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Music journalist Travis Hay drops some knowledge and insight about local and national music news, offers reviews and offers a place for conversation on all things music.
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Archive for April, 2010

REVIEW & Set list: Soundgarden triumphantly rides the reunion snake during its return to the stage

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

The Showbox at the Market hosted the most buzzed-about band rehearsal ever in Seattle Friday night when the reunited Soundgarden played its first show in nearly 13 years.

Being away from the stage for nearly a decade and a half didn’t seem to phase Soundgarden, which is gearing up for a headlining spot at Lollapalooza in August and other tour dates. Once the band hit its groove a few songs into its 18-song set the seminal grunge rockers were on top of their game and the ecstatic sold-out crowd was on top of the world. For 90 minutes they took a group of fist-pumping, mosh-pitting, hair-swinging fans on a ride filled with hits, deep album cuts and rarities.

All the pieces were in place for the makings of Soundgarden’s monstrous hybrid of straight-ahead rock and powerful, dark metal. Kim Thayil’s massive riffs, Chris Cornell’s wailing vocals, Ben Sheperd’s booming bass licks and Matt Cameron’s thunderous drumming all played equal roles in the band’s triumphant return. Things kicked off with “Spoonman” signaling what could’ve been a safe set of radio staples. But the minute the heavy, droning opening notes of “Gun” began, which was the second song of the set, it was clear the show wouldn’t be  a romp through the hits (“Burden in My Hand,” “Blackhole Sun” and “Jesus Christ Pose” were noticeably missing from the set list). Soundgarden not only proved they are back they also made a statement that they’ve come back on their own terms, and those terms don’t necessarily involve catering to the members of their fanbase who know them best because of commercial radio.

The decision to stick to mostly older material – although I suppose all of the band’s material can be considered old since the band’s last studio record was released14 years ago – was definitely the right move. While the band didn’t have the same sense of danger and volatility it held back in its Sub Pop and SST days, songs like “Big Dumb Sex,” and the band’s first single, 1987’s “Hunted Down” sounded fresh, aggressive and somewhat raw when the band dusted off its catalog. The latter is being reissued by Sub Pop as a limited-edition 7” single today. Surprisingly, the show ended with a cover of The Doors’ “Waiting For The Sun.” The band gave the song a near demonic twist with Sheperd putting a heavy emphasis on the low end and Thayil’s guitar taking the riff in the devilish direction of heavy metal territory.

I was lucky enough to see the band twice when the group was in its prime – once in 1994 at the Kitsap Bowl and again in 1996 at the Gorge as part of Lollapalooza where they performed after the Ramones and before Metallica – and Friday’s show was on par with how I remember Soundgarden. Sure Cornell couldn’t quite hit his howl as high as he used to and he definitely didn’t hold the notes for as long as he did when he was in his twenties, but that’s to be expected. Oh, and unlike the past Soundgarden shows I’ve witnessed Cornell kept his shirt on (sorry ladies). But don’t think because he remained fully clothed that he isn’t still the golden god of grunge.

If there is any bad blood between the members of the Soundgarden camp they did a good job of masking any animosity. The guys were all smiles throughout the evening. During the bridge of “Outshined” Cornell playfully waved the microphone stand over his head. When he wasn’t bashing away at the skins Cameron could barely contain his grin and Sheperd could also be seen smiling on occasion. Cornell even walked behind Thayil during a guitar solo and raised his hands in the air encouraging the crowd to give it up for the lead axe man. It was pretty clear they were having fun together while working out the kinks and that there was some chemistry happening on stage.

While you could tell the band was having fun, they were still officially “rehearsing” so for the most part the guys were all business which made for little banter between songs. At one point Cornell thanked the fans for being positive about the reunion and another he said the band wasn’t going to just play songs they stopped playing in 1998. He said the band would be playing songs they stopped playing in 1990, hence the depth of the set list. Other than those two comments there wasn’t much interaction with the audience.

Watching Soundgarden, which has sold an estimated 20 million records worldwide, play to a hometown crowd in a club setting (the Showbox has a capacity of about 1,000) made it feel like 1991 all over again. Adding to that atmosphere was Chris Cornell’s hairstyle and the large number of grunge icons in the crowd. Cornell grew his hair out for the reunion and while it’s not at its Louder Than Love level of length and volume, it is at shoulder length which is a far cry from the spiky and short hairdo he’s been sporting the last decade. During “Flower” he shook his head left and right as if he was trying to remember how to rock out with his new locks and while doing so he ended up looking a lot like his old self. Spotted in the crowd were dozens of major players from the days of the OK Hotel and Velvet Elvis. Mark Arm, Kurt Bloch, Bruce Fairweather, Stone Gossard, founding Soundgarden bassist Hiro Yamamoto and even Sub Pop head honcho Jonathan Poneman were on hand to witness the band’s return.

The evening definitely felt historically significant for Seattle’s music community but it wasn’t solely because of who was in attendance. Two days earlier at the same venue hosted another grunge reunion of note. Members of Mother Love Bone reunited with Shawn Smith helming the microphone in place of the deceased Andy Wood and Malfunkshun, Wood’s band with his Brother Kevin, also took the stage with Smith handling the vocals. Both bands were instrumental in the development of the genre. The concert also took place during the first night of this year’s Coachella Music Festival, which is where earlier this year the band was rumored to make its first reunion appearance, although for the longest time the possibility of a reunion was always denied.

In 2005 during Cornell’s days in Audioslave I had the opportunity to interview him on his tour bus. It was supposed to be a 10-minute conversation but I ended up getting more than an hour of face time with him while he was doing vocal warmups. The experience remains one of the highlights of my career and the result was this profile. During our conversation (read the full transcript here) I asked him about the possibility of reuniting with his Soundgarden bandmates and he made it sound like it would never happen.

“I don’t think there are too many rock bands in history that can look at the beginning and middle and ending of themselves and see what I see when I think of Soundgarden. I think from the beginning through the middle and the end it was such a perfect ride and such a perfect legacy to leave,” said Cornell. “(Getting back together) would take the lid off that and could possibly change what up to now, to me, seems like the perfect lifespan of the band. I can’t think of any reason to mess with that.”

Obviously things have changed quite a bit since then. Rumblings of a Soundgarden reunion started when Cornell and the rest of Audioslave split in 2007. But the rumors really began to fly in March of last year when three-quarters of the band performed three Soundgarden songs on stage together at the Crocodile with Tad Doyle of TAD (who was also in the crowd Friday) fronting the band. It was a jaw-dropping moment to witness and after that show the flames were stoked for a reunion.

Cornell officially announced the reunion and the launch of a website, Soundgardenworld.com, on New Year’s Eve. Details about the reunion were pretty much nonexistent until it was announced the band would play its first reunion concert at this year’s Lollapalooza a few weeks ago (take that Coachella). Thursday morning a rumor about a secret Soundgarden show at the Showbox was leaked onto the Internet but there was confusion over whether it was a private party or a public show. Later Thursday afternoon Billboard.com reported the show was indeed happening and the cat was out of the bag.

No information was made public about how to buy tickets, which led to fans lining up outside of the Showbox Friday and waiting for up to five hours to have a chance to buy tickets only to find out the venue was not selling tickets at its box office. Soundgarden eventually ended up playing under the name Nudedragons, an anagram for Soundgarden, and tickets were sold exclusively online. Unfortunately, the email blast with the information for how purchase tickets was randomly sent to fans who signed up for the band’s fanclub which meant some fans got the email while others were left waiting for news about how to purchse tickets. I waited in line at the Showbox to buy tickets and I didn’t get an email from the fanclub until 12:09 p.m., a good two hours after the show had already sold out. I was able to attend the show because a very generous friend offered to take me as his +1. Here’s to hoping the next time Soundgarden plays in town the ticket-buying process won’t be as frustrating.

It took 13 years for Soundgarden to reunite and return to the stage and when they did they seemed to pick up right where they left off. Now that the band has shook off some of the rust it built up after being out of commission for so long there’s no telling what will happen next. If the band sounds as good as it did Friday at future reunion gigs maybe it will lead to a bigger local show (I’m looking at you Bumbershoot), or even better, a new album.

Setlist:
Spoonman
Gun
Searching With My Good Eye Closed
Rusty Cage
Beyond the Wheel
Flower
Ugly Truth
Fell on Black Days
Hunted Down
Nothing to Say
Loud Love
Blow Up The Outside World
Pretty Noose
Outshined
Slaves and Bulldozers
Encore:
Get On The Snake
Big Dumb Sex
Waiting for the Sun (Doors Cover)


Mother Love Bone reunites, Shawn Smith shines: Brad and friends, Satchel, Hank Khoir @ Showbox at the Market 04.14.10

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

The marquee at Showbox at the Market Wednesday night read Brad and Friends but it may have well screamed the Shawn Smith show.

Wednesday’s five-hour, six-band show included sets by Smith’s bands Pigeonhed, Satchel and Brad (which features Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard on guitar) as well as Gossard’s Hank Williams tribute band the Hank Khoir. However, as great as those sets were – especially the powerful and funky slab of songs by Brad and the rare Pigeonhed appearance – they weren’t the evening’s highlight. The highlight of the night came during the show’s final hour when Smith fronted seminal grunge groups Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, taking the place of the deceased Andy Wood who died in 1990.

Smith is one of the most underrated vocalists of the grunge era and his voice, which prominently features a finely pitched falsetto, makes him an easily recognizable, albeit somewhat obscure, player from the city’s glory days with the g-word. While he fronted almost every band on the bill, he seemed most comfortable singing Brad songs during that band’s 50-minute headlining set.

Although it wasn’t advertised, the Mother Love Bone set was something most knew would happen, considering Bruce Fairweather, Gossard and Greg Gilmore were in the building. It was confirmed when Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament took the stage grinning from ear to ear and “Stardog Champion” began with every living original member of the band on stage. The song was followed by “Holy Roller” and “Gentle Groove,” both off Mother Love Bone’s self-titled full-length debut album.

The four-song set ended with a cover of Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up,” a song Mother Love Bone once recorded. It would’ve been great to hear Smith tackle “Bone China” or deliver his amazing version of “Chole Dancer” “Crown of Thorns” like he did at the Hootenanny for Haiti earlier this year, but it’s tough to be picky when some of the songs that shaped grunge were being performed live by those who helped create the genre.

Typically I don’t endorse bands reuniting with a new vocalist after their singer passes away a la Queen with Paul Rogers or the current reincarnation of Sublime. The difference between this set and the likes of other reunions is that this show was a one-off event and it had the blessing of Kevin Wood, Andy’s brother, which made it feel more like a bunch of friends paying homage to a fallen brother rather than a plea for publicity or a quick cash grab. In fact, Smith is releasing a record of songs written by Andy Wood called Malfunkshun Monument with his band From the North on Aug. 10 and Kevin Woods is releasing the album on his Wammybox Records label.

Brad played the night’s longest set and it included a few songs from the group’s upcoming record “Best Friends?” including the standout “Rush Hour.” The song relied heavily on Gossard’s guitar which carried several songs during Brad’s set. It was nice to hear him as a lead guitarist as opposed to playing a solid second fiddle to Mike McCready in Pearl Jam. Brad’s final two songs provided one of the evening’s most poignant moments with Smith taking to a keyboard for “Screen” and “Buttercup.” The former is a song he said he doesn’t enjoy performing which is sad because its emotional delivery and soaring guitars make it difficult not to fall in love with the song.

Pigeonhed’s stint on stage included the Prince-influenced “Battle Flag,” which sounded worlds apart from the remix most are familiar with thanks to Steve Fisk’s loops and other fancy electronic devices being replaced by live instrumentation. The Hank Khoir set included a cameo by Pete Droge who performed “Under the Wave” a song he cowrote with his wife. a cover of Prince’s “7″ and the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” were also in the mix.

Malfunkshun, a band all but forgotten by everyone except diehard grunge fans, played a brief, loud high-energy set. The band was started by Wood and his brother Kevin who played lead guitar. Wood relished his time on stage, impressively shredding through solos and searing guitar parts while pursing his lips and sticking out his tongue as he played. It was one of the few times Smith’s pipe’s weren’t the center of attention.

Gossard and Ament continuously exchanged smiles throughout the all-too-brief Mother Love Bone set. It was clear they were having a blast dusting off songs from their songbooks they likely haven’t performed for at least 20 years. But the two Pearl Jammers weren’t the only ones smiling. Although the author of Mother Love Bone’s songs wasn’t on stage with the band, the energy with which his songs were performed and the rapturous reception they received made me think Andy Wood was somewhere smiling Wednesday night too.


REVIEW: Spoon @ the Moore Theatre 04.09.10

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Friday night Spoon performed its first of two Seattle concerts at the Moore Theatre. Unfortunately things have been a bit hectic over here at Spin the Black Circle HQ which has prevented me from posting a review of what was an excellent 90-minute set. Since the timeliness factor is going against me on this one, I’m going to hit the highlights of the concert. You can file this review under the better late than never category.

The show got off to a bit of a soft start with a spotlight on Britt Daniels as he performed “Before Destruction,” the lead track off Transference. It was one of several songs from the record that made the set list, which was highly appropriate considering the band is touring in support of the album.

About midway through the set Daniels jumped off stage and walked into the first few rows of the crowd (the Moore’s typically empty front contained rows seats for Spoon’s show). I later found out he walked into the crowd to wake up a guy who was sleeping during the show. I also later found out that the same man fell asleep a few songs after Daniels woke him up. The guy has to suffer from narcolepsy because there’s no way any of the other concertgoers on hand were sleeping.
Along with being heavy on Transference material, the set was peppered with songs from the group’s last few records. I was thrilled to hear “Stay Don’t Go” from Kill The Moonlight. Unfortunately the beatboxing heard on record was replaced by drums, but the instrumentation gave depth to what is a simple song on record. The show ended with Kill the Moonlight’s “Jonathan Fisk.”

Aside from the somewhat older material making the set list, Bradford Cox of Deerhunter, one of the opening bands (Micachu and the Shapes was the other), joined the band on stage for “Who Makes Your Money.” He was all smiles, actually he was practically giggling, while singing with Daniels. During “I Summon You” the rather sparsely decorated stage was illuminated with bright white lights and eventually the floodlights hit the audience which led to the song becoming one big clapalong. Another highlight was a cover of The Damned’s “Love Song.”

It was my first time seeing Spoon live and it makes me wonder what took me so long. The sound was fantastic at the Moore and while the group played it rather close to the vest and didn’t stray far from the sound on their recorded output, I got the feeling they could’ve erupted into feedback-driven noise rock or jam-based noodling at any moment. I don’t know whether they will jump from playing theatres to arenas but if Friday’s set is any indication Spoon will definitely be playing bigger rooms (although they may not be arena size) the next time they come to town.


Help Visqueen’s Christina Bautista land a role on Glee

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Statement

Christina Bautista, the short and spunky bass player for Visqueen, could be trading in her rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle for a a stint in Tinsel Town. She’s submitted audition videos to Glee and you can help her land a role on the show by voting for her online. See the video above for her pitch and below for her audition.

I must admit that I don’t watch Glee. Yes, I know I should probably check it out and I am sure it’s a good TV show (it’s on the cover of the current edition of Rolling Stone), but I have no real interest in reliving high school through a television comedy about a glee club. After all, I am a rock writer and well, something has to rock to get my attention. Maybe if Bautista is voted on to Glee I’ll start tuning in.

So what are you waiting for, go log in to MySpace and vote for her now because like she says in her intro video, Christina doesn’t suck and she works hard and hard working people who don’t suck deserve to have good things happen to them.
Glee song



Victor Shade: Seattle’s hip hop superhero

Friday, April 9th, 2010

VICTOR SHADE: “SOOTHSAYER”

Ryan Abeo is suffering an identity crisis, but it’s not what you think.

The heavily tatted, bearded and pierced MC is best known as Ra Scion of Common Market, one of the few Seattle hip hop groups that tours nationally. He’s one of the most visible figures in local hip hop and he’s transforming the identity he’s forged for himself as the socially conscious rhyme-spitting Common Market frontman into Victor Shade, a cape-wearing, world-saving superhero that’s getting released onto the masses Saturday when the Victor Shade album is released.

Musically, the Victor Shade material shows a harder, more visceral side of Abeo’s pointed and aware rhymes which are accompanied by slick production that conjures up aural imagery of superhuman feats. The name of Abeo’s new MC alter ego comes from the Marvel Comics character The Vision, an android that is a member of the superhero collective called The Avengers. The Vision’s alias is Victor Shade.

“It’s definitely rooted in a concept and that concept comes from in the comic. Ultimately it is about an identity struggle. You have the alter ego of the super hero which is Victor Shade and you have the superhero which is The Vision,” Abeo said about main theme of the Victor Shade record. “With great power comes great responsibility and at some point and time you say you don’t want that responsibility, you just want to be a regular dude. You don’t want to be The Vision; you just want to be Victor Shade. So it’s about that internal struggle. It’s about being a part of this (superhero) world in a bad way and recognizing your superhuman strengths, if you will. That’s what makes us spiritual beings I think. We all possess this superhuman capacity and that’s what we call spirituality.” (more…)


Spoon set to bring multifaceted rock to the Moore Theatre

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Spoon is one of the more interesting bands in the indie universe.

On the surface the band can be placed into the grouping of modern indie bands like Vampire Weekend, Surfer Blood and others that have received critical acclaim this year. Transference, the band’s latest album which was released in January, definitely makes it easy to lump Spoon in with those types of artists. But if you dig a bit further you’ll find a multifaceted band that is capable of more than just your standard indie rock sound. Give Telephono or the Soft Effects EP a listen and then spin Transference and you’ll get my point.

I first started listening to Spoon back in 2005 when they made a big splash with their Gimme Fiction record. Then I found out lead Spoonman Britt Daniels relocated from Austin, Texas to Portland, Oregon so I started paying more attention to the band’s back catalog given its Northwest connection.

Here is some of what I discovered along with some newer material. Hopefully this will be some of what you will hear when Spoon starts a two-night stint at the Moore Theatre Friday night. Tickets for both shows costs $27.50 with Mikachu and the Shapes and Deerhunter opening.


Arena rock for the new millenium: Muse & Silversun Pickups @KeyArena 04.02.10

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

When it comes to arena rock there are two categories of bands: Muse and everyone else.

That seemed to be the theme of the U.K. trio’s sold-out concert at KeyArena Friday night that was complete with lasers, confetti, massive elevating video screens and a few tributes to the most famous three-piece from Seattle thrown in for good measure.

Touring behind The Resistance, its fifth studio record, Muse’s show’s eye-popping visuals were well worth the price of admission alone. The band – Matthew Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard – made its grand entrance towering above the crowd atop of three, giant elevated platforms for show opener “Uprising.” The bottom of the platforms served as LED video screens and each had an equally huge and impressive LED screen platform hanging above it suspended from the ceiling so when Muse appeared in the middle it looked like they were in the middle of three giant skyscrapers.

The impressive skyscraper video screens weren’t the evening’s only pieces of eye candy. Giant eyeball balloons filled with confetti rained on the crowd at the end of the main set, the light show was more potent than a Griswold family Christmas and throughout the two-hour concert there was enough smoke and green lasers to make Rush jealous. With its Resistance Tour Muse redefined arena rock for the new millennium (see the video below for proof).

The visuals wouldn’t mean much if the music couldn’t match their grandiose nature and the music is where Muse excelled. The 19-song set was filled with songs that carry fist-pumping, shout-along choruses with weighty lyrical themes large in scope ranging from global warming to rebellion. Bellamy displayed some amazing guitar skills with plenty of crazy sounding squawks, squeaks and squeals that practically out Morelloed Rage Against the Machine virtuoso Tom Morello. Howard and Wolstenholme were equally on top of their respective games but Bellamy stole the show with his guitar acrobatics. There was also a fourth member of the band on stage (a touring member only) hiding near the back of Howard’s drum riser who was playing additional percussion and adding all sorts of bleeps and bloops to Muse’s futuristic arena prog sound.

During a few points Bellamy played brief interludes between songs that showcased his skills. He riffed freestyle for a bit and then broke into familiar territory with the riff to Nirvana’s “Negative Creep.” Thankfully it wasn’t a cover because I couldn’t imagine Bellamy screaming in a throaty Cobain voice. But that wasn’t only time a snippet of Nirvana made it into the set. At the end of “Plug in Baby” Bellamy played “School,” a bit of “Endless, Nameless” and then he threw his guitar, which reportedly was one of his favorites, at Howard’s kickdrum neck first. The bit of Cobainian showmanship snapped the instrument in two. It was a move Cobain might have attempted himself, although I don’t think he ever would have done so on a stage sporting lasers and gargantuan skyscraper LED towers.

If Muse’s massive stateside success seems like a surprise I’m going to have to pull the rock snob card on you. I really do hate say I told you so, but well, I told you so. Way back in 2004 when the band rocked Neumos (yes, that’s right Muse played a 500-capacity venue in Seattle back in the day) they more or less put on an arena rock show inside a very small space. Anyone who was there knew it was only a matter of time before Muse hit it big and Friday’s show, which wasn’t the first time Muse rocked KeyArena but it definitely was their biggest Seattle concert, was a band at its peak displaying its prowess over a capacity crowd.

Los Angeles band Silversun Pickups opened the show with an solid 45-minute set. The last time I caught SSPU they were performing in the middle of a sun-drenched day at the Gorge Amphitheatre during last year’s Sasquatch! Music Festival and they sounded horrible mostly due to the cavernous Gorge swallowing their sound. Fortunately Friday night they sounded like a band that was meant to play arenas with a performance that filled KeyArena. Singer and guitarist Brian Aubert displayed some impressive moves with his axe and added lots of frontman swagger for some extra flair.

Like Muse, Silversun Pickups are also a band that played Neumos before playing in front of arena crowds. While they weren’t the evening’s headliners, it’s likely a sure bet Aubert was taking notes on his tourmates’ show. If Friday’s set was any indication on the band’s projected growth I’m guessing in a few years I’ll be able to say I told you so again when  Silversun Pickups are headlining arenas.

Muse set list (from Muse wiki)

We Are the Universe (Intro)
Uprising
Resistance
New Born
Supermassive Black Hole
Interlude w/Back in Black & Negative Creep riffs + Hysteria
Guiding Light
Nishe
United States of Eurasia
Ruled by Secrecy
Feeling Good (Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley cover)
Helsinki Jam
Undisclosed Desires
Starlight
Unnatural Selection
Time Is Running Out
Plug in Baby w/School and Endless, Nameless riffs
(Encore)
Exogenesis: Symphony Part I (Overture)
Stockholm Syndrome
Man with a Harmonica + Knights of Cydonia


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Music journalist Travis Hay drops some knowledge and insight about local and national music news, offers reviews and offers a place for conversation on all things music.