Bye, Bye Crocodile?

Windows in the back bar, at the Crocodle Cafe
photo from Todd Sackman’s flickr page

It was a bad news weekend here in Seattle. Sunday afternoon brought news from Reverb, Line Out and Three Imaginary Girls that the iconic Crocodile Cafe had gone dark. Born in the 90’s during the heyday of the Northwest grunge movement, the Crocodile earned it’s reputation by booking up and coming local bands as well as being a regular stop for national and international acts.

Rumors have been flying around town about the financial health of the club after Pete Greenberg, who was booking bands for the club quit. There was an article in the Seattle Weekly this fall questioning the solvency of the club and how long it would stay afloat after the divorce of owner Stephanie Dorgan from Peter Buck. Apparently Buck’s deep pockets were what was keeping the place in business these many years.

I’ve only lived in Seattle a little over 3 years, but I’ve been to the place more times than I can count. Just in this last year I’ve seen so many good gigs there that I’m left wondering who will pick up the slack now that the Croc is gone? The last show that I saw there was Richard Hawley just a week ago. I couldn’t have asked for a better final memory, Hawley’s amazing sound dialed up to perfection by legendary Crocodile sound guy Jim Anderson.  It wasn’t Jim doing the sound this night as Mike points out in the comments.  He would know since he’s the one that did the sound for Mr. Hawley.

I’ve only known you a little while, but it was love at first sight. Even with you’re little imperfections, mainly that infamous pole right in front of the stage, you were a great place to see a band and hang out. I hope that someone sees fit to keep you going, if not thanks for the memories.

Here are a couple songs, the Robyn Hitchcock is the only song I know of that mentions the Croc, though I’m guessing there are probably more songs about the place. The Hawley song was recorded by NWTapers at the Hawley show at there last Monday, it’s a beauty, and the last song I heard there.

mp3: Robyn Hitchcock – Belltown Ramble
buy: Robyn Hitchcock – Ole! Tarantula
mp3: Richard Hawley – The Ocean (live at the Crocodile Cafe)
buy: Richard Hawley…get ’em all

Thanks to NW Tapers, you can download the entire Richard Hawley gig at the Crocodile Cafe in either:
FLAC (it’s a big file ~450mb)
or
mp3 (not so big, but you knew that)

Just Like Old Times

Richard Hawley at the Crocodile Cafe, Seattle | 10 December 2007

Richard Hawley playing the Croc

What more can I say about Richard Hawley that I haven’t already said. He and his band brought the hi-fi sound of their short north American tour to the Crocodile Monday night. If you were wondering if Hawley and his band are as talented as they sound on record, there was no doubt after last night’s show. Dressed in nice dinner jackets and sporting a ton of guitars, stand up bass these guys nailed it. They more than nailed, they just sounded amazing on every song. Richard Hawley has a baritone croon that can make women weak in the knees. He’s also an excellent guitarist, and the guitar playing last night made me weak in the knees, with Hawley and Shez Sheridan seemingly connected telepathically rarely looking at one another, yet playing seamlessly.

Kicking things off with his trademark “Let’s Ballad” the band rolled through Valentine, Roll River Roll and Just Like the Rain. He had me at Valentine but when they played Coles Corner, well that song just makes me want grab to a beautiful woman and slow dance, luckily my wife was with me, because I may have grabbed some random girl’s hand and asked her to dance. The set ended with a rollicking I’m Looking For Someone, I love the rubber band guitar sound in that one and Sheridan made it sound just like the record. The band came back for a two song encore, closing with the Ocean, which was pretty much jaw dropping in its washes of guitar with Hawley and Sheridan showing their chops and leaving us wishing, no begging, for more. Hawley’s music evokes a feeling of another time and another place and that is exactly how it felt last night…perfect.

More photos and the set list over at my flickr page.

…and you can hear the entire gig, by clicking this and downloading it (courtesy of NW Tapers) in FLAC or MP3.

Emma Pollock at the Crocodile Cafe

Seattle | 8 November 2007
Fireworks from Emma Pollock at the Crocodile

Emma Pollock‘s album Watch the Fireworks her first try as a solo artist after the demise of her band the Delgados. It’s quite a try too, incorporating elements of noise pop, shoegaze, country as well as incorporating influences from some 4AD compatriots like the Throwing Muses. An excellent solo debut, that not enough people have heard. This was way too apparent at her show at the Crocodile on Thursday night. Granted she was competing withe the annual People Talking and Singing over at Town Hall and Sondre Lerche at Nectar, but this town is big enough to support more than one good show on the same night, and based on the strength of Watch the Fireworks I thought the Croc should have been packed.

Emma didn’t seem deterred by the sparsely populated Croc as she bounced out on stage, commenting on the infamous pole in front of the stage, saying that she hope it was responsive. She didn’t let up, and was totally engaging, telling stories of how Aiden Moffat of Arab Strap made fun of her while she was shooting a video in downtown Glasgow, as well as handling drunk Londoners with aplomb. After telling us how she wrote the song Glorious Day with poet Brendan Cleary, a drunk English guy yells out you wrote it with a poet and you didn’t know it. Emma, without missing a beat responds in deadpan, that’s the best thing to rhyme with poet.

The band sounded perfect and made the songs from Fireworks really crack. Here Comes the Heartbreak, Acid Test and Paper and Glue all had that a beautiful shoegaze-like sheen to them. She played every song from the album, and joked at the start of her encore that if we wanted another song, she would have to play something twice. I would have been curious to hear a Delgados song to she how she would have interpreted it given her new pension for the immediate more straightforward songs. This show was like a secrete, you can’t believe no one else knows about. It was so good you couldn’t believe that the rest of the city wasn’t in on it too. Their loss, and I’m willing to tell anyone who will listen even it is after the fact.

Hungry Pines at the Crocodile CafeI missed Jen Wood, but got there in time to see the Hungry Pines. They are fronted by two excellent women on guitar, and have a sound that reminds me of English band Salad and Australians, the Howling Bells. Their music has some slight gothic undertones, but the wall of guitar that they build up on many of their songs could earn them a shoegaze tag as well. The band’s set started off a bit slow, but by the end of it I was pretty amazed by these ax wielding of these women. Now that Electrelane have called it quits maybe I’ve found some new female guitar heroes?

Gruff Rhys’s Smorgasbord of Music

Gruff Rhys + Her Space Holiday and Crystal Skulls | Crocodile Cafe | 29 September 2007
Gruff Rhys at the Crocodile Cafe, Seattle

Super Furry Animal, Gruff Rhys and his musical companion Lisa Jen cam out and sat down to a table full of all kinds of nick-nacks, gadgets, and instruments. It kind of looked like they snagged someone’s table from a flea market, I just wanted to go up on stage and wade through all of the funky stuff, and offer him ten bucks for the bird in the cage.
This was a truly delightful show, Rhys played the part of musical chef, grabbing items from his table, sampling and looping them, pushing a few buttons on his bass box and playing acoustic guitar. Jen provided her beautiful voice to his concoctions and the smallish crowd at the Crocodile was entranced.

During one song sung in welsh, which wasn’t familiar to me, he stopped mid song to give us a recap in English and proceeded to create a rainforest sound collage from a the items on his table. He grabbed the bird in the bird cage, one of those whistling tubes, some strange hollow round bowl that made thunder like sounds, and his own voice, sampling and looping each item to create the forest. It was like watching a mad scientist at work. He did the majority of the ace Candylion album including The Court of King Arthur, Candylion, Gyrru, and the Morricone-ish Lonesome Words. He ended the main set with a wrenching version of Cycle of Violence and then came back out for a two song encore asking if we would mind an 18 minute self indulgent song. Me and everyone else were totally up for Skylon! The story of a bomb disposal expert that saves a hijacked flight, and joins the mile high club with the actress he’s sitting next to. This was the song I was hoping all night he would play, but doubted he would. It lived up to my expectations with added props it was even better than. Gruff and Lisa donned flotation devices, gave us flight attendant-like emergency instructions, and used a dog laser gun to stunning effect. Gruff surprised us with his final song, a cover of Kevin Ayers’s Religious Experience that in hindsight made total sense. Last night wasn’t quite spiritual, but Rhys’s kid in a candy store approach to his songs made it a sublime thing.

Seattle’s Crystal Skulls played first and were really good in a Roger McGuinn fronting Steely Dan kind of way. Second band Her Space Holiday were good too, but not anything like I remember them. The last time I saw them, Matt Bianci was all electronics and disco lights, he’s now in a guitar-bass-drums phase, but the songs were still good, given the different delivery.

Gruff and Neil, coming to your town
More pictures from Gruff’s show plus a few of Crystal Skulls and Her Space Holiday at my Flickr page,

The Lucksmiths in Seattle

The Lucksmiths, Math and Physics Club, Fred Astereo | Crocodile Cafe | 24 September 2007
Lucksmiths at the Crocodile Cafe, Seattle
The Lucksmiths are making their way across the U.S. on a quick 2 week tour to promote their double cd Spring A Leak which collects 45 songs that appeared in various places other than their albums. Monday was their Seattle stop, and they did it up right, playing a free in store at the Ballard Sonic Boom and then Later the same night at the Crocodile Cafe with Seattle’s Math & Physics Club and fellow Australians Fred Astereo.

It was a family outing for me, going down to Ballard for the in-store. We weren’t sure how much of the set we’d get to see, I figured the kids would last 3 or 4 songs. I was wrong, they made it through the entire set (though I had to bribe my 5 year old son with a cupcake from Cupcake Royale). We weren’t the only ones with the idea to drag the kids along, there were a bunch of kids including Charles from Math & Physics Club with his youngsters. The Lucksmiths are aware of their kid appeal too, busting out baby and kid Lucksmiths shirts for sale after the set. They were their charming selves, playing Broken Bones, Music from Next Door and even a new one called Sobering Decision.

The Crocodile Show the same night was 21+ sponsored by Seattle’s Three Imaginary Girls. I arrived mid set for Fred Astereo, and their kind of goofy, but catchy minimalist songs. Stanley Paulzen (formerly of Ruck Rover) was accompanied by a bass and ipod. The bass player was great not only did she play, but she acted as Paulzen’s comic foil as well. The ipod backing sounded a bit like one of the backing tracks on the old electric organ and my grandparent’s house. They were funny.

Math and Physics Club, Crocodile Cafe
Math and Physics Club have been away for nearly a year, so it was good to see them back in a live setting. The show not only acted as a coming out party for them, but also as a record release party celebrating the release of their new EP, Baby, I’m Yours. They were a bit rough around the edges, but charming nonetheless. The band played all but one of the songs from the new EP, including a Crosby, Stills & Nash version of Do You Keep a Diary with Charles James and Ethan doing a guitar only rendition, that was much different than the synth EP version. They also threw in a cover of the Stone Roses first single Sally Cinnamon, which was quite nice. MAPC always seem to have a good cover up their sleeve, I’ve seen them do REM, Razorcuts at other shows. Glad to have these guys back playing live again after the hiatus.
Math and Physics Club Set List

It’s always a pleasure to see the Lucksmiths live and tonight was no exception. A Monday night did not deter people from coming out to see them. It felt like one of those shows where everyone there was a super fan, in between bands, I saw people with noses buried in the liner notes from their new purchased Spring a Leak cd’s. If you’ve never seen them live, Tali, the drummer and singer uses a stand up kit and drums mostly with brushes. He’s front and center making for a visually exciting show from just a stage layout perspective. I mean how often can you actually see what the drummer is doing way in the back of the stage? More people should hear this band not only live but on record, and the place to start is their last album Warmer Corners. It has some of the best songs they’ve ever written, and a lot of those were played last night including Chapter in Your Life Entitled San Francisco, Sunlight in a Jar, Hiccup In Your Happiness and my personal favorite Fiction. Before they came on I was heading to the bar and I passed Marty, blurting out to him that Fiction was my favorite song of his and were they going to play it? He said that they rarely do play it but were going to tonight because they could borrow Saundrah from MAPC for the violin parts. They closed with Fiction, and it was the perfect end to a Lucky day.
Lucksmiths Setlist
I’ve got more photo’s from the show over at Flickr.

The Ladybug Transistor at the Crocodile

The Ladybug Transistor | The Crocodile Cafe, Seattle| 7 August 2007Gary Olson of The Ladybug Transistor
With all of the lineup changes that the The Ladybug Transistor has experienced in the last few years, it’s a tribute to leader Gary Olson that the band is still going.  In fact, I think that TLT could give the Fall a run for their money in the amount of people that pass through the band.  Though it seems like former members of TLT are still in Olson’s good graces unlike Mark E Smith’s former compatriots. 

Although he has a large surrounding cast, Olson is in complete control of the band, its sound, and aesthetics.  Keyboard player Kyle Forester jokedcmid-set that the band isn’t allowed to wear logos or shorts on stage.  Forester said he got around the shorts rule by wearing a skort once.  Olson may be strict, but the band sounds all the better for it. Last night their live sound easily rivaled anything they’ve recorded to date and surpassed it on most of the songs.  New guitarist Ben Crum adds a jazzy backbone to all of the songs that I didn’t notice on the new record on which he plays, His guitar reminded me a bit of Blueboy or even a little bit of John Squire before he went all Led Zepplin.  Did I mention that the sound last night was truly divine, you could hear everything as if you had headphones on, with Gary’s horn parts floating over the band and putting everything just right.   Olson’s Lee Hazelwood (RIP) like baritone seems to be getting better and better with each album, and his combination croon and trumpet on Choking on Air, made it the highlight of the night for me.  The band stuck with mostly stuff from their latest album Can’t Wait Another Day, saving their best song Always on the Telephone for near the end of the set.  I assume that they had an encore planned, but the sparse crowd just couldn’t gather up enough enthusiasm to bring them back out. 

mp3: The Ladybug Transistor – Always on the Telephone

Openers, the Papercuts, who I always seem to confuse with the Postmarks, are a San Francisco three piece band.  They were descent, though their sound was a bit murky and the songs tended to on a bit too long with the singer mostly strumming a 12 string guitar throughout.  I caught the last two songs of the first opening band Aux Autres.  I seem to always catch their last couple songs, this happened a few weeks ago when they opened for Boat and the Shaky Hands.  Maybe one day I’ll catch a full set of the girl (drums) – guy (guitar) combo.

The Call of the Wild

Sea Wolf + Tiny Vipers | The Crocodile | 27 June 2007

Sea Wold at the Crocodile Cafe, Seattle.  27 June 2007

Actually it wasn’t very wild, but it was very good.  In fact it was even a little refined.  Full discloser though, I’m a sucker for the cello, and Sea Wolf employ it in large doses.  Alex Church has put together a full band to realize his songs and they really do them justice, that and the sound at the Croc last night for their set (most nights actually) was perfect.  You could hear every instrument and every syllable from Church’s mouth. 

With only two ep’s to their name, and really only one widely available, the band is doing a short west coast jaunt to promote their new Phil Ek produced ep, Get to the River Before It Runs too Low.   Church kinda has John Fogerty thing going on, at least in appearance, and the band definitely has a country tinge to it meshed with a So-Cal easy going attitude.  The more upbeat songs were the crowd pleasers with Ses Monuments sounding even more REMy live with it’s jangly guitar, and the cello in You’re a Wolf sounding downright seductive.  They played nearly all of the afore mentioned ep as well as a few songs that have been floating around in the blogosphere, closing with Black Dirt, which starts out slow but builds quickly into one of their best songs.  Look for it on the full length record to be release sometime later this year.

I also caught the Tiny Vipers set, whose Sub Pop debut hits shelves at the end of July.  The Tiny Vipers is really only Jesse Fortino, and boy is her music quiet.   How quiet you ask, most of the songs were so quiet she was nearly drowned out by the buzz of the monitors.  She played an acoustic guitar, using some effects pedals for echo and distortion and had another guy playing second guitar and bass.  A few of the songs were really good and she’s got a really strong voice reminiscent of Grace Slick or even Delores O’Riordan crossed with a bit of Joanna Newsom and vintage 4AD.  Besides being very quiet she also appears painfully shy on stage, sitting down the entire time and barely saying a word between songs. 

mp3: Sea Wolf – You Are a Wolf 
mp3: Tiny Vipers – On This Side