks front and center getting his groove on. Consider that a feather in Deadmau5’s cartoon-mouse head thingy.

This rodent-masked Toronto producer perfectly calibrates his tracks for predictable build-ups and breakdowns (we humans are eternal suckers for tension and release). But for mainstream hanz in da air tranz and progressive houz, this is about as good as it gets. Hundreds of weekend E warriors may not be quite right, but they sure boosted Decibel’s coffers last night. And only a terminal curmudgeon would begrudge that.

Decibel: Ten Minutes of Deadmau5

posted by on September 27 at 11:10 AM

dead1.jpgDeadmau5 photo by Kelly O

Comeback kept me from attending all of Decibel last night, but I did make it down for a few minutes between my sets—long enough to catch a bit of Derek Plaslaiko's acid-tinged, hard-stepping techno early in the evening. A couple police officers dropped by and surveyed the still roomy Sole Repair; one of the officers leaned over and said something to a dancer, then they both laughed, the dancer and the cop held their arms in front of them and swayed like zombies for a minute, they laughed some more, and then the cops took off. It was cute. I wonder what the cop said.

I also made it down to see a few minutes of Deadmau5's Seattle debut. I like what I've heard of Deadmau5's original tracks and remixes—nice, dark techno just bordering on the progressive—but I'm a sucker for a good gimmick, and Deadmau5 totally takes the Best Use of a Helmet Since Daft Punk award for his giant, maniacally grinning mouse head (blue this time, with Xs on the eyes). His eyes lit up and flashed in time with the music, cycling through different colors. I could only stay just long enough to hear "Sometimes Things Get, Whatever"/"Complicated," which sounded great on the beefed up soundsystem, inspiring much movement despite the sardine-like conditions on much of the dancefloor. I wish I could've stayed for the whole set—Dave? Donte? Please tell me it was all downhill from there.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Decibel v.05, Night 1

posted by on September 26 at 10:56 AM

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Stewart Walker @ Sole Repair. Photo by Kelly O.

My night began at Grey Gallery to catch the Oi Vay! disc jockeys (Eddie, Struggle, and D’Jeronimo). They had me trainspotting the whole time I was there, always a good sign. These guys know their high-quality techno and house (Michel Ho, STL, etc.) and dig deep in the crates for your pleasure. Recognize.

Zipped to Sole Repair to catch the Peloton DJs transitioning into Matt Corwine’s epic set. As Eric noted, Sole Repair has a killer vibe: think boxy warehouse crossed with sleek, urban lounge, accentuated by attractive wood paneling. Corwine (aka Mister Leisure) instigated dancing and smiles with his patented bumpin’ house accented with PhD-level sound design. After his stint, he was sweatier than any of the folks he magnanimously inspired to dance.

Stewart Walker clearly has years of experience making Europeans and other farflung peoples shake their asses till sunrise. He immediately swung into peak-time mode (130+ bpm and mesmerizing) with maximally pleasing minimal techno full of precision propulsion and hedonistic percussion. His tracks were surprisingly sexual and tribal—maybe because he looks like a mid-sized corporation’s accountant.

Sole Repair filled to capacity (120) and had a long line forming outside of it—very impressive for a Thursday bill of uncompromising techno and house. Though I wanted to catch Tujiko Noriko, I didn’t want to risk being shut out of [a]pendics.shuffle. Anybody catch her or any of the other Deconstructing Pop acts? How was it?

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Las mujeres enjoying/enhancing the Peloton Records showcase @ Sole Repair. Photo by Kelly O.

[a]pendics.shuffle (thickly bearded LA party monster Ken Gibson) maintained Walker’s sexy-as-fuck techno steez and added an ominous undercurrent to it. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed as if every kick-drum thump and snare crack ratcheted up the libidinal temperature in the room. Was Sole Repair pumping Ecstasy through its air vents? Seemed like it. I kept flashing back to early-’90s Detroit warehouse parties. The dance floor filled up and throbbed. A dude twirled rainbow-colored balls (later at Neumos, someone doing the same hit a magazine photographer, according to one eyewitness). A young lady told me to smell her hairy armpit (I did; it was kind of rank). Nearly everyone seemed to be cruising at high altitude, despite the imploding economy and extensive exposure to Sarah Palin’s please-kill-me-now voice and words.

[a]pendics.shuffle made me feel as if I had consumed a hallucinogen cocktail, neat. As his set progressed, the percussion and textures became stranger (were those the shrieking strings from Hitchcock’s Psycho, warped almost beyond recognition?). He didn’t even bring his weirdest material to Decibel, but Gibson sent bizarre erotic shivers through the joint.

I cut out of Sole Repair to hit Neumos shortly after Sean Horton, Decibel director and birthday boy (when asked how old he was later, the dazed multi-tasker said he “thinks” he just turned 33), was starting a live INCITE! set. I wanted to see Jahcoozi, a Berlin duo featuring a Sri Lankan female vocalist/trumpeter and a white, dreadlocked bassist/laptop operator dude. They peddle an M.I.A.-like, polyglot beat banquet, plus extreme bass and bleep splatter that makes you wish your ass were bigger and rounder. Jahcoozi did their hit “BLN” (a riposte to Lily Allen’s “LDN,” according to one fan). Later Jahcoozi played this metal/Big Beat/industrial techno hybrid that was incredibly galvanizing. They built up the dance floor pretty well, from sparse to halfway full—a considerable feat after 1 am on a school night.

I had to bail after that and missed Jeff Samuel’s special afterhours DJ slot to celebrate Mr. Horton’s birthday, which went down at a new Seattle collective-run space. How did it go, Donte?

Decibel: Peloton Showcase @ Sole Repair

posted by on September 26 at 9:04 AM

d-corwin.jpgStewart Walker taking over for Mister Leisure, photo by Kelly O

Last night, the fifth annual Decibel Festival kicked off with—among other showcases—a record release party/showcase for local upstart label Peloton at Sole Repair (more on Peloton here). It's hard to tell this early into the fest, but Sole Repair may turn out to be the hottest venue of the weekend. It's small and vibey and the sound is, as always at Decibel, killer; it also hit capacity at about 10:30 last night and had a line down the block for much (all?) of the rest of the night (meanwhile, the Deconstructing Pop showcase over at Neumo's was practically empty). The door guy was letting one in for every one person out—you walked outside you were back in the line—at one point he told Decibel Festival director (and performer) Sean Horton that the place was at capacity and he would have to wait in line. Horton was not pleased. But between Sole Repair's small size, it's wealth of talent this weekend (especially tonight's party with "The Trinity"), and its proximity to the main events at Neumos, expect this to happen again this weekend.

Inside, though, everyone seemed to be having a blast. Mister Leisure (aka sometimes Stranger writer Matt Corwine) stirred up the crowding dance floor with an hour-long set in which Corwine, a friend observed, seemed to be cramming in as many songs as possible ("It's been an hour and I've heard like 10 songs"). Still, the rapid mix worked, especially one track whose every bar seemed punctuated with the sound of glass breaking (another friend said ice tinkling, but I like to imagine everyone's dancing so hard they're dropping a drink every four beats—although of course that would make for a pretty treacherous dance floor). At the close of his set, Stewart Walker seemed eager to get going, but Corwine wanted to squeeze in one last song. They eventually, through a series of terse nods, negotiated a take over, in which Corwine's filter house played out and faded while the Walker's much deeper kick drum took over. Have I mentioned that the sound was great—thumping and clean and only really overwhelming if you're right up front in the speaker—and this next guy really gave the sound system a work-out. Too bad I had to take off, but even the truncated first night has gotten me completely excited for the rest of the long, awesome weekend. As they say, Happy Decibel!


Monday, September 22, 2008

Jeff Samuel @ Flammable Last Night

posted by on September 22 at 2:26 PM

Jeff Samuel @ Flammable at Rebar, Seattle, WA 9/21/2008

Last night Jeff Samuel played Flammable, Rebar's Sunday night house music institution. As with many DJs playing there for the first time he admitted to a bit of nervousness, since not just anyone gets to play that night. In this case, the booking was four years in the making. Despite the long wait, the appearance was intentionally kept low-key, so as to not overshadow his Friday spot at Decibel.

Samuel killed it. Flat out killed it. Dead. He'd already told friends that he was going "gay the shit out of that bitch," and he held true to his word, dropping classic after classic, including Terrence Parker's "Your Love," a suprising (and surprisingly non-cheesy) remix of Wildchild's "Renegade Master," and closing the night with Inner City's "Big Fun." Even when he took the occasional foray into techno the crowd didn't balk, instead whooping, clapping, and most importantly dancing until he dropped the next record. Even the house DJs in attendance (residents Brian Lyons and Eric Andrews, Karl Kamakahi) had to come up and give props, when not bobbing their heads or dancing in approval.

I've been going to Rebar regularly for 7 years now, and that night ranks right up at the top of the list with the best. It's a shame you probably missed it. Don't make the mistake of missing him Friday.

(Dark) Video of Samuel behind the decks last night after the jump.

Continue reading "Jeff Samuel @ Flammable Last Night" »


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Goldfrapped

posted by on September 18 at 7:04 PM

Holy harlequins!

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photo by Dagmar Sieglinde

Japanther, Shearing Pinx, Strong Killings @ the Vera Project

posted by on September 18 at 11:50 AM

“We’re going to write more songs about dinosaurs.” Strong Killings know what I want to hear. They know what I want to buy too - their 5 song CD-R demo is packaged inside a homemade comic book by singer/guitarist Nate Mooter. They are a punk band that obviously strives to avoid falling into the same trap as so many of their punk brethren: sounding exactly like all of their influences, perpetuating the same songs again and again because the formula is tried and true. They sing fun but scathing songs (“If you’re too cool, fuck you.”), they play their instruments well, and refuse to be another boring punk band, though they’re rooted in a style that has spawned countless boring impersonators. If Dischord still put out records they should sign these guys.

Vancouver B.C.’s Shearing Pinx avoided border hassle by borrowing friendband Talbot Tagora’s gear for the show, and somehow managed to make Talbot’s already treble heavy set-up even more piercing. There are some big similarities between the bands, but where Talbot would add melody and transfix the listener, Shearing Pink just grind and grate. Their songs showcased high-pitched, tinny string shredding with gross chords over thumping rhythms, transporting me to a land where everything was sharp and made out of silver and I had a headache.

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Everybody’s always talking about how cool Japanther is. I saw those dudes in the Shook One’s basement in Bellingham 4 or 5 years ago and it was alright. They sang into phones and played simple, fun songs to a crowd of about ten. Big surprise, their set is a lot more fun when there’s a grip of people losing their shit and having a serious dance party. What a difference a fan-base makes, right? This isn’t the band you see to be wowed by their songs or musicianship, but you know they’re always going to show you a good time. They stuck with their formula over the years and it proved to be an effective one (still singing into phones, using a tape Walkman to play samples), and now they’ve got the all-age dance party on lock down. I hadn’t even heard a Japanther song since seeing them in that basement, and I must say I am pleased after hearing their set to be a tad bit closer to knowing where Little Party and the Bad Business are coming from.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Tussle, Free Blood, ESG, DFA, NYC

posted by on September 15 at 12:40 PM

Because I've just come back from vacation in New York (happy to be back where the heat—in those few weeks when there is heat—isn't a wet, sweaty, soiled blanket), and I don't have much Seattle-specific to write about yet today, some more musical happenings from NYC (with occasional Seattle connections):

On Thursday night, wound up as a plus one at some fashion party at the Tribeca Grand where XXXChange, Eric from Rub n Tug, and the DFA's Jacques Renault were DJing. Also there: Seattle's own Pretty Titty, Xavier de Rosnay of Justice, seemingly hundreds of very sharply dressed young folks. I called the previous night's Special Disco Version at Santo's a hip scene, but not a hipster scene; this night was rather the opposite, the sort of party that doesn't quite make me sympathetic to the odd Adbusters screed so much as it makes me think that My Own Personal BrandTM might just be a little more low key (and low class). Ditched out on the party for Happy Endings before Free Blood played.

Which was fine, because Free Blood played a Todd P warehouse show in Bushwick the next day along with Tussle, and it was much more chill. Tussle sounded better than ever—two drummers interlocking tight, Tomo Yasuda (also of Hey Willpower, etc) stretching his fingers around rubbery bass lines, a shadowy figure in the background holding down keys and delays. They played a number of cuts from their forthcoming Cream Cuts, and while its songs aren't exactly a new direction for the band—just more moving bass and drum grooves with dubby, noisy accents—it's probably their best sounding album, matched by the sonic quality of their live show. The band played in a corner, the walls buttressed with noise-dampening mattresses. Kids (meant loosely, though it was all-ages) danced (there was plenty of room) and drank. The whole thing was delightfully dirty and DIY. The PA and stage lights cut out during one song, but Tussle's drummers just kept drumming, and the crowd kept dancing and clapping along, and when the lights came back on and the bass kicked back in, the audience went nuts. If they could get away with it, I'd say Tussle should orchestrate and overcome a blown fuse at every show—the crowd really ate it up. Free Blood, sounded great, their pre-programmed electro grooves abetted by a guest live guitarist, John Pugh spending most of the show down on the floor, working the crowd into a proper funk. Free Blood isn't hitting Seattle again (they were last here with Hot Chip) any time soon, but Tussle play the Comet on Wednesday Oct 1st, and it should be a total blast (maybe they'll even blow a fuse).

On Saturday night, while Seattle was Geniusing, caught legendary Bronx dance band ESG at Santo's. The band playing that night consisted of three original Scroggins sisters—Renee on vocals, Valerie on drums, and Maria on congas—a guitarist and bassist, as well as two younger girls on vocals. These two girls were pretty amazing—not so much as singers, although they were fine, but as dancing, crowd exhorting, hand clapping, t-shirt throwing entertainers. They were big stage presences—big hair, big bodies, big expressions—the kind of black girls you might imagine Beth Ditto or Tracy Turnblad wanting to be. They were by far the flashiest presences on stage, but it was still mostly just cool to see the Scroggins sisters (who all basically just look like somebodies aunts) working out some of their classics live. They opened with a particularly vampy take on "You're No Good." They played a perfectly compelling version of "Dance." They played "UFO," its singular (and heavily sampled) live guitar loop sounding just searing live. I'm not sure if it counts as an old cut or a new one (released in 1991, but recorded when?), but "Erase You," vocals provided by one of the group's new, younger ladies, just killed. They also played a lot of newer material, though, more traditional sounding and more relaxed funk jams filled out with cheesy guitar to distract from their more monotonous (and overlong) grooves. Still, their classics remain just that, they sounded supreme on Santo's sound system (gushed over in previous posts here), and they were a rare treat to witness live, even this late in the game.

Left ESG after a goodly amount of songs to head over to the record release party of DFA duo Runaway in Brookyln. The duo's tracks are all dark disco and re-edits, but their at-capacity party was playing La Bouche while would-be revelers waited outside for the small club to clear enough room for more people to enter. The music wasn't all gay euro house (alas), but neither was it as consistently cool as the act's recorded output.

On Sunday, saw Matt & Kim in Williamsburg's vegan-friendly ice cream parlour, Penny Licks—not performing, just buying ice cream.

(My left ear never properly popped on the plane home.)


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Every Day Been Workin So Hard

posted by on September 13 at 2:03 AM

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Ice Age Cobra's final show @ the Blue Moon

It's always sad to see a good band call it quits, but at least Ice Age Cobra got to go out on their own terms and throw one final, wild show. These dudes wowed me the first time I saw them a few years ago, and to my delight, every other time I caught them from then on. Their final show is no exception - they rip though an awesome set of garage, grunge, classic rock, and party riffs to a crowd of dedicated fans big enough that even back at the bar people know the words and are signing along. About an hour into the set the band stops playing and wanders away; singer/guitarist Jordan West announces: "Before we engage in any more shenanigans, we have to all become one. We don't have any bread or wine, so this will have to do." He holds up a leopard print bandana he just finished using to wipe down his gleaming wet torso and hair. He balls it up and holds it over a guy's mouth, who almost unflinchingly takes the sweat communion. There are enough drops to save four more disciples, then the rag is crammed into the last guy's mouth. For the second to last song the band pulls up original bassist Brad Kauffman to sing their timeless international #1 hit "Acid Pony," and everyone goes wild. Though their Myspace touts this show as their last "until our reunion show," West spray paints "Ice Age Cobra RIP" in huge letters across his guitar cabs in a declaration of finality. The band dies as it lived, in pure rock and roll revelry.

photo by hordis


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Special Disco Version

posted by on September 11 at 4:35 PM

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Special Disco Version at Santo's Party House in NY is basically like James Murphy & Pat Mahoney's Fabric mix come to life. Which is to say, awesome!

Santo's Party House, the club Murphy co-owns along with Andrew WK, is ideal, as well as obviously designed by some serious A/V geeks. The walls above the bars and around the dance floor were lined with speakers, boxes of 10" cones hanging overhead, piping high-end while some sub massaged the dance floor with bass. One or two guys manned an expensive, colorfully lit-up sound board all night. A friend told me the club had their sound installed by the same guy who did the legendary Paradise Garage and/or Danceteria. A guy named Vlad said the sound reminded him of a club in Berlin whose name I couldn't make out due to his accent—it just sounded like he was saying Berlin again but mumbling, or maybe "Being". Anyway, in Berlin. (Segal with the assist: Berghain.) The place had the biggest disco ball I've ever seen, Roman columns on the dance floor (so Hercules) and it looked like they had a neon "Special Disco Version" sign behind the elevated DJ booth, although that may have just been a projection.

The place was full—and full of Seattle expats, including Byron Kalet of the Journal of Popular Noise and DJ Glitterpants—but never so full that you couldn't easily carve out some room on the dance floor. Murphy and Mahoney mixed disco 12"s all night long ("hey, where's their laptop?"), bringing the energy up and down several times throughout the night, sometimes smoothly mixing, sometimes not bothering (which I guess you get away with a few times a night when everyone knows you can really mix). It was a hip scene, but not a hipster scene. There was some wicked vogueing happening. I have to say, it was everything that Studio dreams of being. I still wish I'd gotten to see the Juan MacLean last night too though; that video looks awesome (and for the record, Juan is a deadpan comic genius).

sBACH, 31Knots, Capillary Action, and Quadrillion @ the Sunset

posted by on September 11 at 1:28 PM

Capillary Action, who have been through the Sunset a few times in the last year (notably as Joe Lally from Fugazi’s backing band last November), are now based out of Seattle instead of Philly. Their start/stop lounge hardcore is precise but explosive, shifting from intricate guitar riffs to jazz breakdowns to sweeping instrumentals over the course of any single minute. They are a band that fully understands and exploits dynamics, and are obviously proper students of music theory. Their sound was a great fit with 31Knots, unlike the first act Quadrillion. There wasn’t anything particularly bad about the opener, but also nothing particularly interesting or original, and on a bill this packed with innovative musicians, simplistic garage pop is double boring.

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The place filled for 31Knots set, and they gave another of their clockwork excellent performances. This is a band as proficient in the theatrics of a performance as the actual playing of their instruments: singer Joe Haege started the show with his face concealed by a cloth bag, kind of like this, then proceeded to flail while crooning, wrap the bassist’s neck in cable, tromp through the audience with and without his guitar, and (sort of) change his costume. Their set was a mix of the best moments from Worried Well - specifically “Compass Commands” and the desolation anthem “The Breaks” - and the always entertaining guitar and bass showcase of “Darling, I” and “Man Become Me.” I don't know if I'll ever get tired of seeing this band play live.

I hadn’t heard anything from new Suicide Squeezers sBACH prior to the show, but I knew there was a chance of it being awesome with Spencer Seim at the helm. Though a lot of Hella’s material is too much noise and too little substance, if his new project was anything like an original version of the Advantage (I am still reeling from the awesomeness of their set at the Paradox two years ago) my late night would be well spent. With the drums set up front stage but facing backwards, it was clear this project was an excuse for Seim to showcase his rhythmic prowess, and maybe try to compete with the legend of his Hella counterpart Zach Hill. Though it was initially surprising when Seim announced to the crowd that this was their first show, it became much less monumental as they plodded through their set. The songs were short, fairly boring 8-Bit jams, with lots of guitars and keyboards that never did anything all that intriguing. Seim’s drumming was, as expected, pretty great, but drumming isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the focus of this kind of music, and there were none of the epic guitar doubling or scales that make the Advantage so enthralling. These were darker, more brooding NES numbers, like the levels where you have to fight goblins. But strung together over and over, side by side, it became a whole game of fighting goblins and never anything lighthearted or triumphant, and it got repetitive and boring. By the end of the set the room had dwindled down to only a few people still standing. Bummer.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pagliacci Crowns Champion, Raises Five Grand for Vera

posted by on September 9 at 12:00 PM

Last night Pagliacci Pizza continued their tradition of shutting down all their stores early to let their employees party battle of the bands style at Neumos. Eight bands, all featuring at least one Pagliacci employee, performed 20 minute sets for their friends, family, co-workers, and a (ahem) highly esteemed panel of judges which included myself, Pete and Eli from Chop Suey, Brian from the Funhouse, Josh from the Vera Project, and Meli of Obese Productions and the Redmond Firehouse.

Some of the bands were... interesting. The Mark Sparkles, a sloppy but enthusiastic pop punk band, announced it was their third show. And I still don't know what to make of Lathe Symphonic, an acoustic guitar/upright bass duo that donned masks for most of their set. But the crowd danced around just the same for every act--from the old country tunes of Johnson County to Shroud of Desolation's traditional, sludgy metal. (Thunderbird Motel was obviously one of the favorites, though. Folks lost their shit for their raucous garage rock.)

The winner was the last band of the evening, Rad Touch, a bombastic and loud metal/heavy rock hybrid that clearly had more experience on-stage than most of their peers (full-disclosure: Rad Touch features Stranger music writer Jeff Kirby on guitar/vocals). Judging by applause and cheers, the crowd seemed really stoked about Rad Touch taking home the trophy.

All in all, even though it was tagged a battle of the bands, the night felt less like a competition and more like a Pagiacci party--no one cared about the score sheets, everyone was all about drinking, dancing, and, well, not being at work. Plus, the evening raised $5,000 for the Vera Project. That's a hell of an office party.


Monday, September 8, 2008

Why I Don't Let Myself Have Cable Television

posted by on September 8 at 9:00 PM

Did anyone else see the VMAs last night? It was bizarre. It was like they were holding it in a high school gymnasium. Instead of having thousands of people screaming at Radio City Music Hall there were maybe a couple hundred LA elites in folding chairs. Unfortunately I only got to see a small nibble – specifically Paramore performing at the Whiskey a Go-Go. I missed their set at Bumbershoot because of those mustachioed gentlemen in the video below, and because I didn't care, but I’ve heard their single on The End a million times at work and I cannot deny its catchiness. MTV has become such a strange beast. Nothing on that channel makes any sense to me anymore. I would have liked to have seen the whole show, as it was an intriguing disaster, but I had to go to a party at another house without cable, and I haven’t had cable for years (I was watching it at a friend’s), so now I may never fully experience the depressed pecuniary rock renaissance that were this year’s Video Music Awards, unless I download it, which I probably wont. I’m way too far out of that loop now - I’ve ignored it for long enough that the flashing lights and unfamiliar words are startling and confusing, like an elderly person trying to figure out how to internet. MTV’s misguided youthful vitality has accelerated my perception of mortality; my bones are filled with a newfound curmudgeoning. 10 minutes of VMAs and I became a doddering old man.

Talbot Tagora, Past Lives, Dead Science

posted by on September 8 at 4:19 PM

2714108489_acf68f8ddb_m.jpg Past Lives' Jordan Blilie goes for the jugular at CHBP. Photo by Crickontour.

To supplement Eric’s post below, here's my own $.02 on this fine show.

First impressions of Talbot Tagora: They seemed like a fusion of post-punk ramshackleness and youthful garage-rock rumbustiousness. Their brief songs bounce, romp, roar, and rumble in an efficient manner that suggests a fondness for early Fall (the British band, not the season) and Swell Maps. Guitarist and bassist appear to be playing different songs than the drummer, but this disjunction works really well, like a bicycle whose gears don’t interlock but on which you can still cruise.

Talbot Tagora’s drummer fascinates me: she looks to be about 14 and weigh maybe 90 pounds, but her kinetic attack rewardingly messes with standard rock time; it’s as if the Velvet Underground’s Mo Tucker has become possessed by Keith Moon.

First impressions of Past Lives: Not as spazzy as the Blood Brothers, Past Lives churn out raging, angsty rock that provides ample opportunities to freak out between the tense passages. Vocalist Jordan Blilie has mastered that Nick Cave ca. Birthday Party trick of sounding like he’s being electrocuted. Eric used the exact adjective that I scribbled in my notebook to describe drummer Mark Gajadhar: “athletic.” I also included “swift” and “punishing.” Devin Welch continues to be one of Seattle’s finest guitar clangor and angularity (clangularity?). Morgan Henderson is a rock on bass and keyboards. Past Lives create anthems for young people who need to vent—in an artful manner. Expect big(ger) things.

(Far from) first impressions of the Dead Science: swelling to a 12-piece suits the core trio of guitar/bass (sometimes upright)/drums really well. The four-part brass section, plus harp, viola, violin, and cello added complementary hues to these urbane musicians' already vivid chamber-rock turbulence and knotty prog-rock theatrics. Sam Mickens’ tremulous falsetto flutters 180º away from the standard blues-rock growl, but its mannered fragility somehow thrives amid the Dead Science’s swarming, intense sorties.

If the Dead Science’s songs were people, they’d be drama majors. They’re more likely to make you think of Shakespeare than shake your ass, but there’s really nothing like them in Seattle.

The Dead Science

posted by on September 8 at 2:22 PM

Last night's Dead Science show was just the spectacle that their new album, Villainaire* deserved. All the night’s bands were introduced by Sam Mickens’ older brother, who, in a suit, hair slicked back, looked like future-Mickens come back in time to help past-Mickens. He introduced the Dead Science with a fanciful personal history involving trash-strewn apartments, psychopathic fathers, and other embellishments, and then spent the rest of their set managing a miniature mosh pit made up of just a few fans.

For their set, the Dead Science was joined onstage by Past Lives’ Morgan Henderson on keys, a harpist, and full string and horn sections. Jhereck Bischoff switched between upright and electric bass. Mickens crooned and played guitar, curling his left leg up off the ground, crane like, to the beat. Drummer Nick Tamburro flailed and pounded wildly but always precisely in time, the culmination of a night full of impressive drummers. With the additional musicians, the songs of Villainaire sounded about as true to the album’s carefully crafted moods as possible. “Make Mine Marvel” and “Sword Cane” both sounded especially epic live, the former’s chorus almost too big for Neumos’ room, the latter’s line, “last night’s not fully revealed itself yet” sounding portentous and damning.

While the Dead Science were the obvious highlight, the whole bill was impressive. Openers Talbot Tagora have significantly improved even in just the last few months, sounding tighter and more aggressive than ever, especially on drums, and looking totally confidant and comfortable up on the Neumos stage. I’ve made a case for their reverby, mumbling vocals before, but now I think it may be time for the band to speak up a bit; they’re just a slight voice change away from having totally grown into their sound. Past Lives, on the other hand, are fully formed and on fucking fire. Mark Gajadhar’s drumming is athletic and dominating, Henderson’s low-end guitar is as sure-footed yet wobbly as the little pacing dance he does on stage, Devon Welch and Jordan Blillie are magnetic forces on guitar and mic respectively.

(*One thing I didn't quite make room for in that feature: So, obviously, the Dead Science's fascination with the Wu Tang clan mirrors the Wu's own fascination with kung fu and comic books; but if the Wu adopted these mythologies to escape real poverty, urban blight, and crime, what, if anything, are the Dead Science escaping by adopting the Wu's mythology?)