Feb. 17 • Wild Buffalo
“You’re in for a very, very special treat,” said Kelly Finnigan, keyboardist and vocalist of Monophonics. “You’re gonna be shaking your ass all night long.” He didn’t lie. From the beginning of the set to the end, almost no one stood still.
Even though the whiskey gingers shared between my boyfriend and I definitely had more whiskey than ginger in them, it was the music that was truly intoxicating. Both Monophonics and Orgone used their sound as an incredible force that either caused people to shamelessly dance or they became paralyzed with the feeling of every note pulse throughout their entire body.
It was a treat to witness both bands become just as entranced by the music as the audience. Most members closed their eyes, using intense quick bursts of energy to dance in place while playing their instruments. Heart, soul, and a lot of sweat were poured into each song. By the end of the night, everyone looked like they just finished the most extreme cardio workout of their life.
However, what really stood out to me was the show’s overall theme of community. Orgone and Monophonics are currently on their West Coast Soul Tour. It used to be Orgone Vs. Monophonics, in which the bands competed against each other. Now, Monophonics opens the show. Orgone headlines and then the two play together as one.
It wasn’t only the bands that were brought together for their love of music. Last month, I had a conversation with Finnigan for a spotlight on Monophonics. When we talked about the impact of live performances, he brought up the band’s ability to “bring people together and forget their troubles for a couple of hours”.
I couldn’t help but reflect on that quote while watching this show. There were college-aged students, working adults starting their weekend, parents taking a night out, visitors who traveled from out of town, artists, etc. in one room. No matter what the differences were in each person, that was completely set aside. Each person became connected through a mutual respect for Orgone and Monophonics.
People were happy to be there and more importantly, around each other. I have never seen a whole room of people dancing as if they were each alone in their bedroom. Every person I interacted with couldn’t stop saying how “amazing” the show was and how they “never wanted it to end.”
It was the kind of night where I had to keep telling myself that I was doing this as part of my work because I was having so much fun. It’s shows like this that remind me of why I love what I do.
-photo by Kenneth Kearney
Helms Alee, Wild Powwers, Dryland
Feb. 25 • The Shakedown
It was a colder than expected Saturday night, but you wouldn’t have known it by looking at The Shakedown. From the fogged up windows to the crowded patio, Bellingham came out as if touring season was in full swing. Billed as a double release party, Dryland (releasing their self-titled full length) and Helms Alee who, releasing their fourth full length (along with numerous splits and EPs) brought their friends in Wild Powwers with them and proceeded to rattle the building, frighten the children, and remind one why a scene can be so damn comforting.
Dryland started the night off earlier than advertised, with the intent of offering up their debut in its entirety, but first they treated the crowd to their most recently aired song “Horse Lattitudes.” A barnstormer of a track, this newest song clearly exemplifies what sets Dryland apart from many other bands. With a desire to play slow and wield bass distortion like an axe, showcasing a varied set of musical influences from a faster paced chiming intro riff that hints at punkier interests, a midsection that takes full advantage of having two guitarists, to yes; that final slow crawling iommi-esqueriff. The Dryland album as a whole is also distinguished from the growing stoner/doom scene by the bonafide frontman and genuine storyteller, Brad Lockhart. His willingness to create and develop a narrative is rarely seen in the genre, and his ability to engage the audience is unparalleled. Upon conclusion of “Horse Latitudes,” they launched directly into “Secondhand Smoke” and continued on the path of neck bruising brutality their self titled album laid out, before treating the crowd to the closing duo of Mosslord and Mosswitch. As they crashed to a finish, they did so with a sense of assuredness and well deserved triumph. Go buy their album.
Wild Powwers got down to it shortly afterwards, distinguishing their bass heavy psych-rock with the commanding and powerful vocals of Lara Hilgemann and Lupe Flores (formerly of a million awesome Bellingham bands). I hadn’t seen them since they changed their name (from just Powwers) but damn itseemed appropriate. The riffs were slower and fuzzier, the vocals that much more soul ensnaring. There was definitely a sense that a song could soothe or bludgeon of its own volition. I know it won’t be long till they return but it already feels overdue.
Speaking of soothing and bludgeoning, Helms Alee. Anchored by the tom heavy percussion of Hozoji Matheson-Margullis and the lava thick bass tone of Dana James; Ben Verellen was free to howl out his neptunian hymns like a Viking warlord, the burl of his voice juxtaposed against the luring siren vocals of the rhythm section. From chorusy effects-laden clean passages to crushing melvins-esque sludge, there was never a time they weren’t in complete command of the malestrom at their fingertips.
The house lights came up on familiar faces and friends, on bands drawn together to play by a love for one another as people and for scene to which they contribute. I can’t speak for my concert comrades, but I left The Shakedown with a sense that heavy music is alive and well in Bellingham.
-Joslynn Vasquez and Ray Blum
Sugar: A Valentine’s Cabaret
Feb. 14 • The Underground
Valentine’s Day has its many traditions steeped in love and romance. We all know as it approaches that thoughts turn to flowers and cards, high-end dinners and chocolate, looking for that perfect gift. This year offered up something a little sweeter, Sugar: A Valentine’s Cabaret. With shows on Feb. 13, 14 and 16, there were plenty of opportunities to experience this bawdy and playful performance.
Powered by the incredible vocals and style of “Sugar” herself, Brie Turoff Mueller leads this pack of talented singers, dancers, actors, comedians, and musicians who all came together to truly entertain. The show flowed seamlessly from genre to genre, opening with “Bring on the Men,” before moving through Joe Cocker, Etta James, Christina Aguilera, Miranda Lambert and Rihanna covers just to name some. Sprinkled with a little love, loss and hope, the storyline tying the songs together kept the audience’s attention focused and the house chatter to a minimum.
Sexy, sultry, a little silly and tons of sassy, Sugar was just what the doctor ordered to get everyone’s evening heated up. Brie’s ability to work the room, somehow managing to visit each table and bring everyone in attendance under her spell was reminiscent of Bette Midler at her Bath House best. Having attended the Monday show, I was so impressed I insisted on coming back for the Valentine’s performance and was equally enthralled.
One word of advice should you go to a coming performance, dress in your best, cuz no slackers or slouches allowed in Sugar’s house. An absolute crown jewel among all the other amazing performers in this town, I suggest you remember her name, cuz Sugar…she’s going places.
Thundercat, Zack Fox
Feb. 18 • Wild Buffalo
Steve Bruner, who goes by the moniker Thundercat, is a legendary multi-genre bass guitarist from Los Angeles who has been working in the music industry for longer than most his fans have been alive. The 32 year-old bassist has been the low-end backbone of many musical icons including such records as Erika Badu’s New Amerykah (2008), Flying Lotus’s Cosmogramma (2010) and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (2015). Bruner was also the bass player for Los Angeles metal band Suicidal Tendencies. With a vast portfolio, his musical touches can be heard on copious amounts of distinguished eclectic and contemporary tracks. Bruner’s solo project Thundercat, shines a light on the artisanship of one the most gifted bass guitarist that ever slapped the strings.
The show at the Wild Buffalo was the sixth stop on Thundercat’s three month world tour, promoting his new album Drunk. Thundercat’s 23-track audible expedition debuted on Feb. 24 and features artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Wiz Khalifa, Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus.
The sold out show was the talk of the town. Eager fans crowded around Thundercat’s tour bus hours before the doors opened.
DJ and Comedian Zack Fox warmed up the packed crowd with a variety of rap bangers, RandB throwback and crude humor. The audience gazed at the keyboards, bass amp, and drum set on stage, anticipating the funky grooves.
Thundercat’s touring band is composed of Keyboardist Dennis Hamm, Drummer Justin Brown and Bruner on six string bass guitar and lead vocals. As the trio took the stage, a blaring roar came from the crowd. Dressed in his signature Thundercat red hoodie, sporting white Birkenstocks, Bruner picks up his 6-string Ibanez Artcore bass. The trio expands the recorded versions of Thundercat’s songs by embarking on a jazz fusion improvisational sections that sometimes lasted longer than the original recording.
As Bruner plucked out the notorious bass line to his smash hit “Them Changes,” the crowd threw their hands up in pure ecstasy. Thundercat’s performance drew felines from all walks of life, uniting ecstatic music geeks and drunk hip-shakers in one awe invoking funky communion.
Mike Watt and the Missingmen
Feb. 26 • Wild Buffalo
It was a typical winter Sunday night in Bellingham – cold, with few people mulling around town. But inside the Wild Buffalo, 100 or so music fans were there to see legendary Mike Watt, with his band The Missingmen, crank through an hour long set of rock explosion.
Toys That Kill opened the show, (which, thankfully, started promptly at 9:30 as it was pretty obvious everyone was off to work in the morning). The band cranked through a 40-minute set of California post punk, which quickly won over the crowd who were obviously there to see the headliner. Great, punching guitars, cool vocals and a driving rhythm section, Toys That Kill were surprisingly fantastic and for many in the audience, it brought them back to hanging at the 3B Tavern, listening to some rock ‘n’ roll and drinking the night away.
After a brief intermission, Mike Watt and the Missingmen came on stage, with bassist Watt immediately talking to the audience, stating they needed to start at 10:30 and they were a little early, so they were essentially killing time by bullshitting, something he is known for. As the clock struck 10:30, Watt and crew cranked through a half hour of Missingmen songs – the crowd being relatively unfamiliar with the songs, but in awe of the fact Mike Watt was in front of them, playing with a ridiculously talented band.
While Watt’s influence might not be felt among the current generation of musicians, for this crowd, he was right up there with God for his work in The Minutemen and later fIREHOSE (Watt also spent time with The Stooges as their bass player). Around 11, the good show turned ridiculous as the three piece began cranking through Minutemen songs, much to the delight of the audience. Starting with “D’s Car Jam / Anxious Mo-Fo” off the seminal Double Nickles on the Dime, the band cranked through a dozen or so Minutemen songs with many of the audience members seeing the songs played live for the first time (The Minutemen broke up in 1985 after the death of D. Boone). Witnessing these songs played live brought an appreciation of how good they really were – short and sweet, but with brilliant musicianship and texture. It was, simply, heaven.
The band took a quick “encore break” before coming out and getting cranky with the audience member who threw a beer can on stage (a local custom from days gone by). The trio closed out with a brilliant drawn out Stooges cover as well as a old blues swampy cover that no one seemed to be familiar with, but everyone loved nonetheless. Around this point, you could see the 59-year-old Watt starting to get pretty cranky and tired, showing his frustration with the guitarist going off on extended jams while he was ready to wrap it up. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – more funny and it really brought some context to the show. Watt has been playing music since 1980 and put in his time… he’s allowed to be a cranky if he wants to be.
And with that, the show ended. The audience headed out fairly quickly as many had to get up early for work the next day; their hearts filled with old time joy of getting to see an absolute legend on a cold Sunday night in Bellingham.