Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Harry and the Potters, Potter Puppet Pals and Hank Green at the Vera Project

July 31st is Harry Potters birthday, and it was on July 31 2012 that the Vera Project had a Harry Potter themed-show to celebrate.

The lineup was Harry and the Potters, the Potter Puppet Pals (a puppet troupe, apparently they are big on youtube) and Hank Green (another youtube phenom). I suspect youtube has been important to all 3 groups careers.

The show sold out in short order, so a second late show was added, and it also came close to selling out. For a late show on a weekday night that's pretty impressive. I got called in to help steer, and although the crowd was huge it was extremely well behaved - in fact I'd have to call it the nicest large crowd I've ever seen at the Vera Project.

The crowd had lots of kids and adolescents, and a wide range of young adults to older adults, with most of the older adults being parents bringing their kids to the show. Kimya Dawson showed up with her child too, as a Kimya Dawson fan I was geeking out on that a little. There was no problem with inappropriate behavior in line of in the venue, and some of the fans brought birthday cakes and cupcakes and shared them they were good!

I managed to forget my tripod, so I didn't film complete sets. I got a handful of handheld footage from both shows, starting with Hank Green.
The crowd loved Hank Green, and he opened up with "Accio Deathly Hallows" which was his first viral hit, I believe. He was also funny, so I left a fair amount of his patter in. The crowd sang along with the choruses too, definitely a fun set

Hank finished up with members of Harry and the Potters and one of the puppeteers playing bass for a harder rocking version of "Accio Deathly Hallows" - so I'm posting 2 versions of the same song (I ended up with more than 2, since I also got a version or maybe 2 from the later set) but that's a side effect of being busy dealing with the large crowd and supervising a good crew of volunteers. The Potter Puppet Pals were funny and they managed to include a song or two, and I got at least one recorded. There's a song around 3 minutes in:

Finally we had Harry and the Potters headlining. The crowd is definitely into the call and response bit here at the beginning, and they play everything without apparent irony. Their songs are about plot lines from the books and 2 band members claim to be Harry Potter; they even have a breakdown where they kind of testify about those things Voldemort can't understand, like love and especially the power of music. It works because the audience loves it and they avoid overt sarcasm. The different approaches - Hank Green's focus on our external experience of the Harry Potter craze (among many other things), the Potter Puppet Pals humorous rifrs on the characters with made-up plots or parodies of existing plot elements, and Harry and the Potter's straight ahead retelling of plot elements in songs all illuminate different aspects of an interesting cultural phenomenon. I enjoy the enthusiasm and the lack of sarcasm, you don't see that too much in modern music.

I wouldn't have thought there was enough there to hold up through 2 complete shows and more than 600 people, but it did. Fans make the live experience go, and these fans were totally on board. I'm now exposed to a completely new form of music - wizard rock! ...and the viral roots of the success of these acts is also fascinating and inspiring. Definitely a fun show, they won me over, and I don't think I've ever seen my son so engaged by a show - he watched both sets and had a great time. Highly recommended!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

July Veracity show with Jan Zimmer

Due to random coincidence the first two performers booked for the July Veracity were singer/songwriters, so we decided to add a third singer songwriter and make it my first "theme" Veracity show. Nice idea, but then one of the acts had to cancel and the other act ran into a SNAFU so we ended up with a singer/songwriter theme show with Jan Zimmer playing guitar and singing for us.

Jan's a good friend of the family and teaches piano and guitar, singing and songwriting - my son is studying guitar with her and I highly recommend her classes, check her Facebook page out for details.

I enjoy Jan's songs, she as an open emotional tone and can write some retrospective material out of her life experiences that young artists can't match. As an older listener I appreciate the occasional serious song that remembers - don't get me wrong, I love party anthems and here & now themes too, but I love variety even more. The slightly sad yet ultimately uplifting song about the long ago friend and the depth of that relationship is a beautiful example of that life experience.

Jan has quite a few songs she's written, so the Veracity set only hit a few highlights, but some of my personal favorites got played: I enjoyed the show, although it's too bad the other performers were unable to make it.

We'll probably try to do another singer/songwriter theme show sooner or later; next month it's a punk/hard core theme, so we'e certainly getting some variety.

I'm on the verge of aging out as the Veracity chair, so someone else will be paying more attention soon, but I plan on attending and video taping the shows and participating with the committee, so I'll still be able to influence the selection. The next show was "guest booked" and the one after that will have someone else booking it too, so this may have been my last booking for a Veracity show. If so, getting to see a friend play songs I like was a nice way to end my run.

Thanks to Jan for capping off my year, and thanks to all of the bands and audience members and volunteers who helped make the last year of shows memorable and fun. It's been a blast!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Saturday at the Capitol Hill Block Party

I volunteered at the Vera booth at the Capitol Hill Block Party on Saturday. I got there way early, close to 1 so the music hadn't started yet, and my shift at the Vera booth wasn't until 3.

I helped setup by chalking out the Vera Stage schedule on the street in front of the booth, then wandered around checking out the other booths. The Washington Bus booth was giving out excellent popsicles and registering people to vote, and they've now committed to helping pass the Marriage Equality law that we'll be voting on this fall. The Bus is one of my favorite local charities; lack of voting by the young is a major problem in this country and leads to elections that don't represent the will of all of the people, only those who vote. Anything that gets the youth more involved politically and more engaged can only be helpful, as far as I'm concerned. No matter what you might think of any specific issue they take on, the result will be better if more people are involved in the decision. I know that there are explicit strategies to disenfranchise voters who won't "see it our way" but I have a real problem with that approach. Anybody advocating for disenfranchisement on specious grounds is actually afraid of democracy and the will of the people, so they're trying to tilt the ability to participate against those they oppose and that's just horrible. By engaging and registering youth and involving them in the political process the Washington Bus is helping improve the system, while make our democracy more representative and inclusive. Thanks!

Once the music started I was able to catch a few acts like Reignwolf: Reignwolf has a band now, the first few performances I saw (video taped stuff from Jet City Stream, a favorite site for local acts) he played by himself doing guitar and vocals and also using a drum with one foot hitting the pedal. I like him better as a band mostly because the low end is more full and the beat's a little more prominent, but I love his guitar shedding and sound either way.

I also saw Nightmare Fortress at Neumos doing an early set. Interesting sound, the drums are synthesized from a keyboard (at least I think they were, they may have been sequenced, it's hard to be sure), the guitar was jangly and distorted, and the fog machines were running. Good to see some heavier creepier stuff in the mix!

I dropped by the Vera Stage to catch Stephanie before going to work in the Vera booth: Nice guitar oriented sound and I like the vocals, it's a single vocalist so they must be using some echo to give it more depth, it almost sounded like somebody was singing harmonies to me.

I had a little time before my shift started so I zipped over to the mainstage and caught a bit of Absolute Monarchs, another band I've been wanting to see:

After Absolute Monarchs my shift started so I wasn't able to go see some other acts like Brent Amaker and the Rodeo, one of these days I've got to track them down!
I did manage to see the acts at the Vera Stage, since the Vera booth (tent?) was petty close to that, so I got some video of Nude: I like the sound, it's (I can't help myself) a bit stripped down with a classic 2 guitar, bass and drum lineup. The sun was pretty intense and it was fairly warm (for Seattle, anyway) and I think that contributes to the crowd moving less. I like it when the crowd moves more but that tends to happen later when the audience is in the shade and there's more people there. I suppose the bands have to pay their dues, taking early festival slots early on as they work their way up to the better slots. Gives 'em something to shoot for, anyway.

Mostly I hung out at the Vera booth telling people about the Vera Project and handing out freebies and chalking and so on. As each act started on the Vera Stage I headed over and video taped another song or two, so next up was Tropical Punk: I enjoyed their set, they got the crowd moving a little - or at least they got me moving a little. Good driving beat and nice guitar oriented sound, good vocals too.

The last band to play a set on the Vera Stage while I was volunteering was Hot Bodies In Motion: As it got later in the day the crowds slowly got larger and more active which always enhances the experience from my point of view; HBiM was able to get the audience to clap along on the video above, I'm not sure it would've worked that well with the earlier crowds.

As my shift ended I caught a bit of Tom Eddy on the Vera Stage: Nice sound, good songs, didn;t see that much of his set though, I'll have to keep an eye out for him, I'd like another chance to see a longer set.

I made it back to the main stage in time to catch a bit of what I think is Twin Shadow: The sunlight makes it hard to see the band, even the plumes of pot smoke rising from the crowd are easier to see. Sorry, got there too late to get close enough for a better video. Interesting sound for the little bit I saw, another band for the "I'd like to see a more complete set" category!

Next I was too late to see Reignwolf's set at Neumos, good thing I saw the earlier set!

I was winding down, showing up to late to see most acts and my feet were starting to hurt. I made it down to listen to Pony Time, but once again I was too late to get close enough to see anything; at least I could hear it:

I headed back to the Vera Stage and caught some of the Night Beats, the audience was in the shade (finally!) so it was much more pleasant, but by then I was getting dehydrated from the beer and heat and lack of water. Did I mention there was no public watering station? That's unfortunate, I brought a water bottle in thought I'd be able to refill it once I drank it, but that did't end up being the case. Memo to the CHBP operation: a water station is pretty much a needed item when July gets hot at a festival.

At that point I called it a night and headed out. I wish I'd been able to stay, I would've enjoyed seeing Space Needles and Lemolo again, and the mainstage acts looked interesting, but I was just running out of gas and getting to the shows too late, and I didn't have enough energy to hang out at a venue like the Cha Cha for 40 minutes to make sure I had a good spot; if I start hanging out in lounges I tend to drink more, and that won't lead to more energy or good videos anyway.

So that's a wrap, I headed out and caught the bus home. Ten bands, lots of fun, hours spent talking about the Vera Project, a little more beer than is good for me, pork pulled sandwiches and pizza eaten, enjoyed the heck out of it. I wish I was in better shape so I could've caught a few more acts, but there's always next year.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thee Oh Sees CHBP kick-off at All Saints

I follow the Stranger and the Capitol Hill Block Party on Facebook, and they both mentioned a free "Capitol Hill Block Party Launch" show featuring Thee Oh Sees playing at the downtown All Saints store. I was working at the office downtown anyway, so after work I walked over and got in line.

All Saints is a clothing store and they have an interesting antique sewing machine theme, I suppose it's sorta steam punk-ish or something. Steam punk doesn't particularly grab me, but antique sewing machines do. Many of my clothes as a kid were sewed by my grandma on a sewing machine just like those at All Saints, and I used it myself a few times.

First time I've attended a show in a clothing store, and with all the exposed brick and metal I had to wonder how good the sound was going to be. Sailor Jerry was a sponsor, so they were handing out free drinks too, which was sweet! Free drinks and a free show from a band I like is a nice way to end a work day, so I can't really complain even if the sound is poor. Turned out the sound was fine, but the video was shaky. A couple of stiff rum drinks and a rocking band and I can't hold still, no surprise there. As I've mentioned before, it's Dave's inverse rule of great shows vs. great videos. When using a hand held camera, the better the show is the worse the video is, I just can't stop bouncing and moving. Sorry! Well, not really, I'd rather see an excellent show and get shaky video pretty much every time, the real solution is to use a tripod but that doesn't work in the mosh pit! Lots of great music, hmm, the above video is shaky even before they start playing, maybe that rum was more potent than I realized!

I saw a bit of Thee Oh Sees at Bumbershoot last year and I'm glad I finally got to see a whole set, I enjoy the rocking out guitars and the doubled vocals between the guitarist (male) and keyboards (female), they get some cool yips and a male falsetto doubled with a woman's voice, somewhat unusual to have vocals this tricky for a fast and thrashy sounding band, I think it works extremely well.

I didn't get to see them perform at the CHBP on Friday, but judging from the tweets and Facebook comments they put on a great performance, wish I could've been there. I do get to go (tonight) to the Saturday CHBP since I'm volunteering at the Vera Project booth, so I'll have plenty more videos to post shortly. I enjoy Summer in Seattle, and the music is a big part of why: outdoor festivals, free shows, fewer schedule difficulties with the kids out of school, Summer tends to have lots of memorable musical moments.