Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tom Brosseau, Shelby Earl and Jon Sands at the Fremont Abbey

I've heard good things about the Fremont Abbey, but I had never managed to catch a show there. Then I saw that Shelby Earl was playing there with Tom Brosseau. Tickets were $10, or $12 for the second row, or $14 for the first row. I got the last 3 tickets in the first row. Time to check the venue out!

After work I caught the 5 from the office to Fremont and wandered around until I figured out where the Fremont Abbey is. It's in a building that looks like a church, or an abbey I suppose. Brilliant insight there! I had visions of a large open space, but it was actually in the bottom floor in a fairly small room. Dana drove the car down and joined me for the show.

Jon Sands, a poet from New York city, led things off. Seattle is probably one of the more poet friendly towns around, and Fremont is even more poet friendly than the Seattle norm, so it was a really friendly crowd. Sands liked the attention and feedback and kept us amused and occupied. Sands did a bit of verbal riffing and poetry, and Shelby Earl came out and played a guitar backing for one poem, and Sands went about (as he put it) spreading magic. He told stories and blushed at the racier bits of his own poems (those front row seats are nice!), and obviously was thrilled by the audience's positive reaction. He had fun with the single folks in a crowd participation bit and worked well both in the intro and between acts. In the small scale venue with a couple of very folky/singer songwriter acts Sands was a good fit and added entertainment and kept us engaged.

Next Shelby Earl took the stage with Anna-Lisa Notter. Shelby sings leads and pays guitar and Anna-Lisa sings backup, sometimes a separate line or repeat but more often a harmony with Shelby's voice.

"Everyone Belongs to Someone" is one of my favorites, Shelby's and Anna-Lisa's voices play off of each other wonderfully, giving the titular vocal an aching quality - you know it's a lament well before it circles to the ultimate "who belongs to me?" This is one of my favorite songs, it's beautiful in the intimate stripped down version at the abbey and it's beautiful in the full band version at the Sunset. Shelby is the master of the slower tempos, her songs build over the longer slower measures to a powerful impact. They resonate and you still hear and feel them long after the show is over.

Shelby played some new stuff & "James" was great, a complex love song with another one of those classic heartbreaking Shelby Earl endings. Her voice was excellent all night, and when she and Anna-Lisa hit some of the sadder intervals it just does something to your heart and soul. The best songs leaves me somewhat breathless because I forget to breath while they hit the peaks and valleys of emotion. We're right next to the stage on one side and the audience is very quiet and attentive, focused on the performance. Sea of Glass is another great song. I keep thinking that - Swift Arrows is an another great song. The mics and amplification and speakers are all working perfectly well and the abbey is a fairly small short space (more wide than deep) so it doesn't need all that much amplification or volume. The full version of Burn the Boats (not yet released) is another great song. Shelby's acoustic guitar and the vocals and Anna-Lisa came through very clean and clear in the mix. Shelby's songs are heartrending and moving and her performance is beautiful both technically and lyrically. She has still more songs she's working on and the taste we got made us hungry for more. She's managed to get good coverage more than once from NPR., her songs and albums are awesome and her performances are great. Keep an eye out for her shows, they're always worth seeing and she may not be playing small venues for too long.

Next we got a passionate reading from Jon Sands, dedicated to his older brother that Jon wrote for his brother's wedding. It was a good romantic reading and prepped us nicely for Tom Brosseau.

Brosseau has a wonderful voice, a tenor that was very nuanced in the clean sound of the abbey. He can sound old and weary when he wants, young and energetic too. Mostly he just sounds very wise. That voice is gorgeous and the patter was interesting, including a bit of a road story.
After a few songs Brosseau announced a sepecial guest - Mark Pickerel. Mark's a local celebrity from Ellensburg who played in Screaming Trees 3 decades ago (my how time flies) and is a fixture on the local scene, frequently playing as Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands and occasionally - like now - solo with a guitar. He basically pwned Brosseau and Earl in 2 sentences with one of the most efficient bits of patter I've ever heard, then kicked into an inspired "I Study Horses" that Mark says Brosseau had requested. Inspired choice, it's a great song and showcases Pickerel's baritone voice. I didn't get video, but KEXP has a nice full band version I'll embed.
Tasty, brilliant performance of a powerful song that worked extremely well done solo with acoustic guitar.

Finally Brosseau came back on and finished his set with beautiful songs and a voice that you can't help falling in love with. Since I didn't record anything I'll embed this KEXP video of Brosseau. After a couple songs for an encore the show ended with the crowd sharing a glow and huge smiles. The performers hung around to sell & sign merch so we got to hang & visit and enjoy the afterglow together for a while longer. Pretty amazing talent and a moving show, Wednesday ended up going extremely well, even better than I expected. Mark Pickerel as a guest star is going to enhance any show, and the quality of the performers, performances, and venue sound were nothing short of amazing.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

EMP Sound Off! Round 3

The first two Sound Off! shows were epic, featuring great music and great showmanship and an embarrassment of riches. Laser Fox came out ahead in round 1 and Thee Samedi took round 2. Now for round 3!

I ended up volunteering to help the Vera Project load in at the Triple Door for the gala in the afternoon, then running out and picking up Greg and heading back downtown to see the show. We parked in my office's underground secured lot and walked over to the EMP and headed up the SF stairs to the venue. Coming off the stairs we stopped by the Vera table and said hello. I didn't end up tabling for the Vera Project so I didn't get a seat between acts after all. Dang.

First up was Calico the Band who drove 10 hours from Boise to play for us and brought plenty of supporters.

The instruments were acoustic, upright bass and acoustic guitars and fiddles and banjos and mandolins. At least I think they used a mandolin, they switched around freely. They also had a drum set that was played standing up on occasion and another drum up front. They had a more percussion driven approach than I'd anticipated and got the audience cranked up quickly. The energy level was high and the band was very good, with a rich sound and good vocals and a presentation that just pulled you right in to the stomping beats and fun music. The lady on the keyboards was the "front-woman" handling the majority of the vocals and her charisma put them over. They put in a solid set that warmed up the crowd and had us dancing and yelling, but they had the difficult challenge of winning from the opening slot. The next band had a better chance simply because Calico the Band warmed up the audience. Unfortunate, but somebody had to go first.

Next up was K Sneak. I saw her at a Knowmads show a few years back, if I remember correctly. Oh yeah, I remember, the Japan benefit show in 2011 when she was in 9th grade. She's grown and matured and had a good time working the crowd and rapping, good to see her getting some love and attention and rewards for sticking to it and working at it. A hip hop act with a prerecorded track or sequence has a challenge keeping the EMP crowd engaged; bands like Tommy Cassidy add a full band to the rapping so the sequencing is minimal and the performance has more going on. K Sneak was fearless and carried her set and filled the stage like she'd been doing it for years (at least 3 so far!).

Good flow and an assortment of fast and interesting rhythms along with some nice cover choices got the crowd into it and enjoying it. Two good sets with 2 more bands to go.

Next up was Fauna Shade. My friend Eduard Contreras plays drums in the band and I enjoy their sound, which Troy Nelson described as "reverb drenched" or something like that - and he wasn't wrong.

I enjoy their sound and already have a couple of favorite songs that I enjoy hearing live, so they had me and a corner of the crowd by the stage dancing away and having a sweaty good time. The crowd intensity definitely spiked up with the distorted loud guitar driven sound and the bass lines occasionally replaced by psychedelic sounding string scrapes with Eduardo pounding away keeping time and tempo. Greg (the photographer) mentioned that he was particularly impressed by Eduardo's drumming, and he doesn't give out all that many compliments. Great sound, great rhythm, tight band in a fun groove. Without a pure lead vocalist the guitarist vocalist was somewhat rooted to the vocal mic which made it harder to put on a show while also playing and singing, so the music got much of the focus.

Fauna Shade finished off a great set and our corner of the crowd wiped the sweat off of our brows and re-hydrated aggressively. Things were looking good for Fauna Shade, I was leaning towards them as the best act of the night but it was tough, all the acts were good.

Then Otieno Terry came out. He opened with an a cappella vocal that showcased his beautiful rich voice and got the front row and the center of the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.

Then the band came out and finished the takeover, and we went on an awesome musical journey. Soul music and thumb popping bass lines, crooned sections with rich backing parts and the occasional doo-wop overtones and brilliant piano work all just served to amplify the charisma and effect of Otieno's performance.

The band was dressed in nice suits with dark slacks and grey sport jackets and ties and looked sharp, and also a bit like a throwback to the rat pack days. The backing vocalist in particular was talented and a great addition to the sound and attitude of the band, and his whistling was phenomenal.

Yet even that and consistently hot musicianship didn't come close to overshadowing Otieno, who gave each of his band mates a chance to shine - then emphatically took back the spot light to bring the show home. Intense soulful lyrics and a joyful performance made sure that the musical journey took us exactly where we all wanted to be even if we hadn't known it. This was one of those commanding performances that sucked us in and took us along with Otieno through the emotional wringer that he sang so powerfully to us about. The final number got the crowd screaming and moving and roaring, and once again the night ended with a band strutting off the stage on top of the world, conquerors of several hundred adoring sweating fans, and the inevitable confirmation of the judges that Otieno Terry was going to the finals was almost anti-climatic. They were eff-ing off the charts in a style I haven't seen anybody do, much less do well, in ages, and the judging has been pretty good (if maybe a little biased towards the later acts, just like the crowds). Fauna Shade got the wild card slot, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed until Sunday afternoon.

Update: Fauna Shade did indeed get into the finals as the wild card band. Hot damn! Now we get to see Laser Fox, Thee Samedi, Otieno Terry and Fauna Shade at next weeks EMP Sound Off! finals. This is going to be a great show, and I have no idea who's going to win. They're all talented and amazingly fun so the audience is going to have a great time no matter what!

My Blogging Style

For my New Years Resolution in 2011 I decided to record and photograph and blog about every show I went to that year. It was fun and interesting and thrilling and hard work. I blogged just over 100 times that year and saw more than 380 acts.

Committing to recording and blogging every show made things a bit of a production, almost a job. This inevitably diminished my enthusiasm to go out and listen to music somewhat since I had to have enough energy to also record it and take pictures and blog about it immediately before I forget the details. The rate decreased until I finally threw in the towel and started going to shows as a fan again last year. No requirement to blog or record anything. 2013 was my most media free Bumbershoot in a while.

My blogging ran out of gas and I posted my last blog in August 2013 for Mudhoney's free Mural Amphitheater show.
If you're paying attention you'll notice the Mudhoney video is from Bumbershoot rather than the Mural show.
I continued to go to an occasional show though not too often. As the New Year rolled around I decided to get tickets to the EMP Sound Off! shows. I got my friend Charles Oppelt to go with me and he took some wonderful pictures and the show was fun and energetic and I decided to blog about it. The next week was arguably even better so I blogged about that too. I enjoyed blogging again after the layoff, and I got a pretty large amount of traffic for some reason. I even got linked by the Seattle Weekly, a first for me! It was due to Charles' awesome photo of Noah Fowler really, but I was happy to get the traffic.

Speaking of traffic, my EMP Sound Off! blogs got more traffic faster than any of my blogs ever did before which was gratifying on some level. Don't get me wrong, I'm only talking about hundreds of views so it's not going to make me wealthy - heck, it's not going to make me any money at all, it's just a hobby. I do get some ego inflation out of viewers and it encourages me and predisposes to blog more.

My live show blogs are all pretty similar and largely follow the sequence of acts in the show and comment on each, always saying something positive.

At the end of the year I did some retrospectives and Best-of-2011 lists. I enjoyed doing those both for the fun memories and the ease of using already recorded, processed and uploaded videos.

I've been playing with the idea of blogging about who I thought the next breakthrough Pacific Northwest act would be, so I went ahead and finished writing it and tossed in videos I've recorded live for many of the bands I single out, which was fun: the videos are already recorded and wrangled up to YouTube properly so again it's quick and easy, no cameras to operate.

I'm playing with the occasional "non-(show w/bands in order narrative)" post like this one. Not that I have that much to say at the moment, but I want to try playing around with saying things in different ways.

Who's Next?

One of my favorite sports is rooting for local bands and artists to have their careers take off and get huge. Heart, Sir Mixalot, The Presidents of the USA, Nirvana, Pearl Jam & Alice in Chains all made it.

I got a thrill out of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis blowing up, as if I had something to do with it beyond clapping and screaming at the top of my lungs at their shows a couple times. Pretty similar to the feeling I get when the Seahawks do well.

So who locally looks like they're ready to blow up? Perhaps the question is who sounds like they're ready to blow up? We have an awesome regional music scene in the NW, so which bands/artists are sufficiently talented, hardworking, and lucky enough to break out from regional success to national?

Are we going to see another hip hop act explode, like Kung Fu Grip or Don't Talk to the Cops? Has Thee Satisfaction already blown up? If not, they’ve got to be close!

Maybe a singer/songwriter? named Shelby Earl's prior album the "#1 Outstanding 2011 Album You Might Have Missed," and her new one is better. I suspect she’s already– as ZZ Top Said – nationwide.Damien Jurado produced Shelby Earl's latest, and he blew me away with Marqopa and has been getting some love and attention for his latest album too. Will he finally get some recognition proportional to his talent?

Many other bands have knocked me out at live shows, maybe it’s one of these next: Deep Sea Diver? Sera Cahoone? Lonely Forest? Star Anna? TacocaT? Crimson Wave was fun and the video had crabs and octopuses. Wait, Brandi Carlile – with that voice and talent, she ought to have a strong national following, I suppose she’s already nationwide? Bret Amaker and the Rodeo? Fly Moon Royalty is doing a West coast tour, it wouldn't take much for them to break nationally too.

You can probably tell I don’t have that great a handle on who is or isn't already past the regional stage. That doesn't bother me much, I’ll just keep rooting for all of them and see them live every chance I get.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Presidents of the USA acoustic set at the Triple Door

The Presidents of the USA are one of my favorite live bands. Fast guitar oriented rock and roll with silly songs that work on multiple levels (OK, sometimes they're just silly too), their music was a big part of the soundtrack of my life as Dana and I started our family. My kids grew up on Little Dune Buggy and Kitten and Lump. We didn't go to live shows for a pretty long time while raising children, so at the time my relationship with music was based on listening to the crappy radio in my car when I was going somewhere. Marco Collins introduced me to Lump and it made me smile and I felt better, happy and bouncy. I went out and bought the CD and I loved the whole thing. The CD became one of 3 that I'd replace when the kids ruined it, along with Alice in Chain's Dirt and Pearl Jam's Ten. I had to buy more copies of it due to simple wear, not so much child entropy. We simply listened to that first Presidents of the USA CD until it was ruined, then bought another, and repeated a few times as needed over the years.

Once the girls got old enough to go to shows I started taking them to some live shows - for the kids, you know. We caught PUSA at Bumbershoot back in the Memorial Stadium days, so we saw them with 18K or more others, and when Kitty started the crowd NAILED the "Meow.......Meow" and made me laugh out loud. When the cool fast bits like the break in Little Dune Buggy would hit the whole floor of the stadium would erupt in a frenzied in-place-pogo right on the beat and we all bounced and glowed with sweat and smiles and joy, even from the far side of the sound station (pretty far back). That was one of the cooler scenes I've seen, 5 or 6 thousand people in front of me and we're all bouncing up and down - the last few "Little Blue Dune Buggy" lines with that cool drum bit Finn pulls off, then the final drawn out "Littttlllllle Blllluuuuuuueeeeeee Dune Buggy" and the song ends perfectly and the audience starts screaming at the top of its 10 or 20 thousands lungs and I smiled at my kids and their friends as we all panted and caught our breath and kept screaming and bellowing and clapping. Peak experience for sure!

A few years later a buddy who was contracting for Microsoft in Redmond called and said "Microsoft has some bands playing outdoors on the campus on Friday, interested in coming?" I asked him who it was and he replied with "The Presidents of the USA" and a couple other bands. He had know idea who PUSA was; luckily he knew I liked live music so I got the tip & made plans.
On Friday I grabbed my 3 kids - Ben was finally old enough to go to shows too - and drove down and parked in a Microsoft parking lot and walked over to meet Jay in the grassy area between the buildings, nabbed a few free Microsoft microbrews (that sounds like a song title) and rocked out to the Presidents in front of tiny crowd. Chris was in rare form, riffing about wealth and a paperclip, and they did Lump in an odd half time pace, before then going back and doing it normally (which is pretty fast). They also got "last song" way too early, which was too bad and made me wish they hadn't done 2 versions of Lump. Still it was an awesome intimate show that rocked out.

I managed to catch PUSA a few more times, once at Showbox at the Market for a Presidents Day Weekend show and once at Bumbershoot in the Key and they never failed to put on a fast electric show. One of my favorites, they consistently rock your asses (they even say so in Kick Out the Jams, so it must be true) and Chris gets going on some of the most bizarre tangents and they spin up bits about froggy and hell and drug abuse that are indescribable, you simply had to be there. I also enjoy the last song intro, where they start playing and wander through 2 or 4 other songs for just a bit, then without missing a beat launch into Video Killed the Radio Star - they do that one very well.

I was happy to see the Presidents were doing Presidents Day weekend shows this year - Friday in Portland, Saturday at the Showbox and Sunday at the Triple Door for a couple of acoustic shows - their first ever acoustic shows. Well! I'd have gone to the Showbox if I could, but I'd already committed to going to the EMP Sound Off! that day. Time to go see the Presidents acoustic show!

We got some friends and booked the last table for the late show and shared a table with Mike & Nancy & Dawn. I enjoyed getting to eat and drink while watching the show, the Triple Door is a great venue.

I didn't take any photos or videos, so this is an unusual blog for me. All text, nothing visual or sonic.
The Presidents were solid - they're great musicians, and playing with 4 and 6 string instruments (twice their normal setup & I'm not kidding) added some complexity and range to the guitar sound. McKeag used quite a few effects which allowed him to get the sustain and even a little feedback on his guitar, so some of the songs sounded just a bit electric, yet even the most "electric" sounds still had that clean acoustic guitar tone ringing through it.
They played sitting down and while Chris was in good form, this was there second show that night and he wasn't quite the his normal hyperkinetic self. I'm not sure if it was the 2nd show or playing sitting down, but he kept most of his activity to the patter for a good half of the show.
Chris and Andrew got up and played at the edge of the stage at one point, egging on the crowd and having a good time. They also did a couple of the synchronized moves walking across the stage and so forth which was all greeted enthusiastically by the crowd.
I hadn't planned on blogging about the show so I didn't take any recordings or photos, not even any notes. They led off with Kitty so we got to meow right away, although the lack of the electric bass line that normally plays there threw the crowds meows off a bit. PUSA played several obscurities, explaining which obscure release the song was on, but I failed to catch the details - sorry! They played 3 or 4 of the new ones and plenty of the old classics like Little Blue Dune Buggy, and they did Lump in an odd slow tempo again which reminded me of the Microsoft show and paper clips. They did Naked and Famous - 30 foot smurfs! and I really appreciate getting to hear Candy. They dropped We're Not Going to Make It and Video Killed the Radio star and finished up with Kick Out the Jams. We done kicked them out!

The beats and transitions in Naked and Famous - "those lucky bastards..." were wonderful and had me singing along and bouncing in my seat. Candy is one of my favorites and they nailed it.

Fun set, the band was tight, creative and technically very good, putting on a great show as always. We all had a good time, and the food and drinks were excellent. The Triple Door is a great venue, if you're considering seeing a band you like there do it, do it right and do it early. Get one of the tables that's close by signing up for 5 tickets and the table immediately, you can take your time finding 4 friends to take but don't wait to select a table or you'll be further back.

Of course you should always see the Presidents of the USA every chance you get. They're a great Seattle band that puts on fun and funny shows that are quirky and exciting and so totally worth seeing each and every time. Highly recommended across the board!

I've seen Caspar Babypants a few times, so about the only near PUSA experience I missed is Subset, a Seattle super group with Sir Mixalot and the Presidents that managed to come and go before I got enough of my bleep together to go see them.
So here's to a Subset reunion show when the PUSA get done touring behind the new album.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

EMP Sound Off! Round 2

After an epic week 1 of the EMP Sound Off! battle of the bands I was wondering if week two could possibly top it. Unlike week one, when all the bands were new to me, I'd seen Thee Samedi before so I had a suspicion that just maybe week 1 could be topped, but it was going to take some pretty dang good bands having very "on" nights to do it.

The luck of the draw really figures into Sound Off! placing: it's very tough to win from the first slot. The crowd is cold, and by the end of the show the judges and audience will remember the last acts best.

Still, somebody has to go on first and for round 2 it was Manatee Commune. Troy Nelson introduced him and Manatee Commune took the stage with his guitar. He started with electronic and synthesized or sequenced music, rapidly changing settings and interacting with a touch interface app on his tablet.
The music was spacey and electronic, with fairly dense layers of sequenced and pre-recorded material whirling around. After a few songs he played guitar on top of the atmospheric synthesized music and got some more intensity into the performance. He also switched over to a violin which had a nice interaction with his loops and sequences.
Manatee Communion warmed the crowd up and played interesting music, but his focus down onto the devices and button pushing and knob twiddling gave the set a more remote atmospheric vibe. Coming from the lead off slot, Manatee Commune was going to have a hard time winning.

After rocking out at round 1 of Sound Off! the prior week and then aching pretty badly afterwards I was wishing there was somewhere to sit down between acts. I got lucky - I volunteer at the Vera Project, and they are tabling at the Sound Off! and sent out an email asking for assistance with tabling. Which involves sitting behind a table. Sitting. I responded quickly: "I'm already going, I can table before and between bands!" and the volunteer coordinator was happy to have the slot filled. Score! All I have to do is talk about one of my favorite volunteer run non-profits to anybody who's cool enough to come to the Sound Off! and hasn't heard about it yet, or has heard a little and wants to hear more. Well! If you know me, you know I kinda like the sound of my own voice. This show went much better for me as I was able to sit down and rest my feet and legs between acts and let my vocal chords do the work.
We're tabling through round 3 and the finals too, so I'm relieved. Man, I have got to get into better shape before Bumbershoot arrives, I can only make it through 4 acts in an evening and then I need a day to recover. That's not going to cut it for a 3 day festivel with 11 hours worth of bands and a pile of walking needed to see as much of them as possible.

Sorry, I digress. Back to the second act at Sound Off! round 2: the Onlies.
The Onlies are three high school students who've known each other since grade school with a classic blue grass instrument lineup: guitar, mandolin, and fiddle.
They proceeded to put on an awesome old school bluegrass show. I grew up on this stuff, often listening with my dad to the live KRAB bluegrass show on every Saturday night back in the seventies. The Onlies played their instruments well, and when they launched into beautiful three part harmonies on top of it I was into it and so was everybody else in the audience. From fast and flashy leads and party songs to romantic laments they nailed it. They passed leads back and forth and switched up the instruments some, swapping the mandolin for a second guitar and then a banjo - the most dangerous instrument in the world. Their between songs patter was good too.
They were cute as heck which is a horribly patronizing thing for me to say I suppose, but they enjoyed the music and the audience and each other and made me happy just by being so upbeat and amusing as performers. When you add in all the technical chops and harmonies where they get that beautiful blend going, I was beyond happy. The audience responded and was loud, and the music got me moving some and sweating - and sadly enough, my sweat is a rough figure of merit for shows. The more I enjoy the show, the more I move. The more I move, the more I sweat. Hence the more I sweat, the better the show. This was a hot and bothered show, but they weren't on long enough to get me to the sweating through my clothes state.

Another great band with another completely different approach, and another great set. They had the bluegrass showmanship down: their hands were always occupied making music, yet they moved their instruments and moved in relation to each other and kept things lively and physically dynamic while always staying within 2 or maybe 3 feet of the centrally placed microphones so that the instruments and voices came through the PA clearly. The crowd ate it up.

Next up in the penultimate slot was Nabii Ko$mo, a hip hop duo with a live drummer.

The dude on the left handled most of the leads with the duo jumping on words and phrases to add some punch. The live drummer was a definite plus, giving the show a dynamic feel as the hard cadences of the raps lined up with the rhythms from the drums, increasing the rhythmic power of the performance. Hip hop music with rap leads uses rhythm, word play and rhyme without much melody to get it's message across, so the organic feel of the live, on the fly rhythm and the interplay between the drummer and the vocals stands out for me. Nabii Ko$mo put on a hot set and got the audience going, working us hard with arm raises and waves, call-outs and responses, engaging us more fully in the show. Another sweaty set that basically made you move, totally the sort of experience I get off on. Thank goodness we got to sit down and table for the Vera Project to recover, the bands were just too good and my feet and legs were paying the price from all the dancing.

The final act was Thee Samedi, the first band I've ever seen at Sound Off! that I'd already seen. They were nice enough to come in and play for free at a Veracity show show for us. And I DO mean put on a show. Their lead vocalist Noah Fowler is a committed performer who put an amazing amount of energy into the show and the band plays hard crunchy guitar oriented rock played loud - right up my alley.

As you can see here Noah had some sort of fuzzy shawl like wrap and something red spread across his chest - and the shawl is about to come off. The band smashed through their songs, playing loud and hard, with Noah wailing away and using the mic in unusual ways and the crowd just exploded. The security staff had to move to the edge of the mosh pit to try to keep things a little calmer, and pretty soon the foolish stage dives started - at least two times somebody leapt out and pretty much missed everyone, splatting to the floor. Good thing they were young resilient flexible kids, if I tried something like that I'd break things and end up in the hospital. The mosh pit was more than enough physical abuse for me!

The guitarist in particular had a great smile as he faced right into the writhing crowd and banged his way through the power chords that just got us all writhing even harder. Noah start writhing around on the ground and stuffing the mic into his mouth and screaming away, classic stuff.
I didn't quite see how Noah did it, but he managed to knock himself in the face a bit. As the blood trickled out of his nose onto his upper lip the audience just lost it's shit. Noah eventually noticed it when he got blood on his fingers and then he rubbed it all over his chest on top of the ketchup or whatever the heck it was that was already there. For some interesting effects he rubbed the mic back and forth across his chest until you couldn't tell if he had smeared the earlier red stuff or the blood, or maybe had just made the skin red from irritation.

We had ourselves one heck of a mosh pit. I ended up in bouncing from nearly up to the stage back to the line of security folk holding down one end of the mosh pit, fending off the flying maniacs, redirecting and catching the staggering kids to avoid falling and pileups, getting a hand or a hip on the frenzied sideways pogo fanatics before they managed to nail me or someone else with an elbow or a knee, taking the occasional elbow or knee anyway, riding the surges of frenzied kids back and forth and back and forth. We managed to only have 2 major pileup/tramples and no fights, so it was a good clean bruising mosh pit in the best Seattle tradition. Nobody was bleeding in the mosh pit, although at least one tee shirt got shredded. As far as I could tell, all the blood was on the stage.

As Thee Samedi wound down their set and left the stage with a triumphant strut I staggered back to the Vera table so I could sit down. They pegged the sweat measurement: all the way through my shirt over most of my chest and lower back. My feet and arms were sore too, so it felt good to relax and sit down. The judges weighed in with their decision and Thee Samedi came in first and is going to the finals.

As I recovered from the show physically I was still on an emotional high and I realized another one of those odd correlations I enjoy, this one's a painful correlation. It's not just sweat, pain is proportional to show intensity too. The awesome shows whip us into a frenzy that leaves me a bit beaten and bruised and sore.

I'm getting somewhat old for this, yet the pure intensity and transcendent joy in the collective experience makes it worth it every single time. I only hurt badly after a show if it was an awesome show, and I'll take that deal every time. I just need to remember to get a certain amount of time off of my feet to recover every so often, then it works well. Well enough anyway; I can't wait to go back next week for part 3 - Eduardo's band Fauna Shade is playing, and so is K Sneak, so next week I'll set a personal record and see 2 acts that I've seen before in a single preliminary EMP round, along the two bands that will be completely new to me. I'm also looking forward to getting to see the finals, the 2 bands in already put on a great show, and the wild cards are good as well. It's been a great Sound Off! already, and the shows are only half done. Lots of good music left!

BTW I want to thank Charles for the excellent photos from both rounds. You can click through to his flickr photos from the blog and check them out if you want.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

EMP Sound Off! Round 1

For no good reason I haven't made it to the EMP Sound Off! events in a few years. This year I got tickets and rounded up my friend Charles to take pictures, and I'm glad I did: the first night of the Sound Off! was impressive. Troy Nelson from Young Evils (he also has a Saturday DJ slot on KEXP) was our MC.

First up was Tommy Cassidy. Just like Charles the photographer, Cassidy is from the Tri-Cities and went to Hanford High School. That plays a part in his message and we'll get to that, but first some details about the man and the band. Cassidy raps in front of a live band with horns. The band is fun and loud and has a women with a strong voice singing leads, alternating with Cassidy's raps and occasionally backing and filling during them. This band cooks along, and when the horn section comes in for some backing it's cool. When they run through some leads on the trumpet it's even better, and they even had some cool old school muted trumpet stuff giving a completely different sound and feel to one number.
Cassidy varied his approach in different songs, using a slower back-off-the-beat approach which somehow gave almost a visual quality to his raps, and also using a rapid fire intricate aggressive intense flow in another number that was visceral and powerfully emotional. Cassidy's range and lyrics and patter connected with us - his comments about being from the nuclear Tri-Cities and feeling like a stranger in his hometown resonated with everybody who's been a teenager.
Cassidy drew the first slot which is pretty much impossible to win from. He took a cold audience and warmed it up, did great work and impressed us, but then 3 more acts got to go on and distract us from the first performance, and they got to start with a warmed up audience. Cassidy showed he's more than capable of opening a show and I expect him to move up the bill quickly if he can make it to Seattle very often.
Quite talented and tight, Cassidy and the band got the crowd warmed up and into it.

Next Sophia Duccini took the stage with a violinist/fiddler and a backing vocalist. Duccini plays guitar and piano and sings, and the group gets an interesting range of sweet to haunting sounds and songs out of the lineup. The vocals stand out, with Duccini's strong leads carrying a good portion of the songs and the gorgeous harmonies reinforcing and ornamenting the songs and emotions. Duccini and her band cover a range of styles from piano based pop in the older sense to guitar and fiddle instrumentation with a folky Americana feel. Interesting music, I tend to think of it as small scale and a little quiet but Duccini instead made it introspective and recursive and filled with a different meaning each time they hit a repetition. It engages you and pulls you in without having to pound on you, it's almost a more hypnotic approach in some cases and more conversational in others. Getting the audience to connect to the music and get enthusiastic without that bottom end - no bass & no drums - is challenging but Duccini pulls it off, her music drives when she wants it to and she easily carries the rhythm on the guitar and piano, switching back and forth between songs. Already I'm torn between the first 2 performances, both groups are ridiculously talented and skilled. At this point I'm thinking the decision is between these two acts.

Next Laser Fox takes the stage. I've got to admit, the name is brilliant. It works really well in a chant - wait, I think that's a spoiler. Laser Fox kicked it off with a singer, drummer and two dudes at keyboards, one using an analog (or emulated analog) setup, and one of the two (couldn't tell which) filling in the low end so you had a good base line. It might have been sequenced or prerecorded bass, it's difficult to tell.

The lineup varied a bit from song to song, here one of the keyboard players is playing the bass guitar and the vocalist has taken over at the keyboard. The singer is the focus in this band. On a few songs he played a hollow bodied electric guitar and sang.
Laser Fox looked good, sounded good, and they sounded like they felt good. The crowd started getting into it and dancing and moshing, and the vocalist started strutting around and gesturing as he sang. The dude had charisma to spare and was totally pulling it off with the mosh pit getting bigger and more intense and just eating it up: we loved him. Laser Fox knows how to put on a show, and the pacing and slot (good hot hip-hop to warm up, internal and relationship songs (some were both) to whet our appetite, now a big loud testosterone filled performance - in a nice NW way, we are after all a polite Scandinavian influenced culture topped things off nicely. We were already having fun and then that danceable electronic music hit and we started moving, and the vocalist was moving with us and dancing and dropping and totally thriving on the attention. They got that feedback loop going where the audience intensity feeds off of the band's performance and then the band feeds off of the increasing audience intensity. Hot stuff, we were bouncing around and sweating and moshing.

I was sweaty and sore, and normally I'd expect a let down after 3 acts this good. On the other hand, a buddy had spoken highly of Dames. Dames plays a largely guitar driven sound with keyboards and (judging by the Macs) either sequenced or recorded bits too.

Dames brought their audience with them and turned in a rocking set, keeping the energy level high and making us sweat and bounce even more. The guitarist lead vocalist was the focus through much of the show and his voice held the songs together and felt very personal, like he was talking to you and a few friends, not to a few hundred sweaty fans bouncing around in the mosh pit.

The mosh pit was bigger than ever and fun, filled with smiling people bouncing around and surging off of each other. All the thrashing fans in the mosh pit showed an innate politeness and niceness, and those are not terms I usually use to describe a mosh pit. Seriously, it was the nicest, sweetest mosh pit I've ever been in. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't lame or low intensity at all, it was full of people flying around and surging forward and to the sides and sweating and thrashing, your typical intense mosh pit. Nobody was in studs and leather, no really big dudes who like bruising people, and none of those boneheads who like to cover their faces with a bandanna then do spin moves with feet flying, putting everyone nearby at risk. I was happy not to run into any of that, it made being in the mosh pit after more than 5 decades on this Earth much more manageable.

Dames also had the most elaborate set - they put up a vinyl goose. OK, not terribly elaborate, but probably the best I've seen since The Lonely H did the light sabre duel in the way back in the 2004 Sound Off - they came in second. Not only did Dames bring the crowd, they were great to mosh with and their joy in the performance was infectious and the night ended up being a sweaty dance party on top of a rocking show - and that's one of my favorite things to experience.

I'm amazed at the level of talent on display at the first weekend of the Sound Off contest, every band was great and did something completely different and unique. Laser Fox ended up winning, and they arguably put on the best show. Dames was the runner up so they have a shot to make it as the wild card band and for once the judge's selections seem pretty solid. In the past the judges always seemed to reward the weakest bands, so this was refreshing. I shouldn't be surprised, the judges included Hollis and Marco Collins and I respect them both for their musical taste - Collins helped form or should I say update my taste a few decades back when he was a DJ on a local Seattle radio station and Hollis performs and contributes to some of my favorite musical stuff at a ridiculously high level - you can't nail that many things that well without having exquisite musical taste and judgement. Definite hat tip and high fives all around to the judges for representing and choosing awesome dynamic performers to advance.

I've discovered that the mosh pit is a time travel device. When I get into the mosh pit, my age decreases by a decade or more: I'm much younger and more energetic, and it's a fun and occasionally joyous experience. Then I get out of the mosh pit and go into the cold outside air, and the missing decade comes back from his smoke break, and he's got another couple decades of his buddies he invited over, and I feel SO OLD. I shuffle back to the car lifting my sore feet with my sore legs, sweat evaporating and cooling me off rapidly.
While the end of the evening is a little painful, there's a tautology here that guarantees that it's always worth it. I was sore because I had been dancing and moshing, and that's a spiritual experience to me. At the best shows the music takes you out of yourself and engages you in every way. You move and respond to the music physically, just as you react and respond to it emotionally. You're sharing this experience in a fellowship with the rest of the crowd. Good lyrics engage your intellect too, and emotionally charged writing often fires off associations and memories.

It's a wonderful and intense experience, and I'm always happy to be introduced to more bands that are figuring out how to engage and move a crowd, how to create and present their art and entertain and thrill us. Here's to four new to me bands that are all worth keeping an eye out for and going out of your way to see. All of these bands know what they are doing and I look forward to watching them progress, and yes to, some day saying "I knew them when..."