Live Review: your rival, iska dhaaf, manatee commune, gonzo

Nov. 16, 2013 • House Show

A cold, drizzly Saturday evening saw a crowd getting snug in the high-vaulted ceilings of the Headquarters, a house location that’s kept rather active lately. The event celebrated the release of the second issue of Bellingham-based independent publication Signed Magazine, which features interviews with members of bigger local bands, illustrations, comics and record recommendations. Accompanying the release was a varied bill of both local and out-of-town performers. With its first issue debuting at Yellingham earlier this year, Signed Magazine’s primary aim is to shed light onto the objectification of recorded music, live performances, and musicians created by the music industry, and does so by asking musicians about this topic. This current issue features interviews with such big names as Doug Martsch, Nick Harmer of Death Cab for Cutie and Mac McCaughan of Superchunk (see this month’s article for more about Signed).
With a table set up in the back slinging issues and other merch, a crowd accumulated and the show got off to a start. The lights were cut as Bellingham-based chillwave artist Manatee Commune debuted a set of primarily new material. A half-circle of people were intently vexed as chirpy beat skips, b-boy beats and arpeggiated softsynths were remixed live on an assembly of LED pad controllers. The whole set swirled together with improvised, organic flow, and before the last song sole performer Grant Eadie thanked the crowd and announced the last song was the lead single off of his upcoming debut album Brush and was available online for “pay what you want, which is free.”
After a brief break the crowd sweltered in for Seattle-based Iska Dhaaf. A two-piece project featuring Benjamin Verdoes of local sweethearts Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band, their motorik beats and rich analog delay-swathed harmonies got the crowd feeling loose and dancey. A saturated sound is hard to achieve with just two members, but Iska Dhaaf was able to achieve it with bold charm. Interestingly, drummer Nathan Quiroga had a large vintage organ set up on the left of his kit, and for most of the set played droning baselines on it with one hand and drums with the other. With cerebral transitions between parts in songs, experimental instrumentation and the occasional high-pitched “OOH!”, Iska Dhaaf drew immediate comparisons to Thee Oh Sees and Radiohead.
Next up was Portland-based Your Rival, who delivered a tight and succinct set of punchy pop punk. Possibly the highlight of the night, a mere 20 or 25 minutes saw the band ripping through hits off of their recently released full-length Here’s to Me with cheeky chagrin. Your Rival recently expanded from a four- to a five-piece for a stretch of dates around the Northwest, with frontman and sole songwriter Mo Troper relieved of guitar duties by buddy Lee Corey Oswald. Freed, he tantalized the crowd with a commanding strut reminiscent of his hero, the late Freddie Mercury.
The night had grown from cold and wet to cold and stuporously wet. Rounding out the bill were Bellingham’s party rockers Gonzo, who shredded through a thick set of threshy, riffy progressive rock in front of a raucous crowd. Reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age in sound, Gonzo’s songs are easy to get lost in, with many stretching well into 8-minute range and leaving for an enveloping listening experience. I amused myself counting the number of times drummer Ian Christiansen’s 10-inch splash cymbal fell off of its stand whenever he hit it, and each time wondered how long it would be before a section would come without drums so that he could retrieve it.
– Nick Enard