More intimate without the Hype: Brad & Stuck on a Bus @ the High Dive 06.16.10

Brad continued its recent flurry of activity leading up to the late-summer release of its fourth studio album, “Best Friends?,” during the final night of a two-night stint at The High Dive Wednesday.

Within the past few months the band – which features the soulful and at times beautifully falsetto vocals of Shawn Smith and the guitar heroics of Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard –performed a high-profile show at the Showbox and landed a main stage slot at the Sasquatch! Music Festival.  That’s quite a bit of activity for a group that only surfaces every few years. The two High Dive shows were less-hyped occasions with a more intimate environment and if the new material previewed at the High Dive is any indication, especially the excellent “Every Whisper,” the new record scheduled for released on Aug. 10 will be one of the band’s strongest offerings to date.

Aside from the new songs, “Let Go” was a highlight early on and the funky “20th Century” was a late set centerpiece. Smith is one of the Northwest’s most unique and underrated rock vocalists and getting to hear his golden pipes ring through the close-quarters confines of a packed High Dive made the show well worth the price of admission. Plus, it’s always good to hear Gossard play lead guitar, which is something he doesn’t do too often as a member of Pearl Jam. Most of the moments of the show that stood out were those when Gossard’s guitar was able to soar through the venue as freely as Smith’s voice effortlessly floated through the air.

The main set closed with the one-two combo of “Buttercup” and “Day Break,” a pair of songs that always sound good together. And as with the last few Brad shows there was a surprise at the end (the Showbox show saw Smith front a reunited Mother Love Bone and the Sasquatch! set featured an unannounced two-song Satchel set) making for a memorable encore. This time the surprise came in the form of Smith playing a few solo songs including some choice covers. A soulful “Purple Rain” was the last song of the night and it nearly outshined everything that came before it with one exception.  That exception was a slowed down, slightly R&B-tinged version of “Crown of Thorns.” While Smith performed the song with the remaining members of Mother Love Bone at the Showbox a little while back it was clear the song isn’t a regular part of his repetoire. He restarted the song a few times because he flubbed the lyrics. It came across as endearing instead of unprofessional which made it a special moment worth savoring.

As surprising and enjoyable as the encore was, opener Stuck on a Bus nearly stole the show before Brad even took the stage. The group of kids, and I do literally mean kids as the oldest member couldn’t have been older than 15, played an amazing set of covers. Watching Stuck on a Bus play for 45 minutes was the most fun I’ve had at a show in months. Featuring a spunky preteen female vocalist  Stuck on a Bus expertly ripped through Maiden (“The Trooper), Sabbath (“Sweet Leaf’ & “War Pigs”), Zeppelin (“Immigrant Song”), Radiohead (“My Iron Lung”) and more with jaw-dropping technical skill and rock prowess. It was enough to make me fall in love with rock ‘n’ roll all over again.

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