Pica Beats and Little Penguins at the Comet Tavern, Seattle | 28 November 2008
The Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill was not really built for music, its stage is a little triangle step in the corner that is big enough for the drummer. The rest of the band is left to fend for themselves pushing out into the audience. This makes for intimate shows if you’re close enough to actually see the band. Actually the Comet was probably built to tie one on. It’s one of Seattle’s oldest bars dating back to the 1930’s, and much of it looks like it hasn’t been touched since then. It’s got character in spades, and that goes a long way as long as you don’t have to use the restrooms. The beer is cheap and booking is excellent. You can go there on most nights of the week and you’re guaranteed to hear something good. On more than one occasion, after leaving a show at Neumo’s across the street, I have gone by and heard a band playing that sounded good enough to get me pay my $6 to get in. Friday night I knew who was playing before arriving but when I got to the door I found out that the place was packed and they weren’t letting anyone else in. I hung out outside and waited. It must have been my sad puppy dog eyes, because after a few minutes the guy at the door waved me on through. I squeezed my way through the door and to the bar and watched the backs of people’s heads for the Exploding High Fives‘ set. I saw glimpses of a girl playing keyboards and every now and then a guy playing guitar. Their songs were good concise power pop and more than enough to hold my attention without even seeing them. I hope to get to a show of theirs where I can actually see them while they play.
After the the Exploding High Fives I nudged my way up the step to the stage area with the hopes of actually being able to see the Little Penguins play. It was the release party for their second cd entitled Offer You This Cape. I caught the Little Penguins a few months back at the Reverb fest in Ballard and thought they were good, but they were much, much better this night. The new songs have a darker feel that evokes, in my mind, a little of Nick Cave or Gallon Drunk but with a softer pop edge employed by the likes of Pulp. Singer Will Hallauer was all made up for the celebration sporting nice black eyeliner, adding visually to his slightly deep voice that takes on a sense of melodrama on songs like Bus Stop and Streets. He’s got something that reminds me of Davey Woodward of the Brilliant Corners and the Experimental Pop Band or even Edwyn Collins. I like the way the band employed a minimalism to the songs allowing the piano to shine through like they did on Streets and the Celebration. Popping up in the set also was their spot on cover of Joy Division’s Isolation, it nearly was the highlight of their set, but Get On the Phone Louise took that honor with it’s slow spooky start, that eventually builds to a wall of noise with the band refraining “Get on the phone Louise, the water’s rising fast” in three part harmony. Both Little Penguins are well worth getting, and at eight songs each, the two together make an excellent double album.
mp3: Little Penguins – Get on the Phone Louise (from Offer You This Cape, self released)
The Pica Beats didn’t come on until about 12:45, but the Comet was still nearly full. And for good reason, their album Beating Back the Claws of the Cold on Hardly Art is quality antique pop that combines Neutral Milk Hotel, Will Oldham and even bits of Decemberists. The band left their sitar at home which meant it was a more classic sound we got from the them, and we didn’t get the vibey instrumental Martine, as Heavy Lifter. Live, the songs kind of shed the slightly precise, processed feel that they have on record and really open up. Singer Ryan Barrett sounded great, with his warbly Appalachian voice prominent in the mix. A welcome addition to their sound was the prominent backing vocals from Alice Sandahls. The Pica Beats live are not markedly different from their album persona, there are slight differences, but they definitely create a more organic sound in the live. Now if they only would have brought that sitar, it might have been just about perfect.