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.