Saturday, March 1, 2014

2014 EMP Sound Off! Finals

After three great weeks of shows with Laser Fox winning week 1, Thee Samedi winning week 2 and Otieno Terry winning week 3. Fauna Shade took the wild card slot to round out our four final competitors.

Unlike the prior 3 shows, which were held on the 3rd floor, the finals were in the Sky Church and Chipotle was serving tasty tacos gratis. Chipotle is one of my favorite local businesses, they sponsor many great local music and arts related events like the EMP Sound Off! and they donate free food to the Vera project too, and they have good vegetarian and vegan options. Good restaurant with it's heart in the right place, I appreciated having good tacos at the show.

After some munching we moved into the Sky Church and Laser Fox opened up the Finals show and put on a solid set.
Opening is a tough slot - the crowd is cold, and even if you do get them warmed up some, when the last couple bands (3 & 4) play your performance won't be remembered as well. Laser Fox put on a good show and worked the crowd, getting some "Laser Fox" chants going. Nice way to open the show, but winning from this slot is tough.

Next up was Thee Samedi. The second slot is better than the first - Laser Fox warmed the crowd up, so Thee Samedi got to start from there and see if they could work them up any more - and they cranked up the crowd even further.
The music was thrashier than Laser Fox and the showmanship was more towards the transgressive and somewhat brutal end of the spectrum, which definitely got the crowd moshing and raising a ruckus. They were into it and appreciative. The showmanship is mostly from Noah, the front man who thrashes around, sometimes on the floor, and does odd things with a microphone. He's also prone to minor self flagellation too.

There was less blood than in the semifinals, but still more blood than anybody else in the venue. The band was a good solid loud power trio, cranking out thrashy fast hard tunes and having a good time pounding out the aggressive in your face music.

Definitely a hit with the crowd, we'd have to wait until the bands finished up before we'd find out what the judges thought.

Next up was Fauna Shade, a fun guitar oriented trio from Everett. The drummer Eduardo Contreras is a friend of mine from the Vera Project. We hung out there quite a bit at Veracity shows and member meetings and main stage shows over a few years. He's busier working in Everett and playing in a band so he doesn't get back to the Vera much recently & it's great to see his band doing well.

The follow-on effect gave Fauna Shade the opportunity to build on the energy from the earlier acts, and they took it. I was definitely rooting for Eduardo's band, not to take anything away from anybody else's bands, they're all awesome, I just know Eduardo well.

The band was tight and the reverb was cranked up - on the vocals more than anything. I enjoy the band's sound and already have several favorite songs - I managed to see them once in Everett, then of course in the Sound Off! semifinals, so I knew I liked the sound.

Fauna Shade rolls with the classic power trio with guitarist/vocalist lineup and the singer/guitarist is the face of the band, playing and singing and engaging the rapidly intensifying mosh pit in front of him.
The bassist is more introverted, focusing on his instrument and getting all kinds of odd scratches, shrieks and piercing sounds out of it then filling the bottom end as another shaggy reverb-drenched song kicks off and amps the crowd intensity up some more.

The band goes form spacey noise to tight intros into complex songs, clicking into and out of sections of song with well rehearsed tight transitions, making it all look easy and most of all fun. The guitarist was obviously enjoying himself and engaging with the audience with more energy than I noticed in the prior shows - he stepped up his game and really nailed my favorite songs, getting me and the crowd screaming and thrashing and sweating. Eduardo played a good tight set and the rhythm section was solid and so was the guitar. The best technical performance of the evening so far and while the showmanship wasn't in your face and aggressive - playing guitar and singing does pin you down to one spot much of the time - the music was so good and rollicking that the show kicked our asses anyway.

I love a good rock and roll show put on by a band that has decided on a good approach that is new yet feels classic and I enjoyed the heck out of Fauna Shades performance. In my mind they were the best so far, and had set the bar good and high for Otieno Terry. OT (as we chanted his name, oops maybe a spoiler) had put on an awesome show in the semifinals so we knew they were fully capable of nailing it and bringing the house down. Were they going to be that on tonight?

Otieno came out and kicked it off with a solo a cappela number, which is a ballsy move. With no musical accompaniment and no rhythm section we weren't moving much and there wasn't exactly a groove. Otieno basically had to nail everything, hit every note, get those phrases down and the intense emotions across with his voice and his stage presence and nothing else. He was more than up to it, and the crowd loved it. After the opening number the band came out and the rhythm section started thumping away at the low end, the pianist playing some jazz influenced chord progressions and an intricate lead figures here and there, and the dude on the end - who is pretty much my all time greatest side-man at this point - brought the cool factor up by an order of magnitude through his own stage presence.
I've never noticed someone so good at bringing his A game to a performance yet somehow never deflecting the spotlight from the lead (Otieno) - the perfect side man. I didn't catch his name, if anybody knows it add it to the comments.

I liked the way the backing band was in suits and ties and slacks, they even had nice dress shoes: they looked sharp.

The band was ridiculously talented - my favorite bassist of the night, dude was popping and thumping strings and having a great time driving the beat that you just couldn't resist down into your guts - that's where I always feel that punchy low bass that just makes you move. The crowd was intense and the set was great. The pianist was tasty, playing intricate passages and augmenting the sound, sometimes playing fairly minimally, other times holding up a chunk of the rhythm, very nice work that gave the band a different and better or perhaps cleaner sound than most of the live bands I see.

Otieno was on his game, taking us along through the emotional rigors of the stories his songs told - and boy can he communicate that emotion!

I also can't help circling back to the side man that I have a man crush on. The cool suit and the backing group made me think a little of the old rat pack; I grew up on Dean Martin's variety show with the singers in their sharp suits telling funny stories and alternating leads vs. side roles. OT's band's approach was that kind of an old school approach, although with more of a smaller set of more inspired musicians rather than the rat pack's larger bands where the inspiration was more in the arrangements. These guys would've fit right in with the rat pack.
When they got the 3 part vocals going it was pretty darn cool, these guys have an effortless style and the sound was great and very much their own. Fauna Shade set the bar high on musicianship and Otieno Terry pushed it a little higher while putting on a powerful show across the board. I was rooting for Fauna Shade but unfortunately OT was just off the scale. Well, unfortunately for Fauna Shade and it's winning ambitions; for the rest of us it was a musical blessing, music as a spiritual connection. By the end of the dancing and yelling and clapping and bouncing my feet hurt and I was sweaty and grinning - another great show, there's so much talent making music in Seattle it never stops amazing me.

With the performances finished we hit the usual post-show pause while the judges tally scores and the audience expressed its appreciation for the bands and the audience appreciation award went to Thee Samedi, a well earned award. Finally the judges results were announced and Otieno Terry won it, and deservedly so. Fauna Shade came in second which was great too.

Another great Sound Off! this year, filled with talented bands and great sets and memorable performances and the killer songs. Very well run, judging was spot on, all in all this was an awesome series of shows.

The best part is that now there are 12 more bands on my list of cool bands to keep an eye out for so I can see how they're doing and what they're up to. You can never have too many band crushes or too many opportunities to see great bands, so it's all good!

Kudos to the EMP and the Sound Board and all the volunteers who put this event on, and the Studios who sponsored the event like Fastback Studios, London Bridge Studios, Robert Lang studios, and the Snoqualmie Tribe and BNSF and Talking Rain. Thanks to all of you for helping put on a great Sound Off! this year, I enjoyed it immensely.


  1. Thanks, and congratulations on a wonderful performance too!