Don’t Call Him a Throwback

Nick Waterhouse at the Barboza, Seattle | 29 May 2012

Nick Waterhouse doesn’t like it when you call him retro and he doesn’t like it when you say he looks like Buddy Holly. He prefers you reference Bill Evans and doesn’t buy the retro tag.  He does kinda look like Buddy Holly, and I agree with him that he does look like Bill Evans too, but the jazz pianist is a reference many people will not get.  As for the retro thing, bands apeing My Bloody Valentine could be called retro since that was over 20 years ago. He just chooses to go back a little further for inspiration like Stax Records (Booker T!), Jimmy Smith and Them.

Waterhouse who is from southern California, dresses the retro part so it’s no wonder he gets the comparisons. He weighs in at a buck-twenty-five, but the guy’s style and showmanship makes him seem much bigger. Appearing in slacks, dinner jacket, loafers and horned rimmed glasses in Neumo’s basement last night, to the passer-by he looked like Buddy Holly. If you stayed, you quickly found out he sounds nothing like that rock and roller from Lubbock, Texas.  He brought with him a six-piece band, the Tarots which included a saxophone, bongos, keyboard player and girl back-up singer.  All of them looked dapper, which you immediately notice, since most bands these days appear on stage looking like they just got of bed.

The Barboza, the new space under Neumo’s that opened a couple weeks ago, has a cool ‘retro’ ambiance itself (I thought for a moment I was walking onto the set of the Sting when I walked through the door.) and was the perfect place for this gig.  The band was super tight. No weak links at all. Saxophone and girl backing vocals featured prominently in every song and Waterhouse’s vocals were a little smoother, than the slightly blown out takes that appear on the LP. He may disparage the retro tag, but he sure acts like he’s in a time warp. Introducing the band, using period jargon calling the audience ‘fine folks’, and just genuinely being an all around cool cat.

Raina, my favorite song from the record sounded great, but it was Is That Clear (#3 single of 2011) that blew the roof off the place. It was the final song in the set and it rumbled and raged. I would have left totally satisfied, but the audience wanted more and Waterhouse obliged. He and his band came back out and provided the perfect encore. It was Waterhouse doing a narrative over a mean groove. It seemed off the cuff, as he described being obsessed with 45’s, assembling his band, quitting his 46 hour a week job and going for it. Call him retro if you want, but I haven’t seen a show this hot in a while.

Time's All Gone

mp3: Nick Waterhouse – Raina (from Time’s All Gone on Innovative Leisure)


The Sonics at the Paramount Theatre, Seattle | 31 October 2008

Halloween night is always a surreal experience, but add to it the fact that the Sonics are playing their first show in Seattle in more than 35 years and it gets a even a tad more surreal. The Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle was packed with zombies (not the Zombies), devils, Egyptian queens, rock stars, aging punks and a whole lotta Sonics fans. Half of the people to whom I mentioned this show gave me a similar response saying they thought the team had left town for Oklahoma. There was no question as to who the real Sonics were to the nearly sold out Paramount.  I mentioned earlier in the week, I wasn’t sure if I was going to the show because of ticket prices; well it must have been fate stepping in because I actually won a pair of tickets to the show from Seattle Sound magazine. They were good seats too, on the floor and in the 26th row.

The Sonics are godfathers of the NW music scene along with the Wailers, Paul Revere and Raiders and the Ventures.  It seems funny now that this quintessential garage band used to be considered a teen dance band, but sure enough there were people dancing in the aisles this night.    Speaking of godfathers, the band had Little Steven introduce them, and join them for Have Love Will Travel and the Witch.  Little Steven is not only a fan but an aficionado of garage rock doing a weekly radio show called Little Steven’s Underground Garage . Adding to the show’s Rock and Roll hall of fame feel, the Wailers Buck Ormsby also came out to read a letter from Eddie Vedder about how great the Sonics are. I don’t really think anyone needed to hear from Eddie to convince them about the Sonics, we were all here after all. It was all fun though, kind of pumping up the crowd even more for the show.

I wasn’t sure how good these aging rockers would be some 40 years past their prime, but with the crowd’s enthusiasm as well as the band’s made sure this once in a lifetime event was going to be something special.  The band played everything I wanted to hear, which was all the original classics penned by Gerry Roslie like Strychnine, Shot Down, Boss Hoss, and Psycho.  Close your eyes and you could almost forget that it is 2008.  The band were also joined by the Wailers’ Kent Morill for Dirty Robber and for the encore they were joined by original drummer Bob Bennet giving us a double drummer version of the band.  My only complaint is that they could have done without some of the cover songs.  Their cover of Werewolves of London was pretty pointless and cringe-worthy.  Werewolves was soon forgotten when they  kicked into Pshyco, Louie Louie and then ending it with their stone cold classic The Witch.

As we were hanging out in aisle waiting for the show to start, Mark Arm of Mudhoney passed by and sat a few seats over from us. Bringing things full circle for the night,  my friend Bryan leaned over at the start of the Witch and said how he always thought how much that song influenced Mudhoney’s Touch Me I’m Sick.  Mudhoney and a number of other bands in Seattle can trace their influences back to the Sonics. Friday Seattle was here to see its roots in the flesh.  I can imagine that the Sonics this night were nearly as good as they were in 1965. The band may have aged but their music and influence is still very much alive.  And From 26 rows back, far enough away from the stage to not see actually how old they are, the Sonics still rock!

Set List: He’s Waitin | (Money) That’s What I Want | Cinderella | Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark | Boss Hoss | Keep on Knockin | The Hustler | You’ve Got Your Head on Backwards | High Time |Have Love Will Travel | Werewolves of London | Strychnine | Lucille | Walkin’ the Dog | Don’t Believe in Christmas | (Night Time Is) The Right Time |Shot Down | Dirty Robber | Psycho | Louie Louie | The Witch

Here’s some video I shot for Have Love Will Travel, sound is decent, picture is not so good.

Black Nite and Magnetic Morning

Magnetic Morning and Black Nite Crash at Chop Suey, Seattle | 29 October 2008

At first I didn’t realize how good of a drummer Sam Fogarino is, but I kept being drawn in by the drums Thursday night.  His drumming was downright hypnotic at times, a beacon through the haze of of guitars and keyboards guiding and taking the songs to places that mere mortal drummers never even fathom.    Magnetic Morning are something of a supergroup combining the talents of Adam Franklin from Swervedriver and Fogarino from Interpol as well as Jimmy Lavalle from the Album Leaf.  You instantly recognize Franklin’s lazy dreamlike vocals in Magnetic Morning songs, but this is an equal partnership between Franklin and Fogarino and that was in plain view this night.  The two met through mutual friend Jack Rabid (founder and writer of the Big Takeover) and instantly hit it off, starting this project that was originally named Setting Suns but later changing their name to Magnetic Morning rather than Setting Suns NYC because another band already possessed the name.

Adam Franklin is a man of few words on stage.  When he was here with Swervedriver a few months ago, he barely mumbled a thank you between songs.  Thursday he was about as talkative, but Fogarino could be heard from the drums ribbing his friend about having all of his effects pedals ready for the next song.  As for the songs, they have a more widescreen cinematic feel to them.  Where Swervdriver songs seemed to be fueled by the open highway, Magnetic Morning go more for the landscape beyond the open road, filling them with space and depth a lot like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.  A few of the highlights from the set were covers, but the way they cover a song is essentially to reinvent it, like they did with Kraftwerks‘s Autobahn, renaming it Motorway and translating the lyrics into English.  They also did their Kinks and Shangri-La’s covers The Way We Used to Be and Out In the Streets respectively.  They ended their set with two of their best songs, Cold War Kids from their ep and Athens 5 which is the last song on their album AM.

mp3: Magnetic Morning – Motorway (from AM)

mp3: Magnetic Morning – Cold War Kids (from the Magnetic Morning EP)

Set List: At a Crossroads, Passive | Indian Summer | DontGoToDreamState | The Way Love Used To Be | The Wrong Turning | Spring Unseen | Motorway | No Direction | Out In the Streets | And I Wonder | Cold War Kids | Athens 5

Kicking off the nite were Seattle shoegazers Black Nite Crash.  Naming themselves after a song that came off Ride’s final (and worst) album.  I can safely say Black Night Crash are way better than anything off of Ride’s Tarantula, and actually have a heavier sound more akin to Spacemen 3 and Jesus and Mary Chain.  A lot of bands seem to check off all the right influences, you may know the litany; the House of Love, Ride, the Church, etc. but lack the songs to go with their sound.  Black Nite Crash are the total package, not only excelling in evoking a guitar drenched melancholy sound, they have the songs to go with it.  Drenched in blue light up on the Chop Suey stage, the band seemed to exhude a cool confidence.  Songs like Soft Focus and Perfect Blue show off their English pop sensibilities while Wanna Die and Revalator just plain out rock.  A while ago I wrote how I was amazed by how many bands in this city love the shoegaze, I heartily add Black Night Crash to that list!

mp3: Black Nite Crash – Revalator (buy their album, you get both vinyl and cd)

Telekinesis! | Black Whales @ the Tractor

Telekinesis! and Black Whales at the Tractor Tavern, Seattle | 22 October 2008

Seattle is so full of bands that there seems to be a new one each week that everyone is getting excited about, you’d think it was Brooklyn or something. While I’m not very good at predicting what band is going to be the next big thing, I would hazard a guess that either the Black Whales or Telekinesis! have pretty good odds. And as luck would have it they were sharing a bill at the Tractor Tavern down in Ballard last night.

Telekinesis! on paper is mostly Michael Lerner but he has a band for gigs. Lerner plays drums and sings which requires a different stage setup than the typical drums in the back.  Last night the stage was arranged with the drums up front and off to the side, and reminded me of seeing Tom Vek a few years ago where he had the drums setup as the centerpiece. Having the drums up front always offers a different and interesting dynamic to a band.  Lerner certainly doesn’t get lost behind his kit  looking a little like Martin Carr of the Boo Radleys, he keeps the banter going between songs and is a genuinely engaging singer with a smooth boyish voice.Telekinesis have a power pop energy in songs like Tokyo and All of a Sudden, but there is a more esoteric to some of their stuff that reminds me of other NW bands like the Shins and Throw Me the Statue.  Telekinesis! aren’t really breaking any new ground, but Lerner can turn a great pop hook and their set was pretty fun.  I can only imagine that will get even better with more playing.  Look out for a Telekinesis! album produced by Chris Walla in the coming months.

mp3: Telekinesis! – All of a Sudden

mp3: Telekinesis! – Coast of Carolina

I caught the last song of Black Whales‘ set as I arrived to see Boat at the Reverb fest a few weeks ago.  With that one song, I had heard enough to know I wanted to see them again.  Black Whales have this warmth in their sound that makes it seem like they’ve been together much longer than they really have.  The band seem to just really mesh with a sound that has elements of powerpop, classic rock and slight hints of country (I could be just making up the country thing, because of the western shirts three quarters of the band were sporting last night).   I’m sure that front man Alex Robert with his boyish good looks will end up getting compared to Conor Oberst, but Black Whales remind me more of California power pop bands of the 80’s like the Plimsouls, the Rave-Ups and Wire Train.  Black Whales played about ten songs and were joined for a few of them by Robert’s sisters to sing backing vocals.   They have a four song ep that they were giving away for free.  I’m glad I picked one up early because they were all snatched up by the end of the night.  According to an interview the band did over on the Three Gigs blog they’ve recorded enough songs for an album and as evidenced last night they’re quality songs.

mp3: Black Whales – Books on Tape

mp3: Black Whales – The Diamond Divide

Welcome to the North End

Reverb Fest in Ballard | 4 October 2008

Reverb is a one day festival curated by the Seattle Weekly that consists exclusively of bands in and around Seattle.  Saturday there were 64 bands playing at nine different venues, way more than a single person could ever hope to take in.  Some of the venues were ones that host music on a nightly basis like the Tractor, Sunset Tavern and Conor Bryne.  There were also many others that you don’t normally see live music at like the shoe store Market Street Athlete and the Salmon Bay Eagles.  The festival is very low key compared to bigger ones like Bumbershoot and the Capital Hill Block Party, but that’s partly what makes it so charming.  There was no fighting crowds trying to get to the next band, and since most of the shows were at pubs, getting a beer and watching a band at the same time was too easy.  At one point, I found myself sitting down in the Lock and Keel with a beer in hand, just taking in the scene on a blustery afternoon in Ballard, I just couldn’t think of what possibly could beat it.

The afternoon started out with my son, who oftentimes will ask if he can come with me to see a band. The answer is always, ‘it’s too late and you’re not old enough.’ Since Reverb kicked off at three in the afternoon and there were a bunch of all ages venues, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to take him along. He’s only six, but like most six year olds, quite curious. So with earplugs in hand, we hopped on the #44 bus and headed down to Ballard. We arrived at he Salmon Bay Eagles club which had one of the strongest lineups of the day that included Aqueduct, Boat, Black Whales and Mono in VCF.

The Monday Mornings were just hitting the stage as we came up the stairs and into the hall. My Grandfather is a Moose, so I remember spending more than a few hours in one of these places. The Eagles of Salmon Bay has the air of a place that has not changed in about 25 years. It’s one of those places that time forgot, oozing cigar smoke and stale beer. We grabbed a seat up close on the benches that lined the walls. The Monday Mornings set was a good warm up to the afternoon with their easy pop harmonies making the big dark Eagles hall a little bit brighter.  They get labeled as folky, but there songs have too much high energy pop sensibilities for that label, maybe it’s their violin player?  We hung out for their entire set, with my son declaring at the end of it that the drums were the best and he like how the drummer shook his hair.
mp3: Monday Mornings – Warm Divinity

MySpace: Monday Mornings

We headed up to Verite for a cup cake after the Monday Mornings and then straight back to the Eagles for Panda and Angle. On a sugar high, we enjoyed their sparse, dreamy set. On record they seem to use a lot of electronics, but live it was mostly guitars filling the hall.  They were good, no song really stood out and grabbed me, but all of them had similar airy guitar soaked vibe.
mp3: Panda and Angel – Dangerous

MySpace: Panda and Angel

Next we headed back up to Market and to Marke Street Athlete, a shoe store on most days, but today it was the hip hop venue. We got their well in advance of Canary Sing so we spent the time checking out the sneakers and sliding around on the floor. Six year olds like to roll around on the floor. Canary Sing are two girls still in college but their music has a cool laid back vibe that defies their age. They remind me a bit of Digable Planets and the whole paisley rap scene of the late 80’s with their jazz samples and superhero references. They apologized for being late, explaining that it was the first time they’d been to the ‘North End’. It was a small group there to see them, but lively. They only have an self released ep out, but there are planes for an album. Canary sing were totally fun and unassuming, my pleasant surprise of the day!
MySpace: Canary Sing

Here is where my wife comes to the rescue, not to mine but my son’s. He had decided that he’d had enough of watching bands and was ready to go. So here’s where he gets rescued and I’m left to my own devices, but not before my wife reminds me that I owe her big time for letting me hang around to catch a few more shows.

I made my way down Ballard Avenue to the Lock and Keel for the Little Penguins.  The Little Penguins are Will Hallauer’s band who seems to be in about nearly half of all the bands that I like in Seattle.  He may be best known as the drummer in the Turn-Ons.  Hallauer fronts the Little Penguins playing guitar, leaving the drumming to Garrett Croxon formerly of the Fleet Foxes.  Tonight he was joined by Turn-On’s band mate Eric Blood on guitar.  The Little Penguins have a lot of the same UK 80’s indie guitar band references as the Turn-Ons, but the songs seem a bit more low key and comfortable.  I should also point out that they did a superb cover of Joy Division’s Isolation that was full of tight energy.  They totally nailed the song, reminding me of the rawer BBC version that Joy Division did.

mp3: Little Penguins – The Celebration

MySpace: The Little Penguins

Final stop of the night for me was one more trip to the Eagles club to catch Boat before they go into hibernation. I arrived in time to catch the last song of the Black Whales’ set, making me whish I’d seen their entire show.  This was to Boat’s final show before they begin to write and record album number three. Making sure that they’d get audience participation, the boys from Boat passed out homemade shakers and confettie to the audience before taking the stage. So with shaker in one hand and confetti in the other I watched Boat rock the all ages crowd with their unique, twisted, geek rock. They threw in a few new songs like the very promising Prince of Tacoma and Lately…I’ve Been on My Back. I shook my shaker and threw my confetti and had a genuine good time knowing how lucky I am to be living in a city with such a vibrant music scene and with a festival that celebrates it all.

MySpace: Boat

Punk’s Not Dead

Silver Jews at Neumo’s, Seattle | 2 October 2008

A few things struck me while I was watching the Silver Jews last night at Neumo’s:

1. I would never be considered a real fan by the diehards that surrounded me.  I wouldn’t say that I was dragged to the show.  I willingly volunteered when my friend Mike said he was going.   I remember liking Starlight Walker back in my days as music director at WCDB in Albany, NY, but I must admit that Dave Berman’s band initially got my interest because of his guitarist, Steve Malkmus.  Over the years I’ve been an on again, off again with them, but after last night’s show I think it’s safe to say I’m now a bona fide fan.

2. Dave Berman, who is really the main Jew kind of stalks the stage like Mark E Smith of the Fall.  Throughout the night I kept being reminded of MES. For one thing, Berman’s delivery is kind of a talk-sing style, though Berman is much easier to understand than Smith.  He’s also what you might call an eccentric guy, it’s nothing you can really put your finger on, but carrying around a 9v battery throughout the night, muttering about losing his set list which he had written on a tiny note card and his map and easil all made for a stage presence you don’t see every day.  Berman’s wife is also a member of the band like Smith who’s wife is also in the Fall.

3. Berman is a tall, lanky fellow and many times he seemed to get lost in the moment of the performance, knocking over his easil, getting tangled in his mic chord, and losing his set list.  He was kind of like the absent minded professor, but a professor for sure.  His dark western style suit and big dark glasses lent to his eccentric flair, and his birch stick that he used to point out on his hand drawn map, flailed around nearly poking band members.  I flinched a couple times as the long stick wished through the air.

4.  The map seemed to be very important to Berman, when the easil it was on got smashed, he took the time to break each of the easil legs to the same length so that we could all still see the map.  A few times he looked at the set list and announced, ‘ahh a map song!’ Then he’d grab his stick and point to a city or state he’d drawn on it.  He would even continue the geography lesson mid song, often times routing us between cities and states and looking up as if to make sure we were all getting it.  Safe to say, a lot the crowd had studied hard for this class in the Silver Jews and knew all the answers.  Constant requests and professions of love were coming out of the audience all night.

5. The two guitarists, alternating leads provided a beefier sound to the Silver Jews.  Silver Jews records have always been excercises in lo-fi with the emphasis on Berman’s lyrics.  Not that the guitars were ever neglected on the records, but last night they just took a front seat comfortably beside Berman.  I thought this was great, opening up the sound and taking the focus off of the Berman at times.  My friend Mike thought that the guitars were a bit loud making Berman’s singing hard to hear at times. A valid complaint, since Berman’s lyrics are pretty damn amazing minus music of any kind. (I heard everything fine, I think you’re going deaf Mike)

6. Bassist Cassie Berman, who as I mentioned is married to Dave Berman, also sings. Mostly singing small parts or backing vocals.  On Tennessee from the Bright Flight Album, she takes a more prominent roll and I thought it was one the highlights of the night.  She has a sweet, dulcete voice  that makes a great foil to Berman’s rustic twang. 

7. It has been said that the latest Jews album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is not as good as previous releases.  It may not be as consistent, but it contains some of the best Silver Jews songs to date and that was made more evident hearing them played live.  Songs like What is Not But Could Be If, Strange Victory Strange Defeat and my favorite of the night, San Francisco, BC were as good as anything else in the set. 

8. Berman seems to keep track of how many shows the Silver Jews have played.  Mid set, he announced that this was in fact only their 95th show.  I guess it must be pretty easy to keep track since he’s notoriously shyed away from touring.  In fact this is only the second time he’s brought the band on the road in their nearly 20 years of existence.

9. There are more photos from the show including the Silver Jews map and the set list over at my Flickr page.

mp3: Silver Jews – San Francisco, B.C. (buy Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea)

mp3: Silver Jews – Tennesee (buy Bright Flight)

Seattle, Los Angeles, Whatever…

The Wedding Present at Neumo’s, Seattle | 24 September 2008

Some bands have what you might call rabid followings. People that devote a lot of their lives to a band, they collect everything that is released, make matching band t-shirts and follow the band around when they tour. The Wedding Present is certainly one of those bands. Last night there were quite a few super-fans there with Scopitones West Coast Tour shirts who were following the band on their west coast leg of their US tour. Gedge seemed to be on a first name basis with more than a few of them, carrying on conversations with them between songs.

This was sort of a homecoming for David Gedge who lived in Seattle for a year while he wrote songs for Take Fountain. He’s since moved on to Los Angeles where he wrote songs for the new album El Rey. Mid set Gedge asked if anyone had any questions. I wanted to ask him what city he was moving to for the next album, but failed to blurt it out. I predict either Miami or Chicago, time will tell.

The set was a blast with the Weddos starting it off with the jangling rush of Kennedy and then immediately into It’s for You. The songs came in rapid fire succession with one song ending, and the next coming without even a breath. They played about half of their new album El Rey and those songs sounded stronger in their live context with them getting that little extra rapid Wedding Pesentesque jangle treatment. Gedge and company did not neglect their extensive back catalog, going back as far as You Should Always Keep in Touch With Your Friends. After playing it, Gedge remarked that anyone remembering that song was too old to be there. If that were the case, I think most of us should have left. The old songs were what I was there for and I was not disappointed with the band pulling from George Best, Bizarro, and Seamonsters and both the Hit Parades.  This Wedding Present gig was pretty much everything a fan, or super-fan, could have asked for with a lot of the old mixed in the with the new.

mp3: The Wedding Present – Spider-Man on Hollywood (buy a copy of El Rey)

Set List: Kennedy (Bizarro) |It’s For You (TakeFountain) | Gone (Bizarro) | Don’t Take Me Home Until I’m Drunk (ElRey) | You Should Always Keep in Touch With Your Friends (Tommy) | Lovenest (Seamonsters) | Blue Eyes (HP 1) | Palisades (El Rey) | Snake Eyes (Saturnalia) | Sports Car (Mini) |Spiderman on Hollywood (ElRey) | Crawl (Seamonsters) | You Turn Me On (Cinerama) | Granadaland (Bizarro) | My Favourite Dress (GB) | Interstate 5 (Take Fountain) | Model, Actress, Whatever (El Rey) | The Thing I Like Best About Him is His Girlfriend (El Rey) | Dalliance (Seamonsters) | Dare (Seamonsters) | Flying Saucer (HP 2) | Boo Boo (ElRey)