Taking on America with an extensive 25 date tour is ambitious for any band, but when you’re Chook Race, a little known three piece jangle pop band from Melbourne, Australia it’s downright impressive (and maybe a little insane). The band made its way into Seattle Wednesday night to play the Victory Lounge, a bar with no stage in East Lake. This is one band I thought I would never see in Seattle, but after self-releasing their first album, Chicago label Trouble in Mind signed them making their second LP widely available in the United States as well as this tour a reality.
Singer and guitarist Matthew Liveriadis has a slight monotone delivery, but drummer Carolyn Hawkins provides a beautiful juxtaposition with her backing harmonies. The trio played an energized and jangly set inspired by the Bats and Close Lobsters mixing soon to be jangle pop classics from their first LP with ones of a slightly more classic pop sound from their new second album Around the House. In their short existence the band already have a stash of A-list songs and they didn’t leave any of them out including jangly diamonds like Dentist, Time, Sometimes and Hard to Clean and Older. The band’s tight sound and laid back attitude easily won over the likely already won over folks in attendance and made us all appreciate the long trip they had made to get here.
Like minded Seattlites Zebra Hunt opened for Chook Race with a set that consisted almost entirely of new songs (Half Right was the only old one). Apparently the new album is nearly ready and based on this evidence I would agree. One song really stood out with its Feelies-like crazy rhythm, even slowing down and then rebuilding itself into something quite raucous. Zebra Hunt has still got it!
Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Sugar Stems have just released their third album Only Come Out at Night but this is the first time they’ve been to the west coast to play. Last night in Seattle was the first night of their tour that will take them all the way down the west coast and back to Wisconsin. It was also the first night of the Capitol Hill Block Party, but you never would have known it in Eastlake. The Lo-Fi, Black Lodge and Victory Lounge had shows and the block was full of people spilling out into the street.
Even though the Sugar Stems don’t get out to tour often, they probably have really jobs that limit their opportunities to hit the road, the Victory Lounge was comfortably full of power pop fans ready for a rare treat. The band, a five piece on record was down to four leaving their keyboard player back at home, but they still brought the goods with them. Singer Betsy Heibler has an amazing voice. It’s crystal clear and cuts right through everything even the twin guitar attack of her band. Heibler played mostly rhythm on her snazzy looking Rickenbacker while Drew Fredrichsen played most of the leads and sang backing vocals and lead one song, Haunted. Bassist Steph Swinney Conard was scrunched in between the guitarists and the crowd left little space in front since the Victory doesn’t have a stage. Drummer Jon Heibler’s in his Flamin’ Groovies t-shirt and lanky frame lurching over his comparatively small kit reminded me a little of Rick Menck of Velvet Crush, though he didn’t get up between songs and come to the mike to banter about rock history and cool records.
Being the first night of the tour, the band was in a good mood and cranked out the songs at a rapid pace. Out at night is their third album and is no dip in quality from the previous two. None of the records veer too far off the powerpop path and the band packed their set list exclusively with upbeat rockers. The Sugar Stems are a great mix of Cheap Trick, the Bangles, the Nerves. Their songs seem to have many of the same ingredients of those popular energy drinks the kids like to sip. My head was still buzzing from their set as I walked out onto the crowded street. I wasn’t sure if it was their power packed set or the fact that I had forgotten my earplugs and got the full bottle of energy drink unfiltered and unfined.
stream & buy: Sugar Stems – Only Come Out At Night
Catch the Sugar Stems on tour:
07/26 Portland, OR @ Slabtown
07/27 Longview, WA @ Chinese Garden
07/28 Oakland, CA @ Night Light
07/29 Riverside, CA @ Mission Tobacco Lounge
07/30 Los Angeles, CA @ Redwood Bar
07/31 San Diego, CA @ Ken Club
08/01 Orange County, CA @ House Of Blues
08/02 Tempe, AR @ Time Out Lounge
08/09 Appleton, WI @ Mile of Music
08/22 Milwaukee, WI @ Cactus Club