Friday, January 25, 2013

Damien Jurado and Naomi Wachira at a Seattle Living Room Show

I went to my first "Seattle Living Room Shows" event to see Damien Jurado and Naomi Wachira. Damien Jurado has been a local fixture for a while, but somehow I had never managed to see him until last Summer at Bumbershoot, where he totally blew me away. He writes powerful, often bleak songs that just totally hit home with me, and I was looking forward to seeing him in a more intimate setting.

The process of seeing the show is a little secretive - you sign up electronically, then a bit later they give you the details. We got there within a few minutes of the doors opening and already more than half the seats had been claimed, but we got reasonable seats together. That was kind of important because Heather was on crutches, so there's one tip: come quite early if you want to get seats at a Seattle Living Room Show!
Damien Jurado at the Seattle Living Rooms show January 25 2013

It wasn't actually in someone's house, it was in a space near the Seahawk's stadium that I think is a gallery, but it was the intimate setting I was hoping for.
Damien Jurado at the Seattle Living Rooms show January 25 2013

The crowd is seated in front of and to the right of the performers, with around 40 seats, and another 30 or 40 watch while standing behind the seats. The technical crew (audio and video, more on the video later) took the left side space. A small table was laid out with free snacks, bread with a spinach spread and chips, salsa, and multilayer dip (beans, cheese, sour cream, onions, a few peppers) to munch on, and a paid bar with beer, wine and hard liquor.

They had a single bathroom which also made it feel like a house show - standing in line to get into the bathroom took a few minutes.

The show was a benefit for the Melodic Caring Project, and they streamed it live to several hospitalized kids and teens.Damien Jurado at the Seattle Living Rooms show January 25 2013

Both Naomi Wachira and Damien Jurado have kids, and you could tell they took the charity to heart. They spoke to the kids during the show, and they both got choked up doing it. Having your own kids, the thought of kids being deathly ill hits too close to home for comfort. That's OK, the world is full of things that are not comforting, and too often our culture stays in denial on the subject. It's important to acknowledge how tough things are for some, even if it makes me cry in sympathy.

Naomi Wachira took the stage first, she's bee n in Seattle for some time and is originally from Kenya. She told us that she was going back home in the next couple days and would get to see her child, who is being raised by her grandparents. It was interesting how personal the stage chatter was, I think that was the influence of the charity and knowing that kids in an extremely tough situation were watching.

Some of her songs were personal, about lessons learned, songs of strength and self determination like this one:

She had some tasty backing vocals on this and some of the songs, the backing vocals were from another band, but I promptly forgot the name of the band. Sorry about that, I'll edit this and add the name back in if I ever track it down.

Simple, heartfelt, fairly stripped down with guitar and vocal and tasty backing vocals, very nice for the intimate setting.

She finished up with "African Girl" which is also the title track on the CD they had on the merch table. A beautiful song that looks back on her roots and her life, a song of faith and identity. I like how it frames things and lays out what matters to her. Lovely voice, complex lyrics that avoid the endless repetition so common in most modern music, definitely packed full of more ideas in one song than most bands manage to get in a full album. Great match for Damien Jurado, who has similarly dense and meaningful, if challenging, songs.

Damien Jurado took the stage for his headline set next. Jurado is an interesting performer; when I saw him at Bumbershoot he really didn't have much in the way of patter. He often looked down while singing and playing, or looked straight out, above the heads of the audience. He doesn't get much if any eye contact - I can't tell off hand if he doesn't like it, or just isn't concerned, but either way it makes for a slightly introverted yet powerful experience.

As Damien sat down he laid out various sheets of paper on a seat near him and mostly looked at them while playing.
Damien Jurado at the Seattle Living Rooms show January 25 2013
After his first song he said "I'm not going to do these songs, I'm tired of them" and he shuffled through and skipped down the stack to some new songs. He told us he was working on a new album, and that he was going to do new songs. As a result I didn't recognize most of the set, but that's OK since the songs were consistently excellent
I noticed that Damien also was talking a bit between songs, which was a new experience for me. He mentioned his two kids, and told us the story of how "Museum Of Flight" came to be. It was a very personal story involving his adolescent child, and once he told us the story he said "I never explain my songs, so now you're the only group who knows where it came from" or something like that. I think the fact that he had an audience of terribly sick children watching streaming video of the performance was what pushed him into opening up. The audience is there to hear his songs, but those kids deserved more communication from him, somehow, and I really respect that artistic choice.

He continued opening up in ways I suspect he never had before on stage. If you notice in the first picture of him above, his shoes are off. He mentioned that, saying something like "this is a living room show, so I'm getting comfortable like I would in my own living room." Then he paused, and said "Well, if it was my living room, I'd be in my long underwear, which I'm wearing under my pants." After that it didn't take much encouragement before he ended up - after saying "this is entirely age appropriate, I'm not stripping!" which he emphasized by repeating - then he took his pants off. As you can see in the intro to this song, he riffed on that and turned it into a wonderful moment of solidarity with the kids watching from their hospital rooms.

If you look closely, you can see that sure enough, he's playing in his long underwear.

Here's a picture so you can see it more clearly:
Damien Jurado at the Seattle Living Rooms show January 25 2013

As he wound down his set and got to the final two numbers, he gave a sweet testimonial that made us all choke up and made me cry. I caught it on video here:
The other thing I notice about it: he never looks at directly at the audience as far as I can tell, but he insisted on tracking down which camera was operating and looked directly at it, directly at the kids in the hospital watching the show, and spoke to them, thanking them and expressing his love. Mortality hitting the young is one of the toughest things there is to process, and something we strenuously avoid talking about. I feel uniquely privileged to have been there for this, to have experienced the love and pain and emotion in a simple 40 minute set with Damien Jurado opening up on stage in a way I've never seen before, and I suspect in a way he never has before. Wonderful dedication, a compelling example of a show dedicated to those who weren't there, who were watching from their hospital beds.

As if that wasn't enough crying and snuffling, he topped that with his final song, "Cloudy Shoes."

The chorus breaks my heart and makes me cry, even now just listening to the video:
"One day you will be taller, taller than the sky,
Til that day, you will be, here with us, below.

Such a beautiful heart-breakingly appropriate song for this benefit show, and a perfect downbeat ending for a "depressive songwriter" (to use Damien's term) to end the show on.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Eternal Fair at the Anchor Pub

I won free tickets to see Motopony, Hot Bodies In Motion and Eternal Fair at the Anchor Pub up in Everett. I'd been to the pub before a few years back, and I'd seen and enjoyed both Motopony and Hot Bodies in Motion too, so I was looking forward to it. Eternal Fair was new to me, and that's a bonus, I like seeing new (to me, anyway) bands.

The blurb for the show said it was at 8, but I was somewhat suspicious, frequently that means "doors open at 8, bands are at 9" but we hustled up to get there close to 8 anyway. If nothing else, we could stake out one of the tables up near the band so at least we'd have seats.

While I was right about the timing - at 8 they were just beginning to set things up -the area up near the band no longer had any tables or chairs, so there were only a few seats to be had, and each time we went to claim a seat somebody sitting near by would always say "We're reserving that seat for a friend who isn't here yet."

While I understand that, it's annoying not being able to sit down so that somebody else who may or may not even show up has seats and doesn't need to come early. So we stood around for an hour - and I was already a bit sore from sitting on a bench seat in a bar for many hours the night before. The result of all that was that I had to bail after seeing a little bit of the first band, so I ended up missing Motopony and Hot Bodies in Motion. Dang!

Anyway, I can't complain too much, it was free and sitting at a show isn't really the point.

I did get to see Eternal Fair, and that was interesting. They had a traditional power trio lineup with a guitar, bass and drums, and had a nice distorted guitar oriented sound that I enjoy.
Eternal Fair at the Anchor
The vocalist had an interesting way of ending phrases with a little additional vowel sound on a rising inflection, it caught my attention and he used the technique repeatedly. It fit into the rhythm well and grew on me as they cranked out their interesting rocking tunes. They also had all three members with microphones and did a nice job both with backing vocals and three part harmonies on occasion - I love vocal harmonies and complex (or even simple) multi-part vocal arrangements, and most bands don't bother nowadays, so props to Eternal Fair for getting 3 good vocal parts out of a band with 3 members. Nice!

I ended up recording a couple of songs in a single take before bailing, so this is what I got for the music at the Anchor:

I'm complaining more than I should, I like the venue and if I'd known I wasn't get a table or chair (or just didn't try) I could've shown up around 9 and avoided all the standing around waiting for the show to begin which would've saved my back some pain. Once the music starts I don't notice the pain as much anyway.

I also like the bands that were playing, and Jet City Radio (who gave me the free tickets)  was sponsoring the event along with an Everett city music initiative, so overall I really have to come down on the side of supporting the whole thing. Adra Boo (vocalist in Fly Moon Royalty, a local favorite) was in attendance, and I think Marco Collins was too, so there was all kinds of things to like and interesting people to talk to.

More shows with fun local bands in venues all around the region is a good thing, and Jet City Radio (which isn't a radio station in the traditional sense, it's a streaming internet service) is also pretty cool. I'll keep an eye out for more of these, and next time try to make sure I'm in better shape to start with, and also plan/time things better so I can get all of the fun out of the evening that's available, rather than wimping out and heading home early.

I'm not terribly well educated on venues in Everett, I don't get up there all that often, but I do like the Anchor, and I also enjoy seeing Ryan Laplante do regular gigs at the Balefire. I'm glad to see Everett's live music scene getting promoted and good crowds turning out, the more venues in the region the better the bands do and the larger the audience, all good things.

Thanks to Jet City Radio for the free tickets, and the city of Everett for it's music initiative. Nice stuff!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Missing Yo La Tengo, Seeing Funk Til Death

My daughter is back in town from Mexico and we wanted to go see some live music. We decided to catch Yo La Tengo at the last in-store performance at Easy Street Records on lower Queen Anne before it closed, but that didn't work out. We weren't early enough to get inside, and didn't feel like hanging out with the crowd on the sidewalk watching through the fogged up windows.Mid Jan 005
We grabbed a Seattle Weekly and a Stranger and looked through the music listings to see if there was a free alternative and noticed that Funky To Death was doing a free show at the Seamonster Lounge in Wallingford. My daughter has a friend that lives nearby she hadn't seen in a while, so we invited them over and got a nice table in the lounge an hour before the music started.

This was a new venue for me and it's pretty nice. In keeping with the Seamonster theme, they have a mild variety of sushi on the menu, and also inexpensive cups of miso soup which is nice on a cold January Seattle evening; I can't vouch for the sushi, but it looked good when other nearby tables had it. The venue is a little small with an odd layout for the band, but our table in front by the window was a nice place to watch the foot traffic go by and catch up with each other.
Funky To Death at the Sea Monster Lounge
The foot traffic was light due to the cold weather, everybody was bundled and nobody was lingering; getting one of the front window tables during the Summer would probably be even better for people watching.

The band loaded some equipment in, setup and did their sound check, then started playing.
It was a fairly large band with guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and a horn section - a trombone, saxophone, and a flute. A flute is a woodwind, not a horn, so I may have the wrong term for it, but it added that punch and funk to the music the way a good horn section does so I'll go with that.

The performance space is long and narrow, and the audience ends up kinds of intermixed with the band. This leads to a cool intimate vibe, you're right in the middle of the performance, but it also makes for poor sight lines when it comes to pictures. Funky To Death at the Sea Monster Lounge
This view from the back of the venue shows off the drums and the guitar and bass, with the horns and flute mostly visible, but the keyboard player is obscured. It was interesting watching from next to the drummer, he did some fast cymbal footwork/drum stick stuff I'd never seen up close before that sounded cool, and as they jammed along he would occasionally hold up one of more fingers for a measure, I think he was signalling chord changes but I'm not sure. If that was chord or key changes, and they were messing with it on the fly then I'm impressed, you'd have to be very practiced and aware to change things around that dynamically in the middle of a song. They also did a fair amount of improv, with the first song (which I didn't get recorded, dang) including trombone, sax, flute, guitar and keyboard solos. It probably also had drum and bass solos too - basically a solo for each musician - but I lost track by the end of the song.

The reverse view misses the keyboard player too, so I don't think I ended up with a picture of her. Anyway, here's the reverse view:

Funky To Death at the Sea Monster Lounge
They played a set of fun, tight, bouncy funk with lots of old classics and some interesting choices. The band was totally together even as the improvised and messed around, giving it both an improvisational feel and at the same time a highly polished together vibe that I liked.

I only recorded one song, then it started getting much more crowded.

Here's a view from our table back to where the band was playing, I'll use the flash photo - colors aren't as good, but you can see the crowd better: Funky To Death at the Sea Monster Lounge
They did several other interesting things including something by Common and a Michael Jackson tune - the keyboard player did a great Michael vocal.
The other thing I enjoyed was that a different voice was singing a song and somebody pointed out it was the bartender, who had a microphone behind the bar and was singing lead vocals for a song or two. Funky To Death at the Sea Monster Lounge
Somebody in the crowd explained that he was the owner of the venue, and that he was in a different band with several of the members of Funky Til Death. It also looks like Funky To Death is a house band, playing the Seamonster at least monthly and probably more frequently.

The locals have obviously figured out that the house band with no cover is a great way to spend a Friday evening in Wallingford, and I have to agree. Keep an eye out for them, they were a lot of fun and I'm pretty sure the'll be back regularly.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

January Veracity with Tangerine, Thee Samedi, Kathy and Rebel

Another interesting Veracity show last night at the Vera Project. The order of the bands got switched a little due to a late arrival, but the show went off smoothly.

Kathy was the final act confirmed for the show, they roll with a guitarist/vocalist and a drummer. The vocals are mostly incidental in most of their songs. 2013 Jan 036 The guitarist plays facing sideways, so the drummer is in his field of view. The guitar is prominent, a bit distorted with plenty of echo and sustain. The first song builds slowly from the guitar, adding the drums in after a few measures. The vocals are quiet, a minor addition to the song.
Interesting approach, the guitar probably could have been louder but I always enjoy listening to distorted guitars and pounding drums. The transitions as the drums kick in for a while, then stop again for a few measures, then back in again provide some contrast as they work through the song progression.

Next up was Rebel, a hip hop performer working over recorded beats. This one is a Seattle song that talks about needing sunny days and rain.
The third act was Thee Samedi. 2013 Jan Veracity 004
The front man definitely carried on the traditional over the top rock extroverted front-man role. Above and beyond the music and the singing, he put on a performance for us. The band's instruments are the classic power trio guitar, bass and drums setup, and it worked well with the band crunching out angular punky sounded thrashy music and the vocalist sneering and writhing, stripped down to his pants - no shirt no shoes, obnoxious service, classic punk approach.
Eventually he added some colorful touches with the help of the audience and started writhing on the ground while singing. 2013 Jan Veracity 008
You should've been there, it was a pretty classic performance. We had 3 or 4 older adults watching them from the catwalk above and I couldn't help wondering if the lady taking pictures with her cell phone was his mom. Definitely a fearless performance!

The final act was Tangerine, who varied their instruments a bit from song to song. They always used the bass and drums, performing some songs with 2 guitars, some with 1 guitar, and some with a guitar and keyboard. 2013 Jan Veracity 023 All of the musicians added backing vocals, with most songs have choruses with "wooh-ahh" style group backing vocals. I enjoy the vocal complexity and the more complex arrangements, I miss this a bit. It seems like it used to be a more common approach but few bands use it recently, so I definitely give Tangerine props for it. It takes some effort to work out parts and practice and discipline for the musicians to play their music and come in together on pitch effectively. Nice song structures, well rehearsed coherent sound, definitely enjoyed the set.

Fun Veracity show with quite a variety of bands and sounds, and the attendance was quite good too with around 50 people in enjoying the show. Andrienne has been doing a great job getting shows together and getting a crowd to show up to see them. Thanks, Andrienne, and thanks to the performers for a fun show!