Best Show Ever: Reflecting on Bellingham’s favorite shows
Current and past residents reflect on their favorite shows in town, ever! Some had a hard time picking just one, others knew right away. All great stories. My favorite show in Bellingham, was…
The Promise Ring, The Weakerthans and Lands Farther East
The Promise Ring, The Weakerthans and Lands Farther East played at WWU’s Viking Union Building on May 2, 2002 for $7. This show took place during my sophomore year at WWU and I remember it helping me to believe that Bellingham was the perfect place for me to be. The Promise Ring were one of my favorite bands at the time and as we approached the venue, my friend Emily and I saw them playing hacky sack outside of the Viking Commons. She got nervous and literally hid in some bushes across the street, but I approached them and we ended up playing hacky sack with them for a few hours before the show and we got to ask them a ton of stupid questions. They even named a hacky sack move after me, the “wizard’s cloak,” after I caught the sack in the hood of my sweatshirt. All three bands were great that night, especially TPR, who were on tour for what ended up being their last album, “Wood/Water.” Because I’ve seen them live a few times now, before and after this show, it was really the experience hanging out with the band that made this show unforgettable for me. Why A.S. Pop Music doesn’t book more shows in the Viking Commons instead of the P.A.C. is beyond me; some of my best memories in Bellingham have taken place in that room.
Brent’s 40th birthday
There were many, many great shows that I saw and/or played at the 3B in the 90s and early ‘aughts, that would likely be contenders if I could remember much about them; but without taking a ride in the way back machine, I’d have to say my favorite B’ham show was Brent’s 40th Birthday show at the Wild Buffalo on November 13, 2010.
The bill was Dog Shredder, the Holy Tailfeathers, Sharpie, Sugar Sugar Sugar, and Federation X. Such an awesome lineup representing the past, present and future of Bellingham music. I was completely stoked and honored to be asked to play.
It had been over 10 years since Sharpie broke up, and just being in a room with Brad and Charley rehearsing again felt really great. I was unsure if we’d be able to get things sounding good and tight in the 3 practices we had before the show, but by the end of the first practice I knew we would throw down hard.
The Birthday Bash was one of the best Sharpie performances I can remember, and absolutely one of the best times I’ve ever had playing live. It was fun and loose, yet furious and tight as well. All the bands were amazing, and it was almost as much fun to be in the crowd as it was on stage.
Brad lost his strap during our last song. I remember him looking at me like “oh fuck,” and then he just jammed the bottom of his bass into the stage and kept pummeling it. The crowd was absolutely fantastic as well. Nothing subdued about the excitement that night, just a packed house of friends, musicians and music lovers celebrating the birth of Mr. Cole and the amazing beauty that is Rock n’ Roll. Thanks for asking Brent, what a blast!
By the time I was 30 or so, I figured out I’d seen somewhere in the range of a 1000 sets. I saw a bit of music before moving to Bellingham when I was 21, but once here, the flood gates opened up for me. Every weekend I could be found at the 3B, soaking up the local scene and bands coming through.
By the time I started the magazine, I’d really developed into a good music snob. Maybe snob isn’t the right term, but I liked good music and hated bad music – I knew the difference and prided myself on knowing the bands who were coming through town.
But one band, the best band, flew under my radar.
I don’t remember a ton about the Zen Guerilla, outside of their set. I was there because of the openers – local bands I think, or at the least from Seattle – but I had no idea who Zen Guerilla was. Just before their set as the headliner, my girlfriend at the time decided she wanted to go home. I wasn’t ready, but we only had one car, so I figured I’d drive her home and come back for the headliner. As I was walking out, Brad Lease, the soundman at the 3B and bass player of Sharpie stopped me and said “you aren’t leaving are you?” I told him I’d be back and he said “good, you don’t want to miss this” and then gave the “holy shit they’re amazing look.” I was intrigued… but I’d seen tons of amazing shows – it was the 3B after all. How good could this one be – better than the Quadrajets? Murder City Devils? Fed X?
I came back just as ZG was hitting the stage, they were an odd looking bunch – singer Marcus Durant stood at 6’7” with a huge afro and sunglasses, bass player Carl Horne looked like he could be an accountant, drummer Andy Duvall was pure rock ‘n’ roll with flame tattoos on his arms while guitarist Rich Millman just looked like an every Joe. Right from the get go – they were amazing – sounded like Otis Redding fronting Led Zeppelin after listening to MC5 records (which means, they were perfect). Marcus jumped and sang with an intensity and passion that was almost alarming, Andy and Carl locked down the groove while Rich (seemingly on the cusp of passing out drunk), would shift from Zeppelin meet Redding grooves to pure shredding. They were big, they were loud and they were, stunning. I don’t remember a ton from the show (there might have been some booze involved), but I do remember I had seen it – perfection on stage. Everything I’d ever hoped to see from a band – they were rock gods with a heart of soul. Even now, 14 years later, I shake my head at the thought of that night and the absolute brilliance of that band.
The Seizures, Immortal Lee County Killers, Federation X
Having come from a heavily Pop-Punk influenced background, I can remember the exact show that changed my whole perspective on music and greatly helped shape the way I write songs. In February of 2002, with the stage set as the now defunct Showoff Gallery, the bands, in order, included The Seizures, Immortal Lee County Killers and Federation X.
I remember something almost tangible clicking in my head that night as The Seizures started with a fury that set the bar extremely high. Playing with such genuine intensity, they could only be described as perfect in their place and time.
Immortal Lee County Killers were new to me at that point, they demanded my attention with sound I had not heard, but later learned to love. Heavier than hell Southern Blues/Rock.
I remember there being some question in the crowd as to whether or not Fed X would be playing, as Dirty Bill had hurt his hands (the rumor being that he had recently set them on fire.) Fortunately, this was not the case, as I can say without a doubt, never in my life, have I felt such an explosion of energy as in the moment when Fed X started “Hatchet Man.” The entire room surged forward and began stomping the ground in accordance with the click of the drums. All voices became one, as we screamed “HE CAME A WALKING AROUND.” And when when the guitars came in, the entire room completely lost their minds, collectively. They proceeded to play American Folk Horror in its entirety and we devoured every minute of sound, lingering long after the show had ended.
Again, I will forever remember this as the night I truly felt the life changing power of music and for which, I will be forever grateful.
The first time they came to Bellingham, Dawes opened for Deer Tick at The Wild Buffalo. I arrived halfway through the first song and the next 50 minutes completely blew me away – it’s that rare time when you have no knowledge or opinions about the band or their music, and it becomes a completely objective and new experience where every minute goes by just a bit too quickly. Their use of arrangement, smart instrumentation, and great vocal harmonies have gotten them pretty far the past few years, and I have seen them many times since then, but I still feel lucky that I saw them this way for the first time.
The GZA w/The Educataz and guests
I have some friends who won’t be very excited that I’m noting this show as one of my favorites in Bellingham, because the show itself was fun but not phenomenal, it didn’t do well and lost some people a lot of money, but it always comes to mind when I think about my favorites in town.
First of all, it wasn’t just the GZA in Bellingham, it was the GZA in Bellingham, playing at the Sportsplex. It was all just so random. Wu Tang rolled through town hooded and swagged out like you would expect from Brooklyn hip-hop in the 90s and only about 30 people showed up – mostly underage white kids on drugs.
I had a chance to meet and talk to the GZA for a bit before he played, and I still remember the look on his face showing this weird mix of being in wonder of his surroundings and feeling annoyed by them. But he took the stage and he did his thing, which was a dope act to check off the list. However, I will always remember standing in the freezing sportsplex, in the middle of a huge and basically empty in-door soccer field, listening to the live sounds of the GZA bouncing off all of the aluminum walls and watching these kids try to climb on stage while shouting slurred versions of “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin to f*ck with” and just laughing to myself thinking only in Bellingham.
Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000149 EndHTML:0000002032 StartFragment:0000000199 EndFragment:0000001998 StartSelection:0000000199 EndSelection:0000001998 I have seen well over 1,000 shows over the past four years that I have been part owner of the Wild Buffalo and I’m sure that I have said the words, “This is the best show I have ever seen in my life,” dozens of times. However, the one night that stands above all of the other “best shows” was on Monday, June 22 2009 when Deer Tick and Dawes played at the Buffalo. When I was contacted about booking Deer Tick on that date I had never heard of them before. I reached out to Brent Cole to see if he was familiar with the band and he basically told me our friendship was over if I didn’t book it. I had also never heard of Dawes nor did I even listen to them until the night of the show. They were a brand new band out of L.A. and were added to the bill by Deer Tick’s agent a month before the show. I was initially pretty bummed out about this because I was hoping to add a local band to open up since so many groups had asked if they could. What made the night so special was that I had literally no expectations and was absolutely blown away. Dawes stole the show. They stole the whole damn thing after their first song. My jaw was dropped and I had goosebumps for their entire set and at the end of the show it was very clear that almost everyone had the same reaction. My business partner and I taught Dawes a couple barbershop tags and we drunkenly harmonized the night away until our staff made us all leave so they could go home. They have since been back to Bellingham three times and each show has been its own special experience. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we can bring them back to Bellingham before everyone else listens to them and they get too big!
At the start of a night featuring Trash Train, the Cheeps’ house looked like a typical Bellingham rental. At some point, though, hedonism had a breakthrough. Some guy comes walking down the stairs, weaving through the crowd, grinning and naked except for his shoes. Then another guy clings to the exposed basement pipes to wrap his legs around the guitarist’s head in a crotch hug and everything changes. Suddenly there’s a wall frighteningly and fully demolished by people wanting a better view. Everyone’s pressing in, ecstatic. When I see the upstairs again, the floor— everywhere— is dusted in pummeled fragments from dishes, furniture, and appliances. The cops came knocking and people fled from every exit like rats from a burning ship. No one was hurt, everyone was soon evicted. As Rox said on their 7”, Bellingham Knows How To Party.
Maybe the summer of 1999?
Garage Shock 99
Garage Shock 99, Night 2. The dangerous beauty of a Garage Shock lies in its density. Like some kind of gravity-compressed resin, you’d get 18 bands (from all over the world), all of your favorite friends (who didn’t necessarily live here anymore), and a whole summer’s worth of drinking crammed into one 3-night weekend. Garage Shock 99 was no exception.
Held at the 3B over Memorial Day weekend, the festival featured some real gem performances by the likes of Zen Guerilla, Man or AstroMan?, the Von Zippers and he Monkey Wrench. But it was Night 2 that really toppled my world.
The Flaming Sideburns from Finland opened with their glamschock preen, followed by Stockholm’s Sewergrooves. After a quick trip to the Bellingham Inn, Houston’s SugarShack sounded particularly bright & shiny. And then Dave Crider stumbled to the mic.
“This is the band that changed my life and saved my life,” he yelled, and the Nomads launched into their festival besting set, proceeding to just kill bugs dead like the Godfathers of Garage Rock they are. Their illegitimate sons the Hellactoptes followed, but weren’t up to the task of following their mentors. Sometimes father still knows best…
The after party at the Fireballs of Freedom suite at the B.I. was a lot like the show itself, with beer and bodies flying. I’d lost my keys. A tooth ached.
Some of the best, most original, and most diverse music I had ever seen or heard in my life happened in Bellingham; The Footstompin’ Trio, Prospect Champions, Language Arts, The Reeks & The Wrecks, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, Lukas and Devin pre-Gallus Bros, Randy’s Roadhouse shows, Showoff Gallery, Old Town Cafe mornings… the list goes on and on.
One show that I reviewed for this magazine back in 2001 stands out, though, as a favorite of favorites:
First show I every saw of his, it was billed as “local hero returns.” Robert Blake had just flown back from Philadelphia and I caught him at the Underground Coffeehouse Room 565 in February 2001. Through the giant picture windows behind the stage, the lights of the bay at night formed the perfect sparkling Bellingham backdrop.
Robert burst out of the audience and confidently strolled to the stage playing his guitar and singing what must have been a new song about how he missed old Bellingham and the friends and lovers he had had to leave. “Hello from a friend in Philadelphia!” he sang. He then careened into his familiar songs and the collective sigh that went around the room impressed upon me that this must be the music of a local hero.
I’ll never forget how the rawness of his stories, political messages, the love and lost love, the innocence and loss of innocence all swirling and crashing in the colors of his musical paintings moved me to tears that night.
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
Don’t know when the date was, but the second time Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings came to the Nightlight, was the best night in Bellingham music history I have experienced. She really just cut a fucking rug so hard that night, doing all the different 60’s dances with her own flair, and interacting with the audience, which added up to a decible level of screaming/excitement so high that boiled the blood, tingled the nerves, and made the little hairs on the back of your neck stand at a joyous attention.
DMBQ, Federation X, The DTs
Best Bellingham show ever: April 15, 2005: DMBQ, Federation X, The DTs. I had just turned 21 and was continuing my nascent entrancement with the Bellingham music community. This of course meant mandatory daily raging at the 3B Tavern. So many great, life-affirming shows at the ‘B – and if you were there you undoubtedly had your own – but my pumpkin was forever blown after seeing Japan’s DMBQ walk on water here in April of ‘05.
This impossibly good Japanese garage-psychedelia completely consumed me and changed virtually everything I wanted to hear, see, feel and accomplish in rock ‘n’ roll overnight. They were explosive, dynamic, unhinged and sharp as a tack. By the end of the WAY over sold-out show DMBQ had the crowd mesmerized. It reached a (literally) fiery climax with a little lighter fluid and guitarist Shinji Masuko and drummer Mana “China” Nishiura slowly reassembling the drum kit skyward like a temple. Over the incredible wall of noise Shinji did a lap around the room, walking ABOVE the crowd, and returned to the stage to ringlead the tower’s epic destruction. Incredible. I loved the fun and the sweat and the danger.
Following the heartbreaking death of China during their next US tour later that year, DMBQ returned to Bellingham only once. But I’ll never lose what that show did for me and my relationship with music and with Bellingham. That power is immortal.
– Josh Holland
Bob Log III
I would have to go with Bob Log III at the 3B. I have no idea when that was though. I don’t remember all that much about it except that it was a blast, there were titties, an inflatable boat, and I went to bed that night coated in other peoples sweat, beer, and I don’t want to know what else.
– Lupe Flores
The Basement Swing, New York Jimmy & The Jive Five
The 3B Tavern, 1998. The Basement Swing opens up New York Jimmy & The Jive Five. In the fall of 1995 I played my first Bellingham show at the downtown Tony’s Coffeehouse, (in what is now Port of Subs on Magnolia) I booked the show the old fashioned way-by walking in and talking to the manager. The manger turned out to be my future friend, band mate, neighbor and perhaps the funniest guy I know: Dan Lowinger. Years later my band The Basement Swing opened up for his band, NY Jimmy and the Jive Five, at the 3B Tavern. It was my first bar show in Bellingham and we took photos of our name on the marquis. We started the show by marching in from the sidewalk. Jordan Rain and Sari Breznau lead the way with trumpet and marching snare drum. After our set, I got to dance to one of my all time favorite Bellingham bands.
Ween at Mt Baker Theater. I hadn’t seen Ween before and had no idea what to expect. After prefunking and taking ourselves to another realm we made our way down to the MBT. The next few hours were both comical and amazing in terms of their musicianship and live performance. We were cracking up to songs like Piss Up A Rope. Gene kept leaving the stage mid song in an obvious state of inebriation. He continually made fun of his guitar tech which was sadly hilarious. I think everyone in the theater melted when they played Captain, a psychedelic wormhole that captured some serious depressed emotion. After the show we came to find that they canceled the rest of the tour due to Gene’s substance abuse. Shocker…
Lands Farther East, Your Heart Breaks, Racetrack, Da Me Dulce, Federation X, Immortal Lee County Killers, The Triggers, The Seizures
It’s so hard to narrow it down to my favorite Bellingham show, so I had to go with two, and go way, way back. At this time, I was still a newcomer to Bellingham, living on campus at WWU and still too young to go to bars. Finding out about all ages shows off campus was nearly impossible, but my friends were able to find out about these two shows at the Showoff. We’d been there a few times before hand, but there were the first two were I really felt like I got an idea of the community in town. Nearly every person I played music with in Bellingham or became friends with over the next few years were at one or both of these shows. Hell, nearly every member of both bands I’ve been in PLAYED these shows.
Eleven years on, it’s hard to remember specific details about either of these shows, beyond being blown away by both Lands Farther East (whom I’d only seen once before) and Federation X (the first time I saw them live). The Federation X show was the first time I saw the Bellingham practice of throwing (or spitting) beer at a band as a sign of appreciation. After these shows, it was only a short time later that the people I saw playing and attending these shows became friends and bandmates.
Would I have ended up in the same place today if I hadn’t spent a few hours freezing my ass off in the Showoff Gallery, having my mind blown by amazing local bands, and finding out how much it hurts to get beer in my eyes? Who knows, but I can say without a doubt, I’m glad I did.
I have loved many local shows throughout the years in this town, and think we are one of the most self-sustaining scenes in the country, but it always strikes me how much touring bands love playing here, too. So, I’ll go with the Fucking Champs (then just “The Champs,” from San Francisco) at Juice’s house on F Street, probably around 2000 or 2001.
I remember a basement full of drunken loudmouths being stunned into rapt silence at the first note. The dizzying mix of virtuosic time changes and cheesedick glory-rock demanded so much concentration that every song break felt like a vacation, eliciting screams of relief and joy from the audience. It felt like something from Bill & Ted’s psyche, jacked up on speed and alcohol.
After this amazing show the band just hung out upstairs, drinking beer and talking with anyone that stumbled by. I remember thinking, “What is this town, where excellent music is so normal that a rock star and a drinking buddy are separated only by a few stairs?”
Bellingham has that effect on musicians and audiences, alike; the feeling that we’re in the basement of a common friend.
Apollo Ghosts at Friendship City in June 2008. This is one of the first shows I can remember going to at the now defunct, and unfortunately burnt to the ground, Friendship City. Not sure who else was on the bill, but this was Vancouver, BC’s (or more properly Nanaimo) Apollo Ghosts’ first of many sweaty, infectious sets in Bellingham. Definitely the first time I saw a house show crowd surf, and not a single scoff at an around-the-house conga line. Their energy was so perfect and inspiring – I really felt like their shows added some momentum to everyone who was into making music and supporting the all-ages scene. They made being “fun” really cool. And “fun” without being cheesy or fake, they had and still have a lot of musical integrity. Not to be too gushy and sentimental, but the good feeling from that house show lasted a long time and helped me fall in love with cool local venues, playing music, and seeing good music happen in this town.
Black Breath, Leatherhorn, Beat to Fucking Death
2011. CHRISTMAS IN HELL! This was right after the Black Breath bubble had burst and they were a huge deal. When Jeff DeBock called me and told me BTFD had been asked to open, I freaked out. We were not worthy. But it happened, and it happened HARD. We knew we were a stupid band, so we compensated by being as ridiculous as possible. We played the floor, Jeff wore a pimp coat and a grill that i think got lost in the audience somewhere, I wore my ridiculous “science is awesome” shirt that has a dinosaur skeleton and a jet plane and a volcano and a bunch of other crazy shit on it, and we covered “Fight For Your Right” by the Beastie Boys. Jeff brought a ton of pennies and threw them on the ground during our set and demanded that people pick them up. I think he started just giving audience members handfuls of pennies at some point. Some guy wrote a really bizarre review of our set for What’s Up! where he described us as “deconstructions of silence, a feedback-laden ode to the joke of the world” or something to that effect, which I thought was hilarious. Afterwards, Leatherhorn played one of the most evil sets I’ve ever seen them pull off. This was the show that I fell in love with that band. They were legitimately scary. And Black Breath decimated everyone’s lives, minds, and eardrums. I’ve pretty much ran out of superlatives to describe that band with at this point. Best Christmas ever.