Friday, December 23, 2011

Black Breath, Leatherhorn, Beattofuckingdeath – Shakedown – December 23rd, 2011

Black Breath, Leatherhorn, Beattofuckingdeath – Shakedown
December 23, 2011 - source

Black Breath, Leatherhorn, Beattofuckingdeath – Shakedown

December 23rd, 2011

Beattofuckingdeath. The Germanic Teutonic pulse thundering under Set H’s sticks. Jeff Debock dedicating songs to Jon Benet Ramsey, himself, berating the crowd to get fucking stupid, reeling into the crowd gathered around their set-up in front of the stage, moving from surreal banter to full throated scream. Short explosive pieces, not songs, more like deconstructions of silence, Zach’s guitar creating violent feedback laden odes to the joke of the world. Debock dressed in an outlandish Antarctic pimp suit careening around like a skeletal windmill covered with meat, a psychotic pinwheel spinning off sprays of blood/ rage filled vocals into the crowd, all seeming like they would like to take a step or two back. You wonder, maybe worry, that Debock is holding razors in his hand, ready to gut the first row because they aren't being "rowdy" enough.

The redemption of Leatherhorn. Hooded figures working obscurely on the stage drenched in blood red light, skull lamps glowing in either side. Like a chainsaw through sheet metal, Leatherhorn begins. Jeff’s vocals rise up operatic over the metal, moving through time changes, melodic warps and slides. Driven by Clapper’s relentless bass and Noah’s machine gun artillery drumming, they launch into “Meet the Beast.” This is war music. No quarter. Just beautiful slaughter. A musical analogy to the annihilation of the listener. Sean and Nathan’s guitars spit hot white arc light from the welded metal. Imagine all the lost souls in hell given one last chance to play their pain. Picture a horse ridden to death and then kicked to a bass beat like the thunder of the Gotterdammerung.

Lightning burning into the brain, frying out neurons. There is good metal and great metal. Then there is apocalyptic metal. Leatherhorn: cutting the head off of the pale horse, calling down the wrath of the gods, destroying mountains metal.

Black Breath wastes no time. Volcanic rumblings from Elijah’s bass and Jamie’s drums. The sound of flesh screaming across metal strings, pounding like the last heart beats of a dying world. Mark and Eric’s guitars wailing through arpeggios, the ghost of complex classical music buried under the rumbling of enormous machines, Segovia and Bach spinning in their graves until the earth catches fire.

Fresh off a European tour, Black Breath’s sound is tight and professional. Polished. Practiced. Cut down from the raw like a diamond. Neil launches into one song after another. No waiting for applause. A relentless onslaught of beautiful noise. They have a sound you want to call heavy, but it is heavier than that. A black hole of musical gravity. Dense compaction, music reduced down to a singularity. A still point of a burning universe.

Imagine a theater of anatomy constructed of sound, where a corpse/song is being dissected with sardonic enthusiasm. What is irrelevant is thrown splattering against the walls, what matters is held up like the still beating heart of a recently slaughtered animal. Primal music. Driving towards the necessity of sacrifice, of any sort of intense gesture, authentic act for the times. The music is out to crucify everyone here, nailing the flesh to the walls of the Shakedown. An aural assault, notes piercing through the skull to impale the brain on violent hooks, songs suspended over the crowd like the Cherokee sun dance practitioners, hanging in the dark shadows of the Shakedown, dripping blood, eyes rolled up in the skull, dreams of violent ecstasy. Sort of music Georges Bataille would play while desecrating corpses.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mo-Down at the Shakedown: The Gallus Brothers and Crow Quill Night Owl, Dirty Bird Cabaret, Owen & His Checkered Past, The Good Time Girls - December 3rd, 2011


Mo-Down at the Shakedown: The Gallus Brothers and Crow Quill Night Owl, Dirty Bird Cabaret, Owen & His Checkered Past, The Good Time Girls

December 3rd, 2011

So this is the event where men shavedown their faces at the beginning of the month, then grow out and groom their moustaches until the end of the month where the best moustaches are celebrated and awarded. Team MoLove promoted the event, along with the ebullient and pulchritudinous Good Time Girls, as a means of promoting awareness of prostate cancer and also to benefit Mount Baker Planned Parenthood.

The Shakedown has been transformed into a twisted Western saloon, with the Good Time Girls and the Dirty Bird Cabaret dressed in full-out 1890’s attire. Some genius welded together a beautiful mustache ride / see-saw (now above the bar at the Copper Hog) and several were taking “rides.” There was also a photobooth set up to one side to record the mustached moments.

Owen and His Checkered Past set the perfect musical tone with mandolin mountain blues. Owen up there with a suitcase kick drum strumming out a tight staccato rhythm singing in a clean backcountry front porch style reminiscent of Doc Watson or a long lost descendent of the Carter Family. The sound is excellent. Lyrics absolute 21st century. Name checking Derrida during the excellent song, “Upstanding Citizen Blues.” Later, Roger comes up with a banjo and closes out the set with people on their feet dancing like it was 1899.

The Good Time Girls then corralled all the mustached men onstage for a best mustache contest. About a dozen guys all with fine examples of facial hair do their best. But one guy towards the end, with a somewhat unimpressive ‘stache, unbuttons his shirt and then just the top part of his pants to reveal a perfectly shaved mustache in his pubic hair. Of course, there’s your winner.

The Gallus Brothers and Crow Quill Night Owl embody the spirit of a timeless American style music. You imagine a troupe of traveling musicians, well rehearsed, singing songs that are as comfortable and familiar as an old pair of boots. Working songs that walk into your brain like an old church hymn and then proceed to tell the entire congregation of mind the dirtiest joke they know. All with a disarming smile. Devin Champlin playing guitar with old time expertise and Lucas Hicks doing his usual magic with the spoons and other percussive items. Kit Stovepipe on guitar and Alex on banjo add depth and the mystery of sublime accompaniment.

The Dirty Bird Cabaret was also full swing, dancing on the bar, kicking up the bloomers, hanging from the rafters, gyrating on upturned glasses and being generally provocative and beautiful. Along with the Good Time Girls and the general assembly of everyone having a great time, the Shakedown Movember was a great event for good causes. Here’s to more events the celebrate facial hair.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A History of God's Bones: Scot Casey, Robert Lashley, Jess Manley – Honey Moon - November 10, 2011

A History of God's Bones: Scot Casey, Robert Lashley, Jess Manley – Honey Moon

November 10, 2011

Full house at the Honey Moon. There seems to be a fair amount of anticipation for this show. The possibility of something new, different, a bit more confrontational than the usual entertainment. Personally, I am somewhat skeptical. The ponderous title of the show, A History of God’s Bones, is not promising. Visions of street-corner preachers haranguing the masses, of god-intoxicated monks wandering lost in the desert, rantings of insane mystics echoing down the asylum halls. I figure to make it through the first set then cut out.

Opening is Lance Jordan. You have most likely seen Lance wailing Rusty Cage in front of the Shoe late at night. He comes out of the gate roaring, singing loud and working up a raw scream. Soundgarden and Alice in Chains get their due. His sound is much tighter than the last time I saw him.

Scot Casey, who is responsible for the evening then comes up and welcomes everyone, introduces the poet, Robert Lashley, who is set to read a few poems before and after each set. Lashley is well known around town and the state as an outstanding poet and performer of the Word. He does not disappoint. His first poem, “Burying brother sisters bones in the church lawn,” converts any unbelievers in the crowd. You can sense that he almost wants to sing his language as he speaks, something of the Rhapsode here, beautiful and strange. His third poem, "To the gang member who made me give him head in the Al Davies parking lot" brought on the shivering awareness of something genius.

Casey then turns on a film, which plays through the entire performance. It is called “Begotten.” Directed by E. Elias Merhige. It is a stark black and white film, almost abstract in its imagery. The first scene graphically shows a hooded god disemboweling himself with a straight razor. Over this Casey is playing a minor key instrumental piece. To the side is Jess Manley, who is creating sublimely beautiful ambient soundscapes as he sits at a table full of multi-effects processors, black boxes and a variety of pedals and mini-cassette players. As the film and music increase in intensity, a woman in the crowd shouts out that the film is disturbing her and demands that it be turned off. Casey replies that he cannot do that and keeps playing with a sort of demented and uncaring smile. Meanwhile, the manager of the Honey Moon informs the woman that this is a venue for artistic freedom and that the woman is free to leave anytime. The woman and her table depart. A song later, another table departs. I decide to stay until the end.

Casey’s songs, mostly roughly hewn blues based creatures punctuated with a strange slap technique, are difficult and odd. I keep wanting to enjoy them and then he throws in a line about how he wants to “step out of his skin and dance on top of his grave” or “sing with the devil to the song to god’s pain” and he loses me. With each new song my sense of frustration with him grows. Is it too much to ask for a simple and beautiful song? He is clearly capable. Instead, we are assaulted by increasingly bizarre and violent imagery: more bones, more skulls, the death of god, desert roads and honey caves, nails driven through hands, shotguns in mouths ( “blood on the tiles and some toothless smiles”). All of this with an extremely confrontational film behind him. Jesus! Is it too much to ask for a simple evening of entertainment anymore? Have we reached the point in the culture where all of the horror and terror of the “death of god” has to be violently pounded into our brains through, of all things, a poorly played acoustic guitar, a broken voiced singer and a violent theological film? I don’t know the answer. And I am not sure that Casey does either. Towards the end, he played a song with the sound of a troubled woman crying and screaming that she had lost her mind, over and over. Casey sang along with her and adding, “God won’t leave me alone.” Clearly. The problem here is to whether or not we need to be witness to this. A better artist would have found a way to create something of beauty and grace. Instead, what we have to endure are the god haunted rantings of an unhinged (arguably insane) mind put to raw and rough music that is best left for the darker corners of the Appalachian hill country. Perhaps all those who left were right. Maybe we all should have left with them.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cory Weeds / Mike LeDonne Quartet - Blue Horse Gallery - Monday, October 24, 2011

Cory Weeds & Mike LeDonne Quartet - Blue Horse Gallery

Cory Weeds / Mike LeDonne Quartet – Blue Horse Gallery

Monday, October 24, 2011

Perfectly Hank: The Music of Hank Mobley – Cory Weeds, saxophone. Mike LeDonne, Hammond B3. Oliver Gannon, Guitar. Jesse Cahill, Drums.

The tour is a celebration, an encomium, of the music of Hank Mobley. Mobley (1930 – 1986) was a hard-bop tenor saxophonist and composer who has been called "one of the more underrated musicians of the bop era." Mobley was known for his controlled and even “round” sound that emphasized cool subtlety over hot intensity.

I was here at the strong recommendation of Julian MacDonough, who said this was a show “not to be missed.” Julian was responsible, in part, in getting this tour to make a stop at The Blue Horse Gallery. I arrived early and was able to get close to the stage to take a look at the beautiful worn and sweetly fragrant Hammond B3 and the Leslie Speaker, with its signature Doppler effect. They both brought to mind precious objects from a bygone age, automaton music boxes, cabinets of curiosity, and German Wunderkammer. The Hammond was covered with autographs, giving it an extra layer of authenticity.

I found a seat in the substantially crowded room, which is fairly charged up with anticipation for a great night of Jazz. Mike LeDonne is known as a virtuoso on the Hammond B3, having played for years in New York with Milt Jackson’s Quartet. Cory Weeds is a jazz impresario who runs the renowned Cellar Jazz club in Vancouver. After a brief technical delay, the night started off with the song “Perfectly Hank” by Mike. The Hammond came on beautifully, seeming to hover around the backbeat with a lazy perfection. That sound with the Leslie, there is no denying, is just the essence of cool. Immediate associations with “Whiter Shade of Pale” to Booker T’s “Green Onions” and Tom Waits’ Heartattack and Vine. And, of course, jazz organists Jimmy Smith, Sonny Philips and Freddy Roach. LeDonne is just stunning, hands rifling over the keys of the Hammond like the gears of a carousel calliope, weaving in and out of the melody into surreal combinations of notes: giraffes emerging out of the surf on bloody half-shells, then back into the groove, surreal associations at the core of jazz, the eternal return to the melody and then the burst of self-assertion like a new star in the sky. Cory Weeds picks right from where LeDonne leaves off, echoing, amplifying and subtly commenting on LeDonne, branching off like a fractal, returning to the center. Oliver Gannon accents it all with elegance and Jesse Cahill is rock solid. There is a presence, and awareness, in the room of music being played with exceptional grace and skill.

The next piece starts off like freight train chugging rhythm, sax climbing up melodic scales, then the round modulated tones of the lead guitar, everything laying down the blanket rug for the organ, those undersea tones. LeDonne hitting the keys with a delicate, almost anticipatory phrasing reminiscent of Oscar Peterson. I half expect to hear the distinctive Peterson vocal grunts at the ends of the runs. Next piece is slowed down, brushes on the skins, breathy breaks, a sublime smoky sax solo by Weeds. This is the moment where the band really shines together, polished sound, easing the mind on the major notes that just tumble out of the stage like cows over the moon, fish over a waterfall, life becomes a surreal musical, everything with big eyes and smiles, archetypes of the American dream, hearkening back to the romance of some never was ever there time between 1939 and 1941. Hank Mobley's “A Dab of This and That” is a stand-out of the first set. Sharp organ rhythms that evoke the funk of Lee Morgan’s  Cornbread. Completely cornbread, blue light cooled down jazz funk with the Hammond organ cries and screams over the fat guitar riffs.

The second set comes on fresh with more intensity, fire bursting out of the kindling, red hot, fast, white heat, solo breaks sparkling and loose. Cory Weeds breathes out the very soul of the sound on the sax, notes trembling under controlled pressure. And then there is a Mike LeDonne solo breaking off into soft ivory notes that morphs into digital fragments that roll against each other inside the Leslie like debris from a beautiful wreck of music, the abandonment of structure that marks out the territory of jazz in the 20th century. This is followed by a beautiful ballad-type piece. Organ pumping. The slow undersea pumps and breaths of the Hammond before it kicks into the groove, Cahill lays perfect brushes on the snare, subtle guitar-work by Gannon, long sustained chords of the guitar bleeding into killer organ riffs, monumental heavy sounds like a cathedral springing up in your brain. Solid block beauty. Cory steps out while Mike LeDonne works on some kind of perfection.
The Blue Horse is soaking in all of the beautiful strange sound, muted tones, rounded corners of the sound. Imagine a jazz club from the 50s that you always wanted to hang out in. And although it seems to be in the most unlikely of spaces, the Blue Horse is starting to resonate with the dark and difficult spirit of jazz. Whatever that is. But it is good.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

KMRE Benefit II: Sugar Sugar Sugar, Black Beast Revival, Sir Reginold Cosgrove and His Nighttime Singers - The American Museum of Radio and Electricity - Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Sugar Sugar Sugar - KMRE Benefit - source

KMRE Benefit II: Sugar Sugar Sugar, Black Beast Revival, Sir Reginold Cosgrove and His Nighttime Singers - The American Museum of Radio and Electricity

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Sir Reginold Cosgrove and His Nighttime Singers start things off. Ambient amp buzz frames the garage band rawness of the group. By the third song, “Itch,” they have got it all locked down. Jumpin G on lead vocals and guitars brings to mind John Doe around “Burning House of Love.” The Rookie nails down a flat 60s retro beat. The Shadow and Sweets anchor guitar and bass respectively while also trading off vocals. Halfway in and I am thinking of Sir Douglas Quintet and the 13th Floor Elevators. Jumpin G lets loose a few primal screams to a rockabilly backbeat, while the Shadow plays a searing lead guitar. And when Sweets sang a sass-filled song towards the end, I imagined that somewhere Wanda Jackson found herself smiling over the brief borrowing of her soul. By the end of their set, they were the embodiment of stripped down rock and roll: loud lightning burning on the stage.

Black Beast Revival start off tight as a noose around the neck, swinging the heavy sound out over the crowd. Snake-like smooth.  Bill Anker’s drumming resonating like tribal skins stretched over the apocalypse. Erin Anderson’s voice has a laid back cool that can suddenly erupt into a wail of fire. Brice Ervin on bass and Zack Van Houten on guitar setting up a driving beat for the open road, thundering bass and guitar leads that scream out of meth nightmares, like a string strung through the skull from ear to ear singing in the brain. Fragments of the Cult, Morphine, Jesus Lizard and Bauhaus splintering off the stage in  feedback drenched dreams of the end of things. Anker’s drumming is simply exceptional, the bones inside the music. This is highway music. Rumbling Harley motor bass. Van Houten’s screaming guitar amped up to high rpms. Anderson’s phrasing is superb: suddenly quiet like a serial killer right next to your ear, stranger on the road, next to you in the bus seat. Near the end of their set is a song with the skull banging rhythm, thundering bass, “Sympathy for the Devil” squeal of the lead guitar and Erin Anderson alternating between an incantatory tone and a tent preacher revival screams. This is religion. Get saved or burn at the hands of an angry god. It just got loud.

Last up is Sugar Sugar Sugar. Of course, it starts with thunder. First song, “Sweet On U.” Big J, Andru Creature and Lupe Flores setting up a James Bond Led Zeppelin fuzzed out bass groove on really good acid. Falsetto hiccup vocals. Lupe drumming with her entire being, inhabiting the drums. Andru there as the embodiment of a paradoxical cool heat, burning with the meaning of the music, the guitar a natural extension of his being. Big J backing it all up exponentially with the sound of fire. Clearly, a band that knows each other - a sound as tight as a diamond knot. Lupe drumming like a demon – imagine Kali with a garland necklace of bloody skulls, hair on fire pounding out the heartbeats of time. The audience gathered around the stage soaking up the spectacle, a sort of tribal ritual, shapes on the wall behind the Sugars like post-Hiroshima shadow dramas enacting something unsayable and strange. All in all, Sugar Sugar Sugar is just a great band burning bright with everything that a band should be: rock solid bottom line, hooks that hang in your brain, searing lead breaks and some sort of utter strangeness, an incomprehensible lyrical idiosyncrasy that makes you fall into the hot core of it all – with absolute surrender and joy. Arc light in the blue of dawn licking the pink centers of your brain. Cotton candy lit on fire and melting into your mouth. The last three songs had the crowd tranced out and blood simple, dancers just shivering on the floor and everyone’s skulls just nodding like dashboard Day of the Dead Calaveras. There is thunder on Bay Street. Yes, it got very loud.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

WWU Faculty Jazz Collective – The Blue Horse Gallery - Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

WWU Faculty Jazz Collective - source

WWU Faculty Jazz Collective – The Blue Horse Gallery

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

I walk in to the Blue Horse Gallery to the slow padded mallet rumble and rhythm of Julian MacDonough’s drums and an unfurling series of smoky notes from Mike Allens’ sax. Just like that, the world seems to become deeper and richer, filled with the sound of talented musicians working out subtle equations of melody. There is a good crowd here. Attentive. Focused. Listening. Water and wine drinkers. The Professors, as they are called, are relaxed and smiling onstage. The music is excellent.

Adam Thomas, playing the stand-up bass, eases into Ray Charles’ “Black Jack.” Echoes of the ironic phrasing of Mose Allison in his voice. ‘How unlucky can one man be?” I am immediately struck by the level of discipline, control, tightness. At first impression, there is a formality even in the looseness of the performance. But after some time, what is apparent is a simply a higher level of musicianship than is usually present here in town. The next song is by Miles Black, who switches with ease from guitar to the old upright piano behind him. The song kicks off with a beautiful percussive intro, stand-up bass rumbling, the tension building between the two, setting the stage for the piano to step in. By the time Mike Allen’s sax appears, like a snake in the water, your head is sunk into the very heart of jazz. It’s so subtle, like a Zen joke about enlightenment. Makes you want to laugh out loud.

They segue into the Juan Tizol / Duke Ellington standard “Caravan.” Julian knocks out sharp rhythms on the edge of the drums, the sound of stick upon stretched skin. The classic exotic melody seems to catch fire, acquire a life of its own. The musicians play beautifully off of each other. Mike Allen’s sax stretches and twists the melody through time. Miles’ piano remarks in sharp staccato counterpoint response. Julian now playing with his hands, ancient intimate rhythms, ticking punctuation for questions of being that only music can ask, that the performance of live jazz, here and now, seem to particularly ask.

The second set starts off with soft brushes on the drums. Miles Black playing a piano sweet melody - reminding me of the introspective aspects of Bill Evans “I Loves You Porgy.” Bass slow and perfect. Something about the rolling time of the brushes. The languid spaces between the phrases. Mike Allen’s sax stepping in almost with a sense of humor, layering his phrasing with laughter. (Why is it that only jazz musicians seems to have a sense of humor about melody?) They follow this with an original, “Give Me The Moon.’ Siren whine of cymbals fading into leisurely time signatures. Breathtaking sax. Husky whisky sodden notes emerging from the developing structure of the song. Then a sort the melodic clarity. The song settling into its meaning. A sense of a slightly broken promise. The performance goes on into the night, another set, more songs. But it was right there, where the melody unfolded into something unsayable, where you wanted to stop thinking about it all and just let it be.

It’s a dead and beaten horse to say that the experience of jazz is a living thing. But you can wear out the grooves of records (or burn through your sound card) and never match the living performance of jazz. It is what the medium is about. You could go so far as to say you don't know it until you experience it live. You become part of it. Next Wednesday, head down to the Blue Horse for some great jazz by the Professors.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

KMRE Benefit Show: Lonebird, It's Just Zach! (Zach Zinn) Lumpkins at the American Museum of Radio and Electricity – Thursday, September 29th

Lonebird - KMRE Benefit - source

KMRE Benefit Show: Lonebird, It's Just Zach! (Zach Zinn) Lumpkins at the American Museum of Radio and Electricity (aka SPARK: The Museum of Electrical Invention). 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

You walk into the performance space adjacent to the AMRE and are immediately struck by qualities of size and oddness. Tall brick walls extending up to two-story ceilings, hardwood floors, strange radio coil devices. Artifacts of the radio age. Tall Tesla Coil towers stacked behind the amps. Wood and glass cases filled with what seems to be fragments from the Bride of Frankenstein set. Sparse crowd milling around in the shadows. A hard light on the stage. 

Lumpkins - source

Lumpkins start the evening off with a twanging country bang. Echoes of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys in the big space. The brick wall seems to be permeated by the enticing fragrances of Bayou on Bay. Music with blackened fish, garlic, butter. Singing “Polyanne Goddamn”: a rousing old 97s style roustabout that gets many up on the floor to dance and shake to boards. The last of summer right outside the door. David Ney kicks into “Sliding Down the Staircase Until I Hit the Ground” which brings the Flying Burrito Brothers to mind. Feet are stomping the floor. After a few songs, the band tightens up, Ney’s voice dropping slightly down the register into a more somber country twang, Kevin Lee in sweet harmony, Tyler Clark’s guitar sounding almost slide steel. “Hello, Mr. Death” is particularly good, spaghetti western twang death country music. Olson and Harmonson lay down the bottom line like railroad tracks. The malleability of Ney’s voice is exceptional as he moves from Hank Willams wail to a Ricky Nelson phrasing on “Another Wasted Day. ” Very nice. 

Zach Zinn - KMRE Benefit

Next up is Zach Zinn in one of his many band iterations called, It's just Zach! (A tribute to Brent Cole, he says.). In the spirit of the benefit, Zinn talks about listening the KMRE outside the ‘Shoe late at night, the drunks and homeless singing along to the tunes, passed out and dreaming the old radio songs. He is alone onstage with a guitar and a series of  effects, kicks off his set with ambient loops, falling over the crowd like a warm blanket of sound. Melodic fragments thrown out like broken bones into a fire. Then, a sort of wrenching upon the music. Effect of tools working on the sound. Ratcheting motifs. Layered musical textures sliding across time like slow saws. Soundtrack to either an apocalyptic film or the unraveling of a brilliant mind. Songs end with Zach bending down to twist knobs and work effects like an ancient conductor fine-tuning a demonic train set. Music for life in slow motion. That and then thunderous up swells in volume, big waves of sound forming from the smallest stones. Tidal. Tsunami music. Falling into difficult silences. It is beautiful and strange. Music with a broken back, spine removed, twisted slow rhythms twisted again and broken down into miniature sonic storms, the butterfly singing inside the hurricane. Zach in the end bent over turning knobs like Blake's painting of Newton circumscribing the nature of oceans floor. 

Lonebird - KMRE Benefit

Lonebird (Andy Piper of Sugar, Sugar, Sugar) is up next. Tambourine on his head. Features lost in the shadows of a cap. Mumbling into the mic. Starting off with slack-string feedback. Reverberated notes stung out on a hard rhythm. Channeling Keith Richards through a feedback drenched soundscape. Playing an acoustic guitar like distant thunder. Earthquake downstrokes. Working towards a groove like a surgeon cutting down to find a bullet in the bone. Fragmentary songs, deliberately half constructed, offered up like fallen bird's nests refashioned into plaintive evocations of melody. Blues hollers, field music, cave music, melodies from the grave. Chordings that cut like knives in a black and white 50s exploitation film. Not songs as much as dada haiku. Surreal vocalizations from some lost genre of music, mix rockabilly, hiccup songstering, with juke joint foot stomping get up off your ass and move music. Feel the floorboards shaking ominously. Sound that seems bigger than a single player. Abrupt stops that upset cliched expectation of how it all should end. I keep thinking about the R. L.  Burnside work with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Distorted rhythms working the a sparse unintelligible singing that is more about what you think you hear than words actually said. The quick end always. An Elvis styled, “thank you” and then then a Stones-like intro into the next piece. Saying something about “a good time lady and a hard time girl.” Asked what that means, says, “Think about it.” Then a rough big sound, Charlie Feathers nightmare in falsetto, radio from an alternate earth, punching downstrokes with the piercing leads. Molten notes coming up from a volcano of amplified heat. Then, seemingly spun out of the shadows under the stage emerges a shape of soft white light, Lupe Flores perfoming a vintage style strip-tease feather dance. Dancing to the music with juke-joint shimmies and spins, feathers never revealing, covering her like fire. Picture those paintings of Aztec princesses on the edge of a volcano with a warrior playing a Sun God Calendar guitar. White fire feathers of the serpent Quetzalcoatl god. Primal beats pulsing out of the ocean, the mountains, the skies. A train made of bones rolling down the track. Lupe is laughing. Lonebird is singing. This is what music is all about. Words just die here. Rise up out of the fire. 

So good that the firing up of the Tesla Coils after was merely a shallow coda. 

I have no worries for the future of AMRE if they keep holding benefits with this caliber of music. 

Lumpkins - KMRE Benefit

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cherry Blossom Family Delivery at Cap Hansen's – Tuesday, September 27th

Cherry Blossom Family Delivery - Plan B Saloon

Cherry Blossom Family Delivery at Cap Hansen's

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Every other Tuesday at Cap Hansen’s (depending on the moon) the Cherry Blossom Family Delivery convenes to perform some of the finest music in town. This is one of those events that is so good you don’t want anyone else to know about it. I wandered in on accident about a year ago, homesick for nowhere and wanting to hear music that would go well with tequila. Spencer Willhoft and the rest of the Cherry Blossom Family Delivery were right on the beam song after song – singing like drunks in a midnight choir – ranging from Hank Williams through John Prine to Neil Young, Beck and a few diamond originals. It was slow and lonely and aching and perfect. The audience, mostly fellow musicians, sang along, danced and drank to every song. It was beautiful. I made it a point to go back when I could.

After what seemed like more than a month of Tuesdays, I made it back to Cap’s last week. This iteration of the Family (Spencer, Kevin, LP, Rich, Casey and Mike ) delivered the broke-down lonely music that I had been missing. I got there just after the beginning of the second set amidst a plaintive rendition of the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” They followed not long after with a typically minimal version of the Stones’ “Angie,” owning it in their own way. A few songs later came John Prine’s “A Town This Size” – a signature song for the Cherry Blossoms – that will hereafter always be linked to Bellingham for me. “In a town this size, there's no place to hide / Everywhere you go you meet someone you know / You can't steal a kiss in a place like this / How the rumors do fly in a town this size.” Everyone in the bar singing happily along.

I am always reminded of Jimmie Dale Gilmore when I hear Spencer sing, of flat lonesome Western landscapes, ghost towns and the ache for meaning. Hank Williams, AM radio and long drives through the country at night haunt the music. All their songs are slowed down, lyrics sung on the back-beat, almost lazy but demonstrating a deep and familiar intimacy with each song. At times, it seems everything is going to fall apart into a musical chaos but then recovers with the grace of drunken clown on the high-wire. After a while, you realize the deliberation in the seeming stumbles, in the ease of approach, is the result of talented musicianship.

The evening ends, as if often does with the Blossoms, with an immaculate trio of songs: Hank Williams’ “Angel of Death,” Gram Parsons’ “Sin City” and Mike Davis’ “Cocaine.” Those three alone, performed in their inimitable style, should be enough to warrant anyone who has never seen them to make it a point to seek them out. Sitting there in the back of Cap’s with a bowl of stale popcorn, drinking Corona, shots of tequila, hearing the echoes of those last lines:

It seems like this whole town's insane

On the thirty-first floor your gold plated door

Won't keep out the Lord's burning rain

It is a beautiful night in Bellingham.

The Cherry Blossom Family Delivery will play this Thursday, October 6th at the Blue Horse with The Smoke Brothers, Stephen Ray Leslie, Country Messengers as part of the Ham Country Revival. And, of course, every other Tuesday at Cap’s.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Scumeating Tour Kick-off with Chambers, Thimble vs. Needle and Scumeating at Glow - Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Scumeating - Glow

Scumeating Tour Kick-off with Chambers, Thimble vs. Needle and Scumeating at Glow

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What can you say about Glow? It’s a strange space, a cross between an airport lounge and a mid-80s disco. But this is the second time that I have seen Scumeating there. There is something to be said for that: schizophrenia meets irony in a soft leather chair overlooking the transient activities of Railroad and Holly. Maybe it’s perfect. I don’t know. There is always a bizarre cake around and someone ordering a grasshopper – which the bartender has to go online to figure out how to make. Meanwhile, the crowd is festooned with glowstick bracelets and ominously quiet. Church disco. Waiting for a plane. 

Chambers - Glow

Chambers, made up of the Sarah Jerns and Matt Curtis, breaks the quiet with two massive guitar hammers. Reminiscent of the Dirty Three. Stumbling slow noise. Waves of electric strings. Feedback music. Loud and relentless instrumentality. The two of them, each with guitars, standing on the dance floor like noise drunk gunfighters in a Sergio Leone dream of the agonies of echo. Beautiful. And in the strangest way, upsetting all expectation, getting into your skull with whips of lightning and ripping the tissues of your brain to pieces. If there was a heroin addict in the crowd, he’d be wanting to shoot up about now. Grace note: walked over the bartender at the end of the set to get a beer and he said to me: Jesus Christ, I was about to lose it with all of the fucking noise! Music to drive bartenders at the Glow insane to. Kudos, Chambers.

Thimble vs. Needle - Glow

Next up, a variation (minus Chris Stainback) on Thimble vs. Needle with the inimitable Kat Bula on guitar/vocals/violin, Anna Arvan on cello/vocals and Tim Leighton on drums/guitar/mandolin. After the beautiful noise comes exquisite harmonies as in  “The Only Girl You Are Not Allowed to Kiss.” These songs seem to epitomize something just underneath definition, perhaps it’s the mood of the 21st century with a healthy sense of humor. The musicianship is outstanding but casual, not forcing itself through the performance. Just there and talented. With each time that I have heard Thimble vs. Needle, I am reminded how much they make me smile with their subtle self-conscious odes of self-consciousness. Near the end, Tim sings a song with the line “Hey Buddy, you’ve got puke on your shoes.” It is delivered flat, as a dirge, a lament. The others join in harmony. Beautiful. “Hey Buddy, you’ve got piss on your knees… blood on your hands.” Appalachian Bellingham. Reminded of the Band at Big Pink.

Scumeating begins to assemble. Jess Manley told me he has a migrane but believes it will help his performance. Undoubtedly. Fiona has just come in from K.D. Laing, wondering why no one seems to know who she is. And Robert, newly shaved pate shining, is in a “fine damned mood.” All of this seems auspicious. Chris Gusta is up there on guitar. Bill Anker on drums. A.J. Hawn on keyboards and Kat Bula is standing off to the side with her violin. It begins in media res, a wall of sound that was not there before is suddenly in front of the crowd. A wall of raw emotional, but sharp edged, music. Robert Lashley’s words sing out of a storm of intensity. Imagine back to a time of trying to tune into a distant radio station and all of a sudden all at once hearing pounding drums, infernal violin and guitar and keyboard, a fucking trombone, what? and the haunting voice of a preacher trying to save sinning souls from the hands of an angry god. Imagine Don Quixote on acid with a band tuned to his every Pulse. This is Lashley, the poet unleashed. Songs don’t seem to begin or end as much as take a breath before coming right back at your throat again. Jess Manley spins voices out of the ether. Kat Bula’s violin and Fiona’s trombone seems to be waging war against each other, trading musical salvos like punches. Ankers’ thunderous drumming holds everything into place. Gusta and Hawn setting the limits to the music. And the Voice of Lashley like a rusty knife over the strings of an ancient guitar, from the edges of time, rhapsode. It is like nothing else you are going to see. Here’s hoping their tour will offend, alienate and utterly shock the rest of the world into abject admiration.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Mallard and Chris Con Carne at the Ridge Wine Bar - Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Chris Con Carne at The Ridge

The Mallard and Chris Con Carne at the Ridge Wine Bar

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

At it’s best moments, the Blues let’s you know that everything could be worse. By treading some sort of weird voodoo line, the singer lets the music take over and sing through his bones. The long history of possession, echoing with the thudding heart of darkness, and yet, still being sung out in a song. When it is good, it is like nothing else. There within the hardwood floored alterna-space of the Ridge, I heard Chris Con Carne sing and play the Blues in a way that I have not heard in a long time. There on the simple carpet stage: a chair, a guitar, and an amp. Stripped down slide string daemonic voodoo songs sending the dedicated crowd into a zoned-out trance of primal appreciation. This was conjuring music, the ghosts of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Mississippi Fred McDowell drifting in to sit quietly in the corner while “Wish I Was in Heaven Sittin’ Down” rang out. Each song developed upon complex rhythmic blues patterns creating a thing uncanny, weird and sadly beautiful. Chris’ voice singing out from underneath as an annotation on the human condition. At one point, he turned on an electronic tanpura on top of his amp which created an evocative drone under the songs. Echoes of Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas soundtrack during the singing of “Going Down South” – fading in and out with a deep south swamp riff of “Baby Please Don’t Go.” There at the end, a plug was kicked or a circuit tripped, killing the mic and the amp, stripping the sound down to a raw purity. Chris played straight on through it, the slide raking now against the strings, clicking like locusts singing in the summer heat, summoning up the ancient spirits of the Blues.

The Mallard at The Ridge

The Mallard up next, consists of Greer McGettrick, vocals and guitar, and Dylan Tidyman-Jones, drums and vocals. There was sonic disturbance, low ambient feedback uncurling around the Ridge, before they even picked up their instruments. As soon as they kicked in, there were vestiges of The Cramps and Sonic Youth: the echo-drenched guitar noise amped way high. Simple snare sounding like gunshots. Coming on now like ironic Japanese Surf pop. Raw rock n roll noise music. Down in the primal Pulse of the thing. Makes you think about breaking something. The Mallard delivers her songs with harmonic hollers and yelps of being, defying you to find categorization. Imagine some sort of twisted 50s girl group filtered through the apocalyptic decades of the 80s and 90s, then warped from too many drugs and the all too natural cynicism that is endemic to the 21st century. Gives you an idea. The Mallard has the bones of music on display: a cranked-up amped-out guitar, a tribal drum pounding and an existential wail.  At the end, it was beautiful: they walked away and let the feedback swirl. Echoes of the machine.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Havilah Rand with Phil Sottile and Dave Vaughns at the Blue Horse Gallery - July 7, 2011

Havilah Rand with Phil Sottile and Dave Vaughns at the Blue Horse Gallery

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Blue Horse Gallery under a beautiful Bellingham evening. Havilah Rand returned to town, standing on stage in red boots, singing Superstar. Phil Sottile providing perfect vocal counterpoint on guitar and Dave Vaughns tapping out subtle percussion on a cajon drum. What was most immediately striking was how seamlessly Phil and Dave wove sonic textures around Havilah’s vocals and guitar. Having recently been out on a mini-tour of the Pacific Northwest, their sense of the interior of the songs, of where and how the spaces opened inside the melody, was subtle and engaging to witness.
Havilah’s voice was full of ache and longing with hidden reserves of strength swelling into the high notes. Phil’s mournful and elemental guitar swells serving almost a form of musical annotation. And Dave’s tapping out a soft time sounded like the ebb and flow of a surf. There were several moments, during the performance of Petrified and Riding on a Train, where it seemed that the audience was collectively holding it’s breath in appreciation of the silence surrounding the song. 
Havilah’s music moves across genres with ease, glancing against various facets of jazz, country, folk, blues, to stand alone as a thing in itself. Her phrasing is remarkable, syllables stretched slowly with elegance and laid down against and over each other like braids. This was especially notable on her cover of Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me to the End of Love. Something familiar, yet strange, infusing such harrowing lines as "Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin" with new resonance. The song All Night, which is featured in the movie Leading Ladies, was another standout, one of those songs that immediately seems destined to become a standard.  

It was one of those nights were you feel privileged to experience such music in such an intimate setting. Exposed wood rafters and a big window opening to the darkening skies, an ancient drum slowing sounding, strumming guitars in strange tunings, and a beautiful voice full of the sweet and rich echoes of an unidentifiable nostalgia. 

Appreciation should be given to the Blue Horse Gallery for providing such a warm and welcoming space for performance. The low lighting and rustic ambiance bode well for many more nights of great music.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Footstompin Trio, The Cheeps and Chris Con Carne at the Shakedown - June 10, 2011

Footstompin Trio - Shakedown - source

Footstompin Trio, The Cheeps and Chris Con Carne at the Shakedown

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday night show at the Shakedown. The ghosts of how many clubs rising up from their graves to moan in some sort of wicked benediction for the powerhouse bill of  Footstompin Trio, The Cheeps, Chris Con Carne. I am here mostly for Footstompin Trio because just about every third person that I know in Bellingham told me that I had to go check them out. Supposed to represent everything that Bellingham used to be. 3B and that Xeroxed flyers age represented. Pacific Northwest hard-core hillbilly soul. Had to hear it to believe it.

Walk in late, sadly missing Chris Lamb and Dan Lowinger’s Delta Blues slide steel thunder drum duopolis Chris Con Carne – which I hear puts the Black Keys to shame. What is going on is The Cheeps. Imagine early White Stripes garage punk with a more fuck ass drummer and Leather Pants, lead singer, ripping his throat raw while channeling Roky Erickson in the insane asylum and a Tommy James strung out on a bad speedball run. Just relentless. Whips of sweet noise cracking out over the capacity crowd during favorites “Anything New Please” and “Don’t Cry for Me.”

Next up on the block: local legends Footstompin Trio remaining true to perfect form. Conjuring up the ghosts of Buck Owens, Link Wray and Carl Perkins, the Trio possessed the stage in a manner that made you wonder if the the 3B had ever gone away. Dan Lowinger dominated on vocals and guitar managing to simultaneously evoke Hank Williams and Screamin Jay Hawkins. Stell Newsome spit blood next to him and would have made Dick Dale proud. This was balls-out hillbilly rockabilly that had everyone feeling like someone had spiked the Ranier with White Lightning LSD. Their cover of Jerry Reed's Mr. Wiz lit the place on fire and kept most wondering when Jeff Gray's slap bass was going to spontaneously combust. While Tom Forster’s back woods rhythm took the crowd into some weird voodoo rockabilly trance. At the end, the rousing encore of Wray's Run Chicken Run left no doubt as to who had ripped the bones out of the commodified corpse of modern day Rockabilly and made the skeleton dance.

Thank all the devils down in the belly of Bellingham for the Shakedown and their continuing efforts to reanimate the best of what was and electrify the best of what is. Although ever hopeful bone in your body shivers against it, this sort of show is what makes a great music town. You know every musician in the crowd – and there were more than a few - felt the resonance of that long snake moaning against the brick walls of that old building and thought: this is it is all about, this is worth living for, this is some good fucking music.

Originally written for What's Up!