Monthly Archives: November 2010

An elegant evening with Fistful of Mercy

Fistful of Mercy, from left: Dhani Harrison, Arthur Lee and Ben Harper. Photo by Dave Lichterman

Fistful of Mercy kicked off its tour with style at Showbox at the Market Tuesday night.

The band — consisting of Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison, Joseph Arthur — covered just about every song from their debut album As I Call You Down while throwing in a few pleasant surprises during a 90-minute set. Earlier this year Fistful of Mercy made its official public debut at Easy Street Records in West Seattle so it was fitting the group started its tour at the Showbox, which was dressed to the nines for the occasion.

Instead of the typical open floor GA setup, the floor of the Showbox was littered with tables and chairs as were the bars with each table  lit by a votive candle. The atmosphere classed up the already pretty classy Showbox quite a bit and gave the show an feeling of intimacy and elegance which was a perfect fit for the band’s mostly acoustic brand of folk.

The three-part harmonies of Arthur, Harrison and Harper were in full effect from the beginning of the show, which started with “I Don’t Want to Waste Your Time.” A few songs later Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain,” the  first of several covers, made its way to the set. The other covers included PJ Harvey’s “To Bring You My Love” and the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” both of which popped up during the encore. The latter was one of the more impressive songs of the evening. Rounding out the setlist were songs from each individual members solo careers.

The instrumentation was sparse with mostly guitars and a keyboard on stage which allowed for the harmonies to soar through the Showbox. The group was accompanied by violinist Jessy Green whose contributions helped make the Fistful material stand out from the covers and solo numbers. Her playing was definitely a subtle highlight. Other highlights included Harrison’s playful and bouncy keys on “Things Go Round,” which saw Harper on bass and Arthur playing a drum and a blistering lapsteel solo by Harper during “Restore Me.” Continue reading

The Heavy hit hard at the Showbox

The answer to the question posed by The Heavy’s biggest single, “How You Like Me Now?,” should be pretty obvious  after the band’s recent stop at Showbox at the Market.

In case you weren’t there, allow me to provide the answer for you. You like The Heavy.

Why do you like The Heavy?

Well, it could be because the U.K. band’s brand of soul-infused rock simply slayed a sparsely populated Showbox on a cool November evening. Or maybe it’s because of the infectious smile and charisma of singer Kelvin Swaby whose stage presence packs about as powerful a punch as the group’s R&B-skeletoned songs? No wait, you like The Heavy for the way they delightfully demolish crowds in a dance-friendly manner.

Really though, I’m pretty sure you like The Heavy for all of the above reasons and more.

The band’s electrifying 70-minute Showbox set was, um, heavy with material from last year’s The House That Dirt Built with a few tracks from 2007’s Great Vengeance and Furious Fire thrown in for good measure. “Sixteen” was a fun romp through forbidden love. “No Time” was as garagey and bluesy as it is on record and the soulful groove of  “What You Want Me To Do” provided enough of a boogie to get the laziest of feet on the dancefloor moving.

As if all that weren’t enough the best part about the band’s set was that it was fun, and really isn’t that reason enough to like The Heavy?

Wild Flag impresses at the High Dive

Carrie Brownstein jamming during Wild Flag's set at the High Dive. Photo by Suzi Pratt

Friday night Wild Flag, the practically newborn band consisting of former Slater-Kinney, Helium and Minders members, gave one of its first public performances and to say I was impressed is an extreme understatement. I left the show with two immediate thoughts:

1) I can’t wait to hear the band’s debut album

2) I can’t wait to see Wild Flag live again

The band, featuring S-K’s Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss on lead guitar and drums respectively, Helium’s Mary Timony playing rhythm guitar and The Minders’ Rebecca Cole on keys, played an hourlong set of blistering rock that received an overwhelmingly positive response from the sold-out crowd considering few in the audience had heard any of the group’s music.

Since the band consists of two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney the comparisons to the band named after the road off exit 108 will be aplenty so allow me to go there:  Wild Flag’s songs are bit  more restrained and less urgent than Sleater-Kinney and most contain a catchy big rock feel giving them an edge Sleater-Kinney didn’t have until later in their career. More simply put, Wild Flag is more rock and less punk whereas Sleater-Kinney is the opposite.

Although the members of Wild Flag are veterans of various groups it was pretty evident the foursome is in the fledgling stages of being in a band. Timony was writing down notes and chord progressions on pieces of paper before the set and kept them next to her array of effects pedals. Brownstein also made a few comments about the newness of the band throughout the show letting everyone know it was only the band’s third live performance.

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Gorillaz deliver a delightful audio-visual experience at KeyArena

Leave it to a virtual band to put on one of the best arena rock shows of the year.

For nearly two hours at KeyArena Tuesday night the cartoonish band known as Gorillaz delivered a sensory spectacle so enjoyable it was impossible not to walk away wanting more when the show ended.  The concert marked the group’s final U.S. stop on its Escape From Plastic Beach tour and the nearly 10,000 on hand at KeyArena were treated to a set list featuring more than 20 choice cuts from the Gorillaz catalog including a health dose of material from Plastic Beach, easily one of the best records of the year.

The journey began with “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach,” during which a video of Snoop Dogg was played on the video screen that served as a backdrop for the dozens of musicians that filled the stage. Colorful videos featuring the Gorillaz virtual conterparts 2-D, Murdoch, Noodles and Russel were shown throughout the show immersing fans in the nefarious rockstar universe of Gorillaz. During some songs  the band’s music videos were played and the cartoons perfectly sang in sync with lead Gorilla Damon Albarn, formerly of Blur, and during others concertgoers were treated to original animations by Jamie Hewlett (the other main creative force behind Gorillaz) made specifically for the tour. The paring of cartoons with arena rock worked so well it makes you  wonder why nobody else has previously attempted the combination. I guess all it took was a little bit of British ingenuity to shake up the worn-out formula for a successful stadium rock show.

Although the Doggfather wasn’t there to deliver his cameo, several other delightful in-person appearances by friends of the Gorillaz made the show almost an all-star concert. The soulful Bobby Womack superbly sang his parts on “Stylo” and “Cloud of Unknowing,”  the adorable Little Dragon popped in for “Empire Ants” and “To Binge” and De La Soul made “Superfast Jellyfish” and “Feel Good Inc.” two of the highlights of the show.  But the highlights weren’t all cameos, if those guest appearance can even be considered cameos since all the performers had recorded with Gorillaz. “Rhinestone Eyes” and “Punk,” which is perhaps the most Blurish Gorillaz song, also stood out during the set. Continue reading

Mark Arm teams up with Teatro ZinZanni for a performance full of FEAR

Teatro ZinZanni celebrated Halloween weekend with style Saturday during the one-off Mezzo Lunaticoperformance of FEAR. It was a jubilant, and at times erotic, circus of a show that featured a flamboyant 43-year-old man in a blue bunny costume, the Mexican Elvis known as El Vez, a sexy burlesque show, a yodeling dominatrix, some amazing acrobats and Mudhoney’s Mark Arm.

What’s that you say? One of those things is not like the other? Yes, I agree the acrobatics definitely don’t seem like they would fit in at a circus.

The show was the first in a series of monthly after-hours cabaret events held at the famed dinner theater. Hosted and curated by El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, each month Mezzo Lunatico tackles a new theme for a unique one-night-only performance and last month’s theme happened to be fear. There were about 10 vignettes throughout the show, each taking on a different fear ranging from the serious (racism, physicality) to the silly (bunnies, black holes), making for a fun mix of entertaining humor and engaging food for thought.

All of the action happened in the round underneath ZinZanni’s tented big top and although the show wasn’t a full-service dinner event a menu of light appetizers ranging from mac n cheese to sliders was made available. The appetizers were a nice touch and  a good way to soak up the alcohol from the stiff drinks served up by the wait staff.

Since it was Halloween weekend the crowd let off an especially feisty vibe and lots of people showed up in costume so there were plenty of characters in  the crowd. This provided plenty of people for El Vez and the go-go dancers that popped up during the slightly spontaneous dance party to single out whenever they wanted to mingle with the audience. It also made for some great people watching, especially when the DJ Chrispo started dropping choice cuts by De la Soul, Urge Overkill and others. Imagine a scene where in one corner Poison Ivy danced with a cowboy while in the other a sexy girl scout was getting freaky with a Disco Stu wannabe. It was a sight fit for Halloween.

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The Black Keys, Broken Bells, Cake to play Deck the Hall Ball

The annual Deck the Hall Ball, which is put on by local alt-rock institution 107.7 The End, will be held at WaMU Theatre on Dec. 8 this year and it boasts a lineup of some of the more prominent names in modern rock.

The show will include The Black Keys, Broken Bells, Jimmy Eat World, Cake, Temper Trap and Sleigh Bells. Tickets go on sale Nov. 6 and cost $44.50.

The last time the Black Keys were in town they played an extremely sold-out concert at the Paramount Theatre on Oct. 2. The band could’ve easily played a two-night stand at the Paramount considering that they sold out the venue three months in advance of last month’s show. WaMu’s bigger stage is a natural progression for the popular blues duo from Akron, Ohio.

The End has a history of booking top-notch talent for its holiday fest. Previous Deck performers from years past include Franz Ferdinand, Foo Fighters, Hole, The Killers, Death Cab For Cutie and Spoon. Last year’s Deck the Hall Ball was headlined by Muse and it included sets by Visqueen, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, Metric and  30 Seconds to Mars.

City Arts Fest struggles with identity, but draws top talents

The inaugural City Arts Fest was unlike any music festival Seattle has seen and that appears to be the exact vibe event organizers were shooting for when planning the four-day celebration of music and art in Seattle.

Unlike your typical festival there weren’t any “stages” per se. It was more like a series of shows scattered across the city taking place at various venues at various times. This worked to both the advantage and disadvantage of City Arts Fest.

On one hand having shows spread around town made it difficult to hop between sets, which can be an appealing aspect of a music festival for many. On the other hand, knowing the distraction of a competing show was so far away made it a lot easier for me to sit back and enjoy the show I was attending instead of get pulled in the direction of something else, which is something that often happens to me during festivals.

The $60 wristband price was a good deal if you wanted to attend multiple events on different nights. The trick, like most festivals, was deciding which events to attend and how to manage the logistics of frantically running all over the city to make sure you got full use out of your wristband.

But what makes a festival great isn’t whether I can jump  from watching Gogol Bordello to Blue Scholars to Belle & Sebastian in the same evening. Most of what makes a festival great is the quality of music, or at least that’s what makes a festival great in my book. So in that regard City Arts Fest was pretty successful for a first year event.

But the first year success doesn’t mean  there isn’t need for improvement. For starters, the festival really didn’t feel much like a festival and I’m not the only person who has this thought.

While the bookers of the festival did a good job of bringing in big name headliners, organizers didn’t do that good of a job of creating an identity for the festival. Earlier this month when I interviewed Steven Severin, who helped book the fest, he said City Arts Fest wasn’t trying to be Bumbershoot, Sasquatch! or Capitol Hill Block Party. Well, mission accomplished on that front.

City Arts Fest definitely succeeded in staying off the turf of the other festivals. Sasquatch! has a reputation of being a festival for discovery, Block Party has the feeling of a being a big summertime party and Bumbershoot is the family-friendly festival. So what is the identity of City Arts Fest? Is it the festival with wristbands? Is it the festival that sprawls all over the city? Is it the festival that appeals to old and young music fans? Or is it the festival that really isn’t a festival? The answer isn’t quite clear after year one.

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Grant Lee Buffalo to reunite, play the Tractor next month

Seems like just about every 90s alt-rock band is reuniting nowadays and the latest group getting the band back together are rootssy-rockers Grant Lee Buffalo.

According to Brooklyn Vegan the group, consisting of Grant-Lee Phillips (vocals and guitar), Paul Kimble (bass) and Joey Peters (drums) are slated to play two dates this year as part of a brief reunion and one of those dates is in Seattle (the other is in New York).

The band will perform at the Tractor Tavern on Dec. 9. Tickets went on sale today and will cost you $18. You can buy your nostalgia in the form of a concert ticket by clicking here.

No-go: Go! Machine won’t be happening this year

Go! Machine, the two-day local hip-hopstravaganza that featured more than a dozen of  the hottest hip-hop acts in Seattle at the Crocodile last year, won’t be back for an encore performance in 2010.

When reached for comment, Kerri Harrop, former manager of Mad Rad and PR point person for the Crocodile, said the event was cancelled by the event’s organizer Greg Smith, aka Out For Stardom’s Terry Radjaw, due to difficulties with booking Go! Machine.

Harrop had this to say when asked about the cancellation:

“The Crocodile put forth the option of consolidating it to one day, in order to facilitate the acts confirmed to date and keep the event alive, but he passed.  We hope to see Go Machine come back in the future.

We are definitely disappointed in his decision, it was one of our favorite events of 2009, and certainly a good look for the city.”

Go! Machine 2010 was scheduled to take place Dec. 3 and 4.

When reached for comment Smith said he wasn’t comfortable promoting a show he wasn’t 100 percent sure about, so he decided to call it off.

“Go! Machine didn’t happen this year because it wasn’t going to be what it needed to be. If this machine’s gonna go, it’s gonna go on it’s own,” said Smith. “I’m not going to force something that isn’t there.”

Although the cancellation is due to difficulties booking acts, it makes you wonder whether the local hip-hop scene reached its high water mark last year when acts like Mad Rad, Grynch, Fresh Espresso, They Live Mash Hall, Champagne Champagne and others has career years. Those successes all translated into big 2010s for the aforementioned artists, but from an outsider’s perspective it feels a little like there isn’t as much mainstream buzz around the local hip-hop community today as there was this time last year.

Another thing to consider when it comes to the booking angle is that there’s already a pretty big local hip-hop showcase happening Oct. 20 at the Paramount featuring Mash Hall, Macklemore, Fresh Espresso and Blue Scholars as part of the City Arts Fest. All of those groups are prime Go! Machine material, so perhaps having them all on the same bill six weeks before  this year’s scheduled Go! Machine threw a wrench in things.

I’d argue that while this year doesn’t seem as massive as last year for local hip hop, there are still lots of big things happening in the scene to merit another go-round for Go! Machine but unfortunately there isn’t enough to make it “go on it’s own” as Smith indicated.

Yes, over-saturation and over-exposure is possible, but fresh and hungry artists like Sol and Helladope are having big enough years to land on a Go! Machine bill. Throw in an appearance by Mad Rad or Fresh Espresso (maybe both?) and you’re off to a good start for a solid bill. Also, if you consider Shabazz Palaces is more or less getting ready for world domination with their signing to Sub Pop, well there’s your headliner. Of course, talking about booking Shabazz Palaces and actually booking SP are two different beasts just like talking about booking Go! Machine and actually booking the show are distinctly different tasks.

EMP to feature Nirvana exhibit in 2011

Hundreds of rare Nirvana artifacts will be on display next spring as part of an exhibit at Experience Music Project titled Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses.

The exhibit, scheduled to open April 16, 2011, will be the world’s most extensive Nirvana exhibit according to museum officials and unoffically marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of Nevermind. It will be on display for two years and was curated by EMP senior curator Jacob McMurray.

Krist Novaselic, Dave Grohl and Courtney Love were involved in the creation of the exhibit, which is meant to tell the public and personal story of Nirvana within the context of the independent, underground music scene that evolved throughout the 1980s and culminated the 1991. Two hundred pieces of memorabilia and artifacts will be in display including:

  • Kurt Cobain’s never-before exhibited, high school painting of two aging, Reagan-era punks in the post-apocalypse, informally known as “punk American gothic.
  • The Teac reel-to-reel tape machine owned by Mari Earl, Cobain’s aunt, on which a young Cobain recorded material for his early bands, Organized Confusion and Fecal Matter.
  • Cobain’s handwritten lyrics for Nirvana songs including “Spank Thru” and “Floyd the Barber.
  • Numerous instruments, including pieces of the first guitar Cobain destroyed onstage (a Univox Hi-Flyer); Dave Grohl’s Tama Rockstar-Pro drum kit; and Krist Novoselic’s
  • Guild acoustic bass guitar and Buck Owens American acoustic guitar used during the recording of “MTV Unplugged.”
  • The yellow cardigan often worn by Cobain between 1991 and 1994.
  • The winged angel stage prop featured on Nirvana’s In Utero tour.
  • Candid snapshots capturing the band’s early years, from their beginnings in Aberdeen, Wash. to the media frenzy that erupted after Nevermind.

As part of the exhibit there will be video confessional booths where fans can talk about the impact Nirvana has has on their lives. Clips from the confessionals will be interspersed between various Nirvana clips shown throughout the exhibit. There will also be oral histories by Novaselic, Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, Steve Albini and others talking about the importance of the band on display. Steve Fisk, who co-produced Nirvana’s BlewEP created a soundtrack of ambient sound that museum visitors will hear as they walk through Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses.

“It’s great that there will soon be a collection that celebrates that contribution to music and culture. There’s a story with Nirvana at its center, but it’s a story that also includes the many people, bands and institutions that make up a music community. The show is a celebration of Northwest music,” Novaselic said in a news release announcing the exhibit.

Although Kurt Cobain died nearly 17 years ago his reach is still widely felt by musicians worldwide and interest in his life and Nirvana’s music has not subsided since the days of grunge. The EMP exhibit marks the second museum gallery dedicated to Nirvana in as many museums in Seattle in the past two years. The Seattle Art Museum’s Kurt explored the influence Cobain had on artists in various disciplines in 2010.

The exhibit will be housed in the space where the Northwest Passage currently resides. That exhibit explored the history of music in the Northwest dating from the 1940s to 2000. It has been on display since the museum opened in 2000 and has received minimum, if any noticeable, updates in the past decade.