by Josh Bis
on Mon, Dec 10, 2012 at 10:28 AM
Sufjan Stevens, Christmas Unicorn
Sufjan Stevens and a band of misfit merrymakers (superman chicken, zombie nun, skeleton santas, Beirut's Ben Lanz as one of two trombone players, Rosie Thomas in the form a bass-playing snowwoman sidekick) landed their sleigh at the Neptune on Saturday night for the Seattle installation of Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long: Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice. Once the early-arriving around-the-block crowd made it through the theater's door, they (we) were greeted with a unicorn-clad "Christmess" songbook containing the lyrics to several holiday classics, inscribed on its front cover with the fourth instruction from John Wesley's Select Hymns:
Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.
The audience, many bedecked their finest reindeer antlers, fair isle sweaters, battery powered strings of holiday lights, santa hats, rosy cheeks, jingle bells or acoustic guitars, were the sort who won the mad scramble that sold out the show in a matter of minutes and who were very likely to have done their (OK, our) homework by watching the whole series of "bonkers" infomercials to arrive prepared to follow these guidelines to the letter.
When Sufjan finally appeared at around nine, following a couple hours of listening to holiday dirges piped through the house mix interrupted only by a brief and confusing "performance" from "Sheila Saputo"1, the audience was elated and Ready to Sing-Along. Although I am not particularly a "fan" of Christmas, or of Christmas music, or really of singing in general, my enthusiasm for All Things Sufjan2 had me irrationally exuberant about this event and Fully On Board for Holiday Musical Merriment, particularly because the show opened with what might be my very favorite modern carol, "Come on! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance."
About half of the show was consumed by Sufjan singing highlights from the Christmas EPs, a mix of traditional and deconstructed classics as well as songs of his own creation. Some blocks were more Seasonally Affective Disorderly than others ("Sister Winter," Rosie Thomas as a psychotic snowman, "The Child with a Star on his Head" as the room filled with bubbles); others sometimes slipped in breaks for whispery delicate tracks from the non-holiday albums that nevertheless felt at home among them ("Vito's Ordination Song").
The other half was a singalong left to fate, in the form of the mind-bogglingly massive Wheel of Christmas that was often set in manic incongruously tracked—"Dallas," "Smells Like Teen Spirit"—motion by young guests from the audience. Appeasing the decision of the great wheel, the crowd vigorously and/or drunkenly belted out holiday standards under the guidance of confetti wands, inventive arrangements, and general leadership from the stage. The Neptune's sometimes troublesome acoustics were ideal for a room full of people belting out carols in surprisingly un-pitchy fashion.
The show culminated with Sufjan's transformation into the Christmas Unicorn—an amazing and ludicrous costume made mostly from balloons and a decked-out helmet, with a healthy serving of streamers an inflated mylar tail for good measure—and performing an epic manifesto about the struggle to reconcile this polytheistic ultra-commercialized globe conquering devoutly religious choose-your-own-adventure holiday called Christmas. As the song ramped up to its Joy Division mash-up finale, cannons filled the air with confetti while inflatable santas and rainbow-horned unicorns were hurled into a souvenier-greedy crowd. Though this must sound completely cornball and cultlike—but that doesn't mean that it wasn't also just utterly delightful.
After the magical main set, Sufjan returned to play a few non-holiday songs on his own ("To Be Alone with You" from Seven Swans and "Concerning the Ufo Sighting Near Highland, Illinois," "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." from Illinois) and finished with the whole band boisterously performing "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!"3 I counted it as a moment of personal restraint that I made it out of the venue without trying to steal or bribe a child to hand over one of those inflatable figures.
Notes: 1Rosie Thomas performing a comedy routine as character whose history involves traumatic brain injury, the less said the better. 2Without setting aside the strict LineOut editorial position against the soul patch, even in minimal form. 3Though I was secretly hoping to hear something from Age of Adz, the only hint from that record was a tiny riff from "Impossible Soul" thrown into one of the deconstructed carols.
"continue reading" to see some more Sufjan glamour shots.
by Josh Bis
on Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 10:30 AM
Key Arena Thunderdome
Nothing about a midweek music festival starting at 3 in the afternoon particularly makes sense, but the great(ish) thing about 107.7's annual Deck the Hall Ball is that, like yesterday's weather, if you're not into what's happening, stick around and it'll change. Nine bands were scheduled to play in the span of about eight hours; so the first half of the program flew by with the opening bands barely having time to warm up and play their big crowd-pleaser before being shuffled off to get the next act on stage while water and snack vendors roamed the floor to keep everyone in the giant bunker hydrated without losing their prime real estate.
All of the quick changes made for a lively start, though it was hard not to feel a little bad for the bands that had traveled a great distance across oceans and continents (the Joy Formidable, Of Monsters and Men) or through time (The Grammy nominated Lumineers) just to play three or five songs to an early afternoon crowd. But one has to hope that commercial rock radio and arena show piles of cash make the jet lagged sprints worthwhile. Even the bands at the top of the bill with more time got more time to stretch their legs still played pretty compressed versions of their usual sets. Part of the breakneck pace was all of the actual jumping around on stage (I suspect this was a term of the contract) as well as the impressive genre-hopping (within the framework of modern rock music).
As a fan of bands (shutting up and) playing the hits (at festivals), I have to say that what was essentially full day confined inside an arena without time to hunt down food or drinks turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable survey course in a year in pretty-well-deserved hits: from neo-folkwave, various flavors of international rock acts, emotionally resonant pop, embarrassingly altest alt-rock, synthy spacedream nostalgia, and slick arena ambitions.
A weird choice was that the between-set house mix was a combination of songs that bands had performed mere minutes ago and radio-type alt-rock (with the same song — e.g., "Radioactive" — often repeating during the course of the evening).
Whoever booked the event did an admirable job of balancing out the gender balance on stage. In addition to all of the talented women, they managed to dig up a few Men Who Rock.
The whole thing kind of felt like a summer festival flashback/compilation album: aside from the Killers, all of the bands played at Sasquatch, Capitol Hill Block Party, or Bumbershoot.
Photos of bands and fans after the jump. Tell us who "blew your mind" in the comments!
by Josh Bis
on Sun, Nov 18, 2012 at 2:11 PM
Winding down his U.S. solo tour for a sold out hometown crowd, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard played to a (mostly) reverently attentive crowd Friday night at the Showbox. In his words, it was a "coffee shop vibe with a rockshow audience" that remained so silent between songs that he could, for the first time, hear the gentle flushing of toilets in the men's bathroom from the stage's cozy singer-songwriter setup (rug, steaming cup of tea, music stand).
This is not to say that the audience wasn't vocally appreciative upon recognition of favorite songs. The main set was bookended by Postal Service hits: opener "Such Great Heights" and closer "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" elicited squeals of delight. Though I wouldn't have minded a special surprise guest appearance (perhaps Jimmy Tamborello could've been Skyped in?), Gibbard was more than capable of carrying the show on the merits of just his own voice and either acoustic guitar or upright piano to a room filled with so many scarves, caps, and sweaters. Because I didn't really follow Death Cab for Cutie into the dark and haven't dug into this year's solo album, about half the songs weren't super familiar to me. Along with DCFC staples, there was an ode to the Smith Tower accompanied by a pledge about never leaving again, a beatboxed explosion symbolizing a certain lack of box office success for Arthur remake soundtrack entry "When the Sun Goes Down," and a special bonus for-northwest-shows-only cover of Screaming Trees's "Bed of Roses." The show ended with an encore grab bag—"A Lack of Color" from Transatlanticism, upbeat/sad juxtapositing "Hard One to Know" from Former Lives, recently repurposed Dell-selling (and personal favorite) "You Remind Me of Home" from the 2007 Andrew Keny split EP, and then the mysteriously-adored "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" to send everyone off, satisfied by a chillaxy show, into the still early evening.
This weekend’s Gwar show was, for the most part, like any other… full of blood, guts, urine, and balls! The crowd is always extra stoked for their shows. Photographers and venue staff are more friendly—taking pics of each other, and looking ridiculous wearing “rain gear.” All the while, onstage, there is an onslaught of offensive metal, murder, and indecent exposure. Victims included; Mitt Romney, Hitler, Jesus, President Obama, Super Resurrected Robot Jesus, a random spectator, Gwar slaves, and many more...
Seduction is an annual party in Fremont sponsored by the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival. In addition to all the costumed folks, there was an erotic art showcase, and interactive experiences like ultraviolet body painting, and decorative bondage. I saw a lot of people making out. Also, like any good Halloween party should, there was a costume contest, where Seduction gave away over $3,000 worth of prizes. How d'ya like them apples? Happy "Sexy" Halloween!
Most people already know about how Billy Idol just played Seattle—after Michael Henrichsen spent *two years* persuading the British icon to play his at his party... Sounds like it was a total success. Watch the Associated Press video after the jump! And read everything on playmybirthdaybillyidol.com.
ALSO, Billy, aged 57, looks and sounds great. Take a note, Axl Rose.
by Josh Bis
on Mon, Oct 22, 2012 at 9:27 AM
David Byrne at the Fifth Avenue Theatre
My CityArts Fest began sipping cocktails inelegantly through glowing (HeinekenGreen, of course) straws in the lobby of Benaroya Hall while Ravenna Woods played their first of a dozen or three shows of the week for the festival's opening night party, but the fourth annual in-city music and arts festival didn't really feel like it began until I found myself filing into a fancy theater to see a rock show.
Placing bands in settings that make you wonder why they don't host bands more often feels like a hallmark of what makes the festival special (e.g., Belle & Sebastian or Ryan Adams in Benaroya, Cat Power at the Fifth Avenue); so I was really excited to see the pairing of David Byrne and St. Vincent from the comfort (and with the exceptional sightlines) of the gilded Chinese-inspired showroom. With the help of an eight piece sometimes-marching band, the pair essentially took turns rotating through their individual catalogs as well as performing together to bring to life music from Love this Giant, their written-by-email collaboration. Perhaps because of the setting, the staging felt a bit like a piece of musical theater without a plot: the band sometimes marching in circles around Byrne, menacingly advancing on Clark, or everyone dancing robotically or collapsing on the floor only to rise again when needed. Betraying my own personal fandom (and a headache enhanced by syncopated brass), I'd say the show felt most exciting when Annie Clark was in the spotlight, but acknowledge that the most dancing in the aisles occurred for Byrne classics. In particular, "Burning Down the House," which introduced Annie Clark to Talking Heads (by way of Revenge of the Nerds) brought down the house during the first encore as did second (and final) encore closer "Road to Nowhere."
Until CityArts, I never had a compelling occasion to experience Pacific Science Center's famed Laser Dome, but couldn't resist the chance to see Jordan "Reignwolf" Cook shredding along to a trippy lightshow. Even though Cook hails from the Saskatoon, the sold-out crowd's intense devotion makes his seemingly stratospheric rise feel like a homegrown phenomenon. In contrast (to my memory of previous shows), this one was, strictly-speaking, less of a one-man show with regular support from a drummer and bass player. However, even with a little help from his friends, Cook remained the main attraction of the near two hour shredding and growling marathon. In fact, with so many sparks flying on the makeshift stage (and sometimes encircled by an adoring audience) it was easy to forget to look up at the often antiquated special effects.
"the Rolling Stones"
Seeing "the Rolling Stones" at the Barboza made me wonder if I should take over Anna Minard's "Never Heard of 'Em" column when she graduates from boot camp. Obviously, I was aware that "the Rolling Stones" are a super(ish) group that play songs by The Rolling Stones, but out of my own baffling ignorance I didn't actually recognize a Rolling Stones tune until the third song. The eight piece nonstop onstage party and roadhouse atmosphere crowding the front of the room didn't leave me much room to ponder the existential quandary of how it is that I came to know only approximately five songs from my dad's most favorite band. Instead, I just got caught up in the microcelebrity-studded audience's enthusiasm for enjoying an American-accented British re-Invasion.
Two Door Cinema Club
For high pitched screams, though, were found at the Showbox SoDo for a Northern Irish invasion by Two Door Cinema Club. When I arrived, kids packed to the front shouting along with Beastie Boys classics were being sprayed down by bouncers with modified water bottles. As the band arrived to a choir of angels and a lightshow that rivaled or surpassed the Laserdome, the shrieks of delight reached ear-splitting levels and a sea of open palms ascending toward the spotlights. From there, the electro-infused trio (plus touring drummer) provided a near constant assault of ultra-danceable rock, all spiky guitars, darkly cherubic vocals, and spazzy synths propelling the all-ages floor into an occasionally crowdsurfing frenzy. I watched most of the show from the bar, reflecting on the sad paradox of how the club's older sibling manages to have so many great vantage points for watching a show while this one has so few (aside, presumably from its VIP island). Though I enjoyed the hooky earworms from a distance, I confess that I bolted out at the encore break to beat the rush for civilization-bound taxis.
More photos after the jump. Tell us about your CityArts Fest in ye olde comments.
by Dave Segal
on Fri, Oct 12, 2012 at 12:57 PM
DJs! Are you trying to get booked and advance your career? Well, take a gander at these promo photos at the headofrothchild blog and avoid doing what these doofuses are doing. Not sure if I’ll ever stop shaking my damn head in disgust and pity over these pics of DJs trying to look badass and hire-worthy.
by Josh Bis
on Thu, Oct 11, 2012 at 10:34 AM
Beth Ditto, fans, at the Showbox
It often feels gimmicky when a band holds out on playing their biggest hit, but it makes complete sense that the band formerly known as the Gossip waited 1 until the end of their encore to unleash "Standing in the Way of Control". The song absolutely destroys—Beth Ditto's voice transitioned nimbly from cover/sing-along of "What's Love Got to Do With It?" into the song's opening with a howl and the full house, worked into a floor-shaking, hand-waving, exhausted, applauding mess by the end. It's no wonder that the canny music supervisors at Skins chose the song to introduce the world to the best advertisement for never leaving English teenagers unsupervised. But, as Ditto emphasized ("election time ... is about our way of life") the song remains especially (and unfortunately) timely in this particular political season: it's a song that she wrote when she was twenty-five, now she's thirty-one and still singing about the same thing.2
The set was consistently fun—unstoppable soul-infused acrobatic vocals paired with a driving dance-punk heartbeat that began with a mini "Psycho Killer" cover that lasted for about an hour and a half; Ditto's belt and shoes lasted just one song. Throughout, she took more than a few moments for comical nose-blowing, chatty reminiscences3, birthday celebrations, and political forays. Mid-set, the audience roared with approval as drummer Hannah Blilie briefly paused to encourage a yes vote on R74 (Ditto: "Get to marrying, gays!" / "it's just like David Guetta says..."), and then promptly went back to losing their minds happily dancing until well after midnight. The last time they came to Seattle, Ditto was "not yet in her thirties"—let's hope the audience convinced her to not wait so long before returning.
In Zettel's interview, commenters seem to be obsessed with the fact that he didn't take his shirt off for the shoot. Jeez—they're acting like he's Janet Jackson or something! Truth is, I, the photographer, was so blinded by his expensive jewerly and rabbit-soft velour jumpsuit, that I never even asked him to take his shirt off.
MY BAD, people, MY BAD. More photos after the jump!
Two fun facts: 1.) The Country Lips are almost finished with another album. For now, get touched! 2.) Taboo Adult Video, downtown Seattle, at 1012 First Avenue, has a nice selection of animal thong underwear for men.
by Josh Bis
on Sun, Oct 7, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Grizzly Bear at the Paramount
The audience at the Paramount was in capable musical paws with Grizzly Bear last night. Backed by a fluther of glowing ghost jellyfish that haunted the back of the stage in various formations, a guest touring multi-instrumentalist, and an array of skittle-colored spotlights, the quartet arranged themselves in an egalitarian line at the front of the stage and played through several "loud/quiet/loud" rotations through their expansive catalog of brainy yet accessible experimental indie neo-psych-folk. The ninetyish minute set proceeded in lather/rinse/repeat waves of Ed Droste and Dan Rossen trading off ethereal barely adorned vocals, to rich layered compositions often layered live by Chris "woodwind enthusiast" Taylor, to more assertive room-filling near-rock propelled by Chris Bear's assured percussion.
The previous sentence grossly oversimplifies the rich production—throughout the evening, all of the band's members contributed vocals and played an array of instruments, in a complex juggling act that sounded incredible under the Paramount's lofty gilded showroom and built to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion featuring legitimate crowd-pleasing hit "Two Weeks" (Veckatimest), slow-burning Shields closer "Sun in Your Eyes", and fuzzed-out wall of sound classic "Knife" (Yellow House). A standing ovation drew the guys back for an encore that ended with the group in the center of the stage harmonizing through "All We Ask" and graciously thanking everyone for spending a Friday night with them. Stray notes:
I wonder whether Chris Taylor knew of the Funhouse's impending demise when he unfondly recounted a long-ago Grizzly Bear show at the "scary place" as a counter-example to their great delight in playing at the Paramount?
Ed Droste's minimalist bouncy dancing throughout the show was both adorable and fascinating.
I bought an awesomely creepy three-eyed cat t-shirt, mainly because Nitsuh Abebe's fantastic feature about the band, the limits of "indie rock royalty", and long-term sustainability of making money and music was still fresh in my mind.
Beach House played the second of two back-to-back shows last night at the Showbox (Original Recipe). A few superficial thoughts: first, good for them for selling out two nights in one of Seattle's best places to see a show, rather than moving everyone to one night in a bigger venue.
Second, although it is not at all obvious from these photos, it was clear that someone at Team Beach House put a lot of thought into the lighting design, which really helped to keep the consistently gauzy set visually invigorating. Lights spun through striped pallets backed with spinning fans, perhaps cobbled together from an industrial surplus junkyard. Behind them, a glowing scrim occasionally illuminated with stars and swirling spotlights made the whole operation feel like a makeshift deep space voyage powered mostly by Victoria Legrand's voice.
Third, as the show neared the hour mark, I thought about how nice it would be to just lie on the vibrating floor rather than swaying kelplike in the crowd. This sounds really weird, but it worked splendidly during the middle of the more contemplative/less apocalyptic section of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's two-plus hour show at Pier 36 from the New York installation of All Tomorrow's Parties when large chunks of the audience came to a wordless agreement that a communal nap time would be pretty OK. However, given the sold out crowd and lack of carpet squares at the Showbox, this wasn't really an option last night. Instead, some things that the crowd did —in addition to being enchanted—to pass the time: some combination of conducting/hand dancing/air drumming, filming songs with smartphones or cameras on poles, two guys (re-)enacting a middle school slow dance ("Take Care"), a woman complaining to her companion that the band hadn't played enough hits for her taste, and, making trips to and from the bathroom.
In fact, late in the set, during one of Legrand's efforts to "breaks the fourth wall" by talking to the crowd (topics included all-ages, whether her chatting made them uncomfortable, the pros and cons of swearing), guitarist/keyboardist Alex Scally claimed to know the exact number of audience bathroom breaks from having counted the departures and arrivals during the set. Judging from standing in the back and being jostled constantly, I'd say the number was "a lot." But it was a long set and there were plenty of bars in the venue, so who can blame a little restlessness?
In any case, I stuck around long enough to max out on dreamy meditative pop and to hear my own personal favorites, including "Zebra" (from Teen Dream) and set-closer "Myth" (from this year's Bloom), but didn't linger long enough to hear what (if anything) they had planned for an encore.
I randomly met thomas at small venue in greenville, sc. He invited me and my girlfriend to the after party and i got to hang with champagne champagne and the flobots. He invited us to a show two nights later in atlanta georgia where we got to hang out back stage with the guys. Thomas is one of the most humble and likable rockstars of the generation. I hope to see him perform in the future!
Cooks? Cheap California swill. Sort of dumbs down the entire photo shoot.
The first is true—'cept "likable" should have maybe been "lovable" and also "hilarious" shoulda' probably have been included. Champagne Champagne play next in France, (yeah, THAT France) at the end of this month October 26-31.
Wait, what? PRETEND this phone works? Who am I supposed to be talking to?
Shooting all the portraits for this week's Men Who Rock feature was beyond fun. It was probably my favorite photo shoot of the entire year. All the guys were beyond "good sports." DJ Andrew Luck was the first fellow I had scheduled. He showed up on roller blades with a really hot woman wearing roller skates and a guy who looked like Nikki Sixx's low-rent cousin.
AND WERE THEY DRRRRR'UNK! Not just normal drunk, but Drunk of the Week drunk. I could hardly take photos because I was laughing too hard. Check out my 10 favorite outtakes. I heart these people!
Rachel Ratner & Keith Whitman's Seattle Band Map plays a prominent part of a Nordstom window display chock full of music history from the Emerald City. Tons of great photos by Jesse Codling after the jump!