Live Reviews: March 2017
Acorn Project (Rage the Ween), OSO
Wild Buffalo • March 24
Another glorious Friday night in Bellingham as two local bands got together to put on one amazing show.
The stage was set with stacked cubes and other projection screens to add a mind-bending visual element to the tunes. Oso got things started with a Soul Ride laying down infectious dance grooves that instantly burrow into your brain and move your booty. Their signature brand of psychedelic space funk opens up endless possibilities for extended jams and improvisations, but they showed they are definitely more than just some jam band. Dylan Daugherty’s vocals have continued to shine while his guitar seemed to have become an extension of his soul as he moved across the foot pedals like Fred Astaire gone turbo, the sound screaming joyously as it pops off of every corner of the room. Always tight on the skins, Steve Hutton layed down the rhythm naturally with Chris (Hippi) DeVries laying down deep and heavy bass cuts.
Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any headier, Acorn Project’s Oskar Kollen joined the band with his keyboards pushing the limits of sonic possibilities. They cranked out a great set list of originals and covers such as “Lightning Strike” and “Bush Surprise” before climbing “Franklin’s Tower” and jumping off into a “Fractal Mind.” One of the hottest new bands in the area, they’re making a name for themselves
With the crowd properly warmed and wound up, Acorn Project took the stage like a militant force about to secure the dancefloor. Acorn Project is best known for deep heady jams, shredding guitars and the funkiest saxophone you ever heard. They also have a tendency to throw down covers that come off better than the originals, and tonight was no exception.
The night was planned as a tension release and the boys chose to “Rage the Ween” playing covers from Ween and Rage Against The Machine intermixed with their own tracks. The dance floor was packed in tightly to what looked like a sold out room. Tracks such “Bulls on Parade,” “Leonitas,” “Take The Power Back,” “Dose,” and “Bullet in Your Head” had bodies moving bathed in flashes of multicolored stage lights, spinning twisting and writhing, the crowd singing along, screaming and pleading for more.
Although I have seen countless performances from them, they never cease to impress me with the range of their talent, the constant reworking of older tracks to keep them fresh and the endless supply of new songs. Always a Phamily reunion when they play, the bar was full of tons of familiar faces from around town who know when these guys hit the stage it translates to universal permission to dance your arse off. The evening also saw the re-emergence of the WONK crown, which was yet again passed off to a new “king” and will be held until Summer Meltdown when it’ll be up for grabs again during Acorn Project’s set. (Tickets are selling fast!)
Exhausted and energized, the evening ended with a grateful crowd who could collectively exhale feeling the weight of the world a whole lot less.
Lizzie Weber, The Sky Colony
March 11 • Kennelly Keys, Anacortes
Kennelly Keys, located on Commercial in Anacortes, is a new venue for the town. The ownership has allocated half the building to a musical instrument retail space, but the other half is a two-story music hall. This spacious room has been designed as a space to support the local music scene, for not only performances, but rehearsals as well.
On Saturday, March 11, Kennelly Keys hosted an attentive, intimate audience who were treated to the original music of Lizzie Weber, with opening act The Sky Colony. Lizzie Weber is a Fidalgo Island based singer-songwriter, and got her start in St. Louis. The Sky Colony bills itself as “dream-folk” from the Pacific Northwest. Both acts were in their element, not having to compete with loud bar patrons and with the expert lighting and sound run by Nicholas Wilbur.
The Sky Colony is a band that understands the value of dynamics. They don’t overplay and leave space for their compositions to breathe. Particularly evocative for the locals was a song dedicated to the late Lane Fernando.
Lizzie Weber joined the group for a handful of songs and then took the stage after intermission. Her first set was performed at the grand piano. Weber’s voice is at once both confident and vulnerable. Her songwriting matches the spare arrangement of solo voice/instrument perfectly. It’s hard to think of a performance space more suited to her style and delivery. Lizzie proved equally adept at supporting her songs with solo acoustic guitar during the last half of her show. She’s a relative newcomer to the Anacortes music community, but has already found a devoted audience, judging from the rapt attention she commanded from those in attendance.
The sound, lighting, and acoustics were very professionally executed. This reviewer was left with a sense that Kennelly Keys has made a decision to not just profit from the local music community, but also to be one of its key supporters.
-Joel Askey (review and photo)
Deacon’s Ruse Raise a Sweet Ruckus for Emergency Circus
March 25 • Alternative Library
An overall-clad lad held the door open as I entered the mysterious storied building at 519 E. Maple. The theme of intrigue and generosity would only continue from there, courtesy of Bellingham’s own The Deacon’s Ruse. Started in 2015 by Savi Louise and Alex Deacon, the volunteer-run theater troupe produce immersion-based events that draw attention to causes and/or organizations built to better society.
Their Alternative Library show on March 25 was a benefit for Emergency Circus, an inspiring global collective of circus performers who foster healing productions exclusively for those in need.
“Hope people show up,” I overheard a whimsical clowned volunteer say while unfolding chairs. Within 10 minutes of doors, she was being assisted by excitable colleagues sliding furniture into shadows to accommodate more space for increasing attendees. It was a packed house for the first theatrical performance in the Library’s new home.
An ambitious timeline coupled with an unfamiliar space came with logistical issues in tow. For the record, technical hiccups did occur. This is crucial to note as it showcased keen situational awareness by the diverse cast made up of both amateurs and professionals. Each surprise challenge was met with successfully redirecting an engaged audience back to the target emotion: happiness.
“[Laughter] is important to embrace,” says Alex, one of the chief organizers, emcees, and musicians. “And a little dancin’ never hurt nobody.”
Volunteer librarian and fellow show coordinator KayKay Fantasia agrees. “Deacon’s Ruse is a vehicle for community interaction,” she says. “It offers an environment that is safe, alcohol-free, and all ages. A place where anyone can be empowered to create.”
This mantra was made tangible through a program containing elements of magic, vaudeville, love, death, burlesque, poetry, puppets, sexy EMTs, serenades, and a splash of Shakespeare just for good measure.
The Deacon’s Ruse ran the sensory gambit in raising nearly $500 for Emergency Circus.
The night closed with a blissful group singalong on “Shrapnel of Love,” written by EC founder Clay Mazing. Strangers and friends alike stood to call out in kind during an earworm section dedicated solely to la-la-la-ing.
Bellingham is fortunate to have The Deacon’s Ruse in town. They are just one of many local movements injecting good into the scene. Find them on Facebook, keep an ear to the ground for their next show, and make sure to take a friend along as it helps the joy grow. Donations for Emergency Circus are being accepted at emergencycircus.com/#donate.
March 3 • WWU
With all the house shows and concerts popping up around town, it’s always a pleasant surprise when Western Washington University has free shows on campus. The Viking Union Multipurpose room was warm and inviting due to the dark, pink lighting.
I unfortunately missed Kreea’s performance, arriving during Falon Sierra’s set. Her voice literally pulled me closer to the stage. I heard Billy Holiday, Frank Ocean, and the Internet in her sound. Yet, the combination of R&B, wavy psychedelic hip-hop beats, and soulful vocals are all her.
Most audience members closed their eyes, eating up every word. Whenever she effortlessly hit a high note, they opened their eyes in awe of the weight of her voice. She proudly exited the stage, completely humbled by the audiences’ response.
Next, Guayaba confidently took the stage. Her presence was calm yet, powerful. The audience couldn’t help but move along to each song, even during slower tracks. It was also the lyrics that moved everyone. Guayaba smiled while rapidly spitting spoken word poetry about finding self-love in a society that encourages self-hate. The tropical synths paired with heavy bass went well with the dark yet, colorful and ripe imagery within each song. The line “I’m f#cked up in the head and I am fat and I am queer, and I am poor and black and may even be ugly, but I’m here,” gave the entire room chills due to its raw honesty.
Guayaba showed a more sentimental side during the last song, “Paloma.” The song was acoustic and she sang instead of rapped. I literally got goose bumps when she finished the set hitting opera-esque high notes. The whole room stood with their mouths gaping open, completely amazed by her heavenly voice. Guayaba flashed a dazzling smile once the stunned silence was broken by a roaring applause.
The headliner, ParisAlexa, immediately brought her compelling energy the second she walked onto the stage. The 18-year-old singer and songwriter was very excited to introduce her newer tracks using only her ethereal voice and loopstation. Each gravitating melody layered over each other and completely blew the minds of those in the audience. Her mom proudly watched nearby. It was really cute to see the two exchange knowing glances throughout the performance. Paris really wanted the audience to have a lot of fun during her set by telling humorous anecdotes in between songs. She even walked off the stage to dance with the audience. Her goal was definitely met, no one stood still.
The purpose of this event was to “celebrate local talent, woman talent, and women’s rights.” In addition to an all female lineup, there were booths that provided opportunities to seek out mental and reproductive health resources.
The vibe was celebratory, every person—performer or audience member—was happy to be there. Each performer commented about how refreshing it was to be a part of an all female, all person of color lineup.
It was a very humanizing yet, empowering experience. The overall theme of self-love and embracing your unique qualities reminded everybody to feel at home in their skin. Everyone left perfectly satisfied with the talent they saw but also carried those important messages home with them.
Dirt Wire, Ginseng Drummer
March 12 • The Wild Buffalo
On a rainy Saturday night at the Wild Buffalo, the bar welcomed their audience to another sold out show.
Bellingham resident Tim Alexander (Primus, Puscifer, Perfect Circle, Blue Man Group) took to the stage with Dean Evenson (of Soundings of the Planet) under the name Ginseng Drummer. Having seen Tim play earlier this year as “WubWub” I was curious to see what this incarnation would entail. Opening with singing bowls and light gong work with accompanying flute from Evenson, the sound was like waking from a dream that won’t let go. The musical soundscape was painted with polyphonic elegance. Utilizing loop pedals and hands down the biggest percussion set I’ve witnessed this side of the Rhythm Devils, Alexander showed off his musical mastery moving around the kit without missing a proverbial or literal beat.
The music did not get as intense as the WubWub show, but rather remained more light and spiritual, drawing the crowded mass in tightly to the stage like so many sinners seeking redemption through sonic baptism. The precision of movement and sound mixed with flares of showmanship exposed his Blue Man Group background as well.
It’s been less than a year since suffering his second heart attack, and Tim Alexander is back at his craft on the very top of his game. The music he is presently playing has taken on a much more seriously spiritual theme and feel than say, “My name is mud”…and I couldn’t be more thrilled that he is with us.
Next to the stage we welcomed Dirtwire. Comprised of David Satori (Beats Antique), Evan Fraser (Hamsa Lila, Bolo), and Mark Reveley (Jed and Lucia), these guys came together to completely rewrite the definition of Americana. Opening with Chaplin’s speech from The Great Dictator, the words never more important and true than now, it was a quick and hard reminder of why so many of us showed up to dance in the first place. Dressed in Western wear with a myriad of instruments strewn around them, I had no idea what was about to happen.
The sound is nearly impossible to nail down – there are definite aspects of country blended with honky tonk, some egyptian string work, and trance-like beats while alternating between harmonica and megaphone “vocals,” and that’s just the first track, “Rusted Railway.” For their third song of set, “Shish Kabob” featured David on vocals singing into the pickup on his banjo, which produced a hollow and canned affect, almost otherworldly.
The entire night was a blend of world music styles I would never have dreamed could meld together. At times it seemed they were about to blow the roof off, only to hit a quick transition to what could be the soundtrack to a Spaghetti Western on Mars. It was like back porch, swamp rock, tranced out hillbilly dubstep… and it was simply incredible.
Another amazing night of incredible talent like only The Wild Buffalo can provide.
Babe Waves, Ruff Bummer, HIRS
March 16 • Mosh Eisley
A Thursday night in Bellingham isn’t guaranteed to get many people out for shows, but at Mosh Eisley, people trickled through the door to catch an amazing three bill show loaded with talented queer, trans and femme artists.
First up was local favorites, Babe Waves, with their heavy hitting, femme-inspired punk. I remember attending my first Babe Waves show, which also happened to be one of their first shows, around the time they were known as Fallopia. I had turned freshly 16, and was just breaking into Bellingham’s DIY scene. I was so excited seeing their powerful performance and cutthroat lyrics about feminism. Their performance and presence has only strengthened since then. They’re so in tune with each other and to the audience, making every show I’ve seen them play fun and impressively rehearsed.
Next was Ruff Bummer, a noise project fronted by Sidd Bobby Wolfe and accompanied with live drums by Autumn Marceau. Normally when I attend noise shows, each act is some sort of a version of one lonely, cis-het white boy, with an audience that’s pretty much the same. It was incredibly refreshing to catch queer/femme artists absolutely killing it and making music that’s interesting and enthralling. The spooky, droney-set elevated the drumming and vice versa, making the whole performance a delicious noise journey, coming full circle from the beginning of the set to the end of it.
Lastly, what every person at Mosh Eisley was waiting for, HIRS. Touring all the way from the East Coast, HIRS brought the most impressive yet terrifying wall of amps and speakers I have ever seen. A single pluck of the guitar made everyone jump a little bit. At the beginning of their much anticipated set, the singer, Jenna, encouraged queers and femmes to come to the front, and thus began an incredible but far too short set of hardcore femme music. The duo included a prerecorded track of drums that played through the huge stack of speakers. The pit that was formed was almost entirely made by queer, femme and trans individuals, all coming together to share the experience of being validated and heard by people just like them. There was no feeling that could entirely encapsulate the amount of cathartic joy felt in the Mosh Eisley living room. Everybody took up space together and refused to apologize for it.
G. Love and Special Sauce, City of the Sun
March 21 • Wild Buffalo
For a Tuesday night, the town was on fire with music, but the Buffalo called and I answered.
The show opened with New York band, City of the Sun. Such a light and understated opening, it was almost like the music snuck up and whispered in your ear, “Come to the stage.” The three-piece consisted of John Pita, Avi Snow, (both on guitar) and Zach Para on cajón (a box drum played with the hands). Each offering was stunningly beautiful in its melody and composition, the understated percussion and strong rhythm guitar offering a wonderful foundation for the absolute mastery of John Pita.
The show had a very strong Latin feel to each song showcasing Pita’s Ecuadorian roots in every note he played, his fingers moving across the frets with the lithe grace and strength of a bullfighter; his pick work absolutely a blur, I was waiting for the guitar to catch fire! Face hidden under a quaff of black curly mohawk, the music exploded from his guitar, the shrapnel piercing the fiber of my being. Closing my eyes I felt transported to a place I have never traveled to but have always lived. As the show progressed to its close, latecomers quickly approached the stage with looks of wonder and disappointment in realization of what they missed through their tardiness.
G. Love and Special Sauce popped onto my radar back in college with their single “I like Cold Beverages.” I was in college and I liked cold beverages, and turns out I still do. Other than a couple more tracks over the years popping up here and there I never looked any further into what made the Sauce so special. Time for a taste. G. Love is mostly known for his unique East Coast rap swagger and swing on the mic and it was evident from the jump. What I didn’t know prior that G Love is a heckuva blues guitarist.
A cover of Buddy Guy’s “Messin’ W The Kid” launched the show and set the tone for the evening. The night’s overall sound was like getting Brian Setzer, John Lee Hooker, Joe Walsh and The Beastie Boys together for a jam session. Rocking and rock-a-billying from one track to the next, the harmonica blasting like a freight train bearing down on a willing victim, they shredded from originals to covers owning each one in the room. From muddy water blues to funk 49, upbeat swing beats and straight up party anthems it was non stop energy.
By the time they busted out “Cold Beverages” the dance floor had long been in a frenzy of motion. Taking this moment to transport us back to the 90s, the track segued into a jam session when the roof, the roof, the roof caught fire. Turns out we needed no water as they transitioned again and went into a Samba beat! About halfway through the set G. had said they had the next night off, “So we’re gonna play all night!” Anybody who left before the set break missed the show – the audience called the band back for an encore and just G. came out for a front porch swing session laying down some filthy solo blues tracks; he passed around some “Lemonade” and the band rejoined the stage.
The “encore” became a full second set and saw covers of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” and was that really “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”…? For two and a half hours the crowd were blessed enough to get tossed and marinate in Special Sauce.