Wild Flag At the High Dive

Wild Flag and Royal Baths at the High Dive, Seattle | 12 November 2010

You’ve likely already heard about how Wild Flag are two parts Sleater-Kinney (Carrie Brownstein & Janet Weiss), one part Helium (Mary Timony) and one part Minders (Rebecca Cole); how they’ve signed with Merge to put out their record and how up until this weekend no one knew what they sounded like.  Much ado has been made about this indie rock supergroup and the band has contributed to the mystery with  references to dolphins, avalanches and hot dogs in lieu of providing any sonic evidence.  The veteran women know how to create anticipation in today’s connected world by not putting any of their songs up on the internet. Sure they’ve got a Myspace, Facebook and Twitter, but not a song to be heard on any of them.  I think we all had a pretty good guess about what they would sound like, and if you’d ever heard Brownstein and Timony’s collaboration project the Spells from ten years ago you probably had a better guess.

First and foremost Wild Flag are a guitar band.  They have two great guitarists in Brownstein and Timony and even though the songs were new and they were still kind of feeling their way around (Timony had chords written on pieces of paper on the stage) they both were comfortable enough with the songs by this their third show for Brownstein to be doing high kicks and Timony handling her axe by the neck as if she were wringing its final notes.  Brownstein even joked a few times how they had only heard these new songs a couple more times than we had. Timony’s and Brownstein’s styles are different, but they compliment each other. Brownstein is more flamboyant in her style and Timony a little more understated, sashaying to Bronwstein’s high kicks. They split the vocal duties about evenly and shared them on a few songs.  Drummer Janet Weiss and keyboardist Rebecca Cole provided the backing vocals and Weiss even took the lead on a cover of the Velvet Underground’s She’s My Best Friend reminding me a little of Yo La Tengo.

As for the Wild Flag songs? They were all quality, and many were immediately catchy making it easy  for the crowd to get into it.  I read reviews from their Olympia show that the band sounded garage, but I heard lots of mod, post punk and psychedelia in the songs, but first and foremost pop. Playing to type, Brownstien’s songs tended to be more muscular and Timony’s were more subtle.  Most of the songs were the three minute kind, but the band rocked out on the Brownstein sung Race Horse which turned into both guitarist riffing off of one another while Wiess and Cole controlled the pace for a good six minutes.

They played four covers to fill out the set including Dirty Water and  Beast of Burden but the best of the night was saved for the last.  Their version of Patty Smith’s Ask the Angels was inspired and full of punky raw energy Smith would have been proud of .  Brownstein set her guitar aside and grabbed the mic and channeled her inner Smith, which I’m guessing isn’t too much of a reach, while Timony unleashed white hot riffs while bouncing around the stage.  It was an appropriate raw wild ending to the show.  The next time Wild Flag come through town, they’ll likely have a record, be much more polished, and be playing a much larger venue but it was pretty cool to see them at this nascent stage as the songs have just been formed and they’re  emerging from their chrysalis.

The Royal Baths opened and if I had not already known they were from San Francisco, I would have guessed they were the house band for an opium den down the street. Their songs were dark, psychedelic odes to the Velvet Underground except there was no Lou Reed, it was all John Cale. It was good stuff, but I don’t know how many people there were paying much attention. Their album Litanies came out on Woodsist last month is worth a look.

Coastal Girls

Vivian Girls, Best Coast & TacocaT at the High Dive, Seattle | 13 February 2010

It feels like every time  I click a link three’s a new lo-fi girl group that I’m smitten with.  It all started back in 2008 with the Vivian Girls and their reverb-laden harmonies that brought back memories of the Shop Assistants and Black Tambourine.  The Dum Dum Girls soon followed and grabbed everyone’s attention last year with their version of Phil Spector girl group who has a thing for the Jesus and Mary Chain.  Just to prove that things move pretty fast these days, Best Coast appeared late last year firing off three quality 7 inch records that are good enough to almost make you forget about Vivans and Dum Dums.

What makes Best Coast so good? There are the songs themselves with their aching hallucinogenic quality that seem to conjure sun bleached images of days gone by, but it’s Bethany Cosentino’s voice that carries it all home.  She uses reverb like everybody else these days, but she doesn’t need it.  Borrowing Vivian Girls drummer Ali Koehler Best Coast hit all the high points, and there are quite a few, of their four singles, they also played a few new songs from their upcoming album.  One of them was called Crazy, or some variation, and as Cosentino repeated the chorus, I couldn’t help but think of Patsy Cline.  Not because it sounded country or had twinkling piano in it, but because Cosentino’s voice sounded so good, transcending the lo-fi aesthetic that she’s chosen to drape the songs in for the time being.  Cosentino’s foil in Best Coast is Bobb Bruno who plays a baritone guitar which they thought was stolen the night before in Vancouver, but later found after the gig.  The band seemed quite bummed out by the loss of Bruno’s guitar and apologized more than once for not being able to deliver the full Best Coast sound.  Bruno tried to replicate on his riff’s on a borrowed bass guitar form Katie of the Vivian Girls, doing his best Peter Hook imitation.  He mostly persevered, but sometimes had to resort to playing tambourine.  It really didn’t matter, Cosentino’s voice and songs were more than worthy of taking center stage and no apology was necessary.

mp3: Best Coast – When I’m With You (from the Black Iris 7″)

After Best Coast, the Vivian Girls had their work cut out for them. The two bands are cut from the same cloth, but where Best Coast’s melodies prevail, the Vivian Girls bury theirs beneath heavy bass and guitar. Sometimes I don’t even think that there is a melody to be buried.  That wasn’t always the case.  I think their first album could be considered a classic, but the set they played focused mostly on their newer material which is a bit more difficult.  A lot of the songs seemed to blend into one another, with Katie’s bass dominating everything.  We got a break from the drone when they put down their instruments and did their a capella cover of the Chantals‘ He’s Gone. It was a break, but not a very good one, especially when you compare it to the original.  The set wasn’t a total bust, Lakehouse, Can’t Get Over You and Tell The World stood out, but it wasn’t their best. I worry that the band are struggling to come up with songs that match the magic of their debut and by focusing on their newer material it made that fact all the more painfully obvious.

mp3: Vivian Girls – He’s Gone (B-side to their upcoming 7″ on Wild World)
mp3 swiped from gvsb

TacaocaT started the night off with their updated, more humorous version of riot grrrl, sprinkled with a little bit of Young Fresh Fellows.  They played some new songs as well as old favorites Leotard, Dry Land Is a Myth (the Kevin Costner song), Volcano and Basement, an ode to their ‘condo’.  Great fun even if they didn’t play Peeps, which Katie from Vivian Girls kept shouting for.  If you haven’t heard their album Shame Spiral, do yourself a favor and get on over to their label Don’t Stop Believin’ and order yourself up a copy.

mp3: TacocaT – Peeps (from Shame Spiral)

The Antique Glow of Kelley Stoltz at High Dive

Kelley Stoltz at High Dive, Seattle | 4 May 2008

Kelley Stoltz all smiles in his crocodiles

I was beginning to think that the only people that new of Kelley Stoltz were a hand full of music geeks and advertising people. to say the shows were sparsely the last two times I’d seen him here attended would be generous . For his show at the Crocodile back in April of last year the audience consisted of a handful of people and the Essex Green who played earlier. I’m glad to see that the guy is getting a little more love these days. Sunday night he was the opening act for Vetiver, but you wouldn’t have known it buy the number of people and the enthusiasm they displayed. At the end of his short 45 minute set people were yelling for more.

I guess that’s what a few commercials (hello Marriott and Volvo)playing your songs will do, or maybe he’s just starting to break through. In any event, Stoltz has grown his band to six members, with a full time keyboard player and a guy playing the saxophone and theremin. They ping-ponged back and forth between songs from Below the Branches and the new Circular Sounds nary leaving out a favorite except for To Speak to the Girl (I swear it’s some long lost Kinks song). I thought he was going to play it when he said the next song contains the best bass line I’ve ever written. Apparently that honor goes to a new song about watches which a bouncy bass line similar to To Speak to the Girl. Watching this show, I was amazed at how tight Stoltz and his band sound, easily improvising a song about the bassist who is a State Stradelin’ Guy because he was born on the state line in Kansas City. Stoltz and his band emanate this kind of antique glow rock n’ roll that may seem like a throwback to the 60’s but it’s done with such craftsmanship that while watching them play you get a rush that feels like it’s brand new and right now.

mp3: Kelley Stoltz – To Speak to the Girl (buy Circular Sounds)

Atlas Sound at High Dive

Atlas Sound at High Dive, Seattle | 6 March 2008
Atlas Sound - Bradford Cox
I was walking home from the bus last night right around dusk and the sky over the Olympic Mountains was dark, but it was cracked open with bright sky showing through. I was listening to the Atlas Sound album Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel and it was the perfect soundtrack for that ominous and majestic sky. Cut to the High Dive later that night and Bradford Cox saying ‘can you change the lighting, I feel like I’m in a sewer’. Cox comes across as a funny, amiable guy on stage. At one point he asked the audience what kind of music they were into, someone yelled out Slowdive, and then somebody yells Souvlaki Space Station. Cox, says, I don’t know them, and then the guy yells, “It’s a Slowdive Song”. Bradford deadpans, “I’m not really into shoegaze.”

Atlas Sound definitely has Slowdive like sound, but I thought it was the dub-like bass lines last night that kept reminding me of Slowdive. Don’t get me wrong the soaring effects laden guitars last night were very plentiful, but Atlas Sound were firmly grounded with an ace all girl rhythm section which made the songs really get into some hypnotic grooves. Between songs the band was all about goofing off, playing parts Collective Soul songs to hilarious affect and giving us a bit of a Chicago House Music send-up. They kicked off their set with post-rockish Cold as Ice and then stepped it up with an excellent version River Card, which was anchored by an excellent dub-bass line. Getting lost in the haze of guitar, I found the show coming to an end just as it seemed to be starting. I looked at my watch and realized that they’d played for a little more than an hour, essentially playing their entire album.

mp3: Atlas Sound – River Card

buy it: Atlas Sound – Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel

mp3: Slowdive – Souvlaki Space Station (from Souvlaki)

I caught opener White Rainbow, which is Adam Forkner. He also plays guitar in Atlas Sound. Watching White Rainbow was kind of like watching paint dry. Forkner sat cross- legged on the floor cradling his guitar and surrounded by effects pedals and a small keyboard. He stayed in that position the entire time. He started off with an ambient hum, gradually adding sampled effects from his guitar and keyboard, and finally looped beat. The entire set was one long piece of music, kind of cool to hear, but watching it wasn’t the most exciting thing.

The Purrs at the High Dive

The Purrs getting psychedelic, or my camera really sucks.

Just when you thought it was safe to come back here…Seattle week continues! Only by coincidence really, the Purrs were playing down the hill from where I live so it was kind of a no-brainer for me to go to the gig after being smitten by their latest album the Chemistry that Keeps us Together.

The band took the stage to about half the crowd that was there to see the previous band Feral Children. Not sure why people vacated, but it was their loss, because the Purrs put on a clinic on how to rock out. They came off as a lot more garage-y sounding live, kicking it up a notch as that one chef on tv is wont to say. I had a feeling I was going to like the Purrs live before the show even started. As they were setting up, I caught a glimpse of the effects pedal boards of both guitarists. They both had a veritable smörgåsbord of pedals, I would have needed a menu to keep them straight, but these guys have got them down. My prognosis for the show was good (in my book more effects pedals = better show), and I was not disappointed in the least, though my ears are still complaining a little.

Earlier this week I compared the Purrs to the Church and after seeing them live I’d like to reitterate that one, because not only is Jima a bass playing front man, but guitarists Jason Atkin and Jason Milne are like a Marty Wilson-Piper and Peter Koppes duo, expertly playing off of one another and creating a wall of blissful noise that is something to behold. The entire band were solid, exuding a cool confidence with their playing that I rarely see. They hit all of the highlights from the new record, starting the set with a full-throttled version of Waiting for the Asteroid. Frozen in Time, She’s got Chemicals, Junk and Jill and Miles Away all hit the same highs that they do on record. They also threw in three brand new songs, one of which Jima mentioned that the band might get around to recording, but in the meantime we could hear it on his home answering machine. I guess he’s got some kind of They Might Be Giants dial-a-song thing going on over at his place.

Why these guys aren’t signed to a label and way more known than they are is beyond me. For now, I just count myself very lucky to be able to go a few blocks and see a Purrs gig.

I got there just as the Feral Children were beginning their set. This is the second time I’ve seen them and I still can’t say I get these guys. They feature two drummers front and center, one of them that seems to run in place while he hits stuff and sings. They kind of remind me of a Fall incarnation minus Mark E. Smith. Their proggish sound does at times hit a catchy patch, but I think what they’re going for is more of a groove thing. I thought the best song of the night was the opener that showed a restraint that seemed like the band was just itching to blow out of and go into one of their freak outs, but never did.

Smoke ’em if ya got ’em

1990’s at the High Dive | Seattle | 4 November 2007

1990’s at the High Dive, Seattle

Man, the 1990’s were smokin’ last night at the High Dive. We’ll most everyone was smoking last night. How could that be at a bar in Seattle where you can’t smoke inside? The show was sponsored by a cigarette manufacturer so there were free fags for the taking as well as free drinks and free 1990’s CD’s. Hell, even the show was free. To get drinks and cigs, all you had to do was say you are a smoker, answer a few questions and let a woman with a giant suit case full of cigarettes scan your driver’s license and you were living large. So you would think a free show with all that other free stuff, the place would be packed. I did too, but I was wrong, there must have been some wires crossed somewhere, because the 1990’s have an excellent record out called Cookies that is a full on rock ‘n roll party record, part Velvet Underground and part Rolling Stones with undeniable hooks. I’m positive, if more people had heard it, they would have been rushing down to Fremont for this show.

Guitarist Jackie McKeown and drummer Michael McGaughrin are songwriting duo of this Glaswegian trio. McKeown fronted the excellent Yummy Fur which put out some excellent Fall influenced records in the 90’s (both Night Club and Sexy World are worth seeking out) and that Fall influence still shines through a bit in the 1990’s.

The band kept alluding to being a bit hung over from the night before, but their performance didn’t suffer from any cobwebs that lingered from the previous night. Their short set hit all the highlights from Cookies, opening with the first song on the record, You Made Me Like It and ended with the album closer, the cacophonous Situation. Really, songs like Arcade Precinct, Is there a Switch for That? and See You at the Lights should be radio staples around these parts. Maybe they are sporting the wrong influences at the wrong time, not sure, I always thought classic pop was, well…classic pop and never out of style. No matter, the sparsely populated High Dive totally was down with these guys and the band didn’t seem to mind playing for a small but enthusiastic bar.

mp3: 1990’s – You’re Supposed to Be My Friend

buy: (the excellent Bernard Butler (Suede) produced) Cookies

bonus mp3 #1: from McKeown’s old band the Yummy Fur – Kirsty Cooper (from the album Night Club)
bonus mp3 #2: Yummy Fur – In the Company of Women (from the album Sexy World)

Euros Childs and David Kilgour at the High Dive

Euros Childs + David Kilgour at the High Dive | Seattle

Euros Childs getting ghostly on Halloween

Euros Childs is kind of a mysterious guy, at least to me. There aren’t any photos of him on the sleeves of his records and his previous band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci weren’t photographed very often either. Half of his songs, he sings in his native Welsh, so even the music has a mysterious quality to it. So when I found myself standing next to Euros at the High Dive I did a double take, he looked like somebody’s kid brother who sneaked in the back door at this 21+ show. Not very mysterious, but a very nice guy and someone capable of playing a killer show to mostly empty High Dive on Halloween night.

Euros is quite prolific of late, putting out two albums this year. The Welsh sung Bore Da came out back in March and the recently released English sung Miracle Inn just released last month. Euros was behind his giant keyboard accompanied by bass and drummer Peter Richardson who is himself another former Gorky (and Topper) . The songs came quick, one after another, and when his acoustic guitar wasn’t coming through the sound board, he quickly put it down and quickly moved on franticly to the next song. Most of his songs are keyboard based, and Euros can rock it on the Roland, at times reminding me of the energy of Jerry Lee Louis. Not that I ever saw Jerry Lee live mind you, but he certainly conjured up a manic energy that I imagine Jerry Lee had, especially on the rocker Henry a Matilda Supermarketsuper.

Another one of my favourites from the night comes from the new album, Miracle Inn.
mp3: Euros Childs – Over You

Not sure what it is about the Welsh and their habit of playing long songs live. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Gruff Rhys do his 15 minute Skylon! and tonight I had the pleasure of hearing Euros do the 15 minute title track to Miracle Inn. It’s not so much a single song but multiple ones under the guise of Miracle Inn, and the small appreciative crowd was totally into it.

David Kilgour at the High Dive.  That’s a whig.
Euros is touring with New Zealander and former Clean man David Kilgour. They are alternating nights as head liners and tonight Kilgour drew the short straw. Since the Clean he’s put out six solo albums, so he had a wealth of material to choose from, but he stuck mostly to his last three. I’m a huge fan of his album Sugar Mouth, and he’s understandably moved on since that 1994 pop masterpiece. Since it was Halloween night, he sported a black whig for the entire set and brought up Homer Simpson for one song. Kilgour seemed like he was in goofy mood, but the loud conversations of uninterested drinkers in the back of the bar seemed to take away any energy the band could muster. Despite that, he still sounded great with his distinctively laid back voice giving his pop songs a really shimmering quality. It was a real pleasure to see him in this rare (at least in America) live setting.

Though, he didn’t play it, No, No, No from Sugar Mouth is one of my favorite David Kilgour songs.
mp3: David Kilgour – No, No, No