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.

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