Live Show Reviews
Road to Rockstar Challenge
Thursdays at the Wild Buffalo
It is spring again, which brings many wonderful things to Bellingham; warm rain, flowers, longer days and the Road to Rockstar Challenge. Once a year KISM and What’s Up! invite local bands to compete weekly over nearly two months to find the most popular local groups. The top bands win amazing prizes selected to help them take their music career to the next level. Previous victors include Black Beast Revival, Galapagos, and The Naughty Blokes.
Ever Thursday in April four bands appeared at the Wild Buffalo and at the end of the night the audience voted for their favorite – the top two bands each week move on to the next round until the finals when the top bands are featured. Like in years past, the competition is stiff; the staff at KISM have selected a series of showcases made up of a diverse collection of accomplished bands. It can be hard to vote at the end of each night due to the fact that each and every band that has hit the stage so far has a lot to offer. They are all great musicians, but only one band can be the winner. In case you have missed anything so far, here is a breakdown of the showcases so far;
Showcase #1: G.U.P.I. The Sound, The Shows, Cat Bomb and Incanus faced off in a funky and fun evening. Attendance was moderate and many folks are seeing these bands for the first time. I heard a lot of great feedback on all of the acts, but Cat Bomb and Incanus earned the most votes and moved on.
Showcase #2: Crooked Neighbours, STFU ROBOT, Proud Failures and Daisy Propane competed. Attendance was better than the week before and again lots of attendees finding new bands to follow and see live in town. Only two can move on and the audience chose Crooked Neighbors and Proud Failures.
Showcase #3: Pawnbroker, Mystery House, Ashes of Existence and TripMadam brought the heaviest sets of the competition we had seen at this point. These groups also brought a lot of personality, energy and fans to the show. The top picks this evening, Ashes of Existence and TripMadam, have both been playing for several years.
Showcase #4: Great Pacific, WOODSHED, The Masses and The Shadow Creek Project reached across a range of genres in each of their performances. All of these groups put on a great set that would appeal to a wide audience. Great Pacific and WOODSHED moved on to the next round.
Showcase #5: Ebb, Slack & Flood, Reanu Keeves and the Funky Falcons, Actionesse, and Dark Stone will compete. I expect an even larger audience as attendance increases every week until the venue is packed. At the time of printing results are unavailable.
The Wild Buffalo will continue to host the Road to Rockstar Challenge on Thursdays in May until only one band is left standing. I highly suggest anyone who has any interest in local music make it a point to attend this annual event to see the very best that Bellingham has to offer. Only one band can win, but KISM only brings out the best for this competition which guarantees great bands every single week, so there is no better place for local music in spring. See you at the finals!
– Thea Hart
April 9 • Idiom Theater
The words Space Musical conjure up an infinity of ideas: Oompa Loompas singing as they rebuild the Death Star, John Travolta crooning Sandy from the hood of a rocket-car, or even Space Nixon locked in a battle of riffs with Space JKF over control of Planet Elvis – with a special appearance from Space Clinton on his golden sexyphone. Of course, such expectations are not easily met.
Not knowing anyone on stage or in the room, which seemed to be a prerequisite for attending, I wasn’t blown away by Ded Reckoning. However, I can’t say I wasn’t impressed with the storyline, the space research, some songs, props and the performances of Rochelle Robinson and Michael Gill.
Ded Reckoning, written and directed by Kamarie Chapman and Spencer Willows, follows a crew of astronauts searching for life in space in 2021. Robinson plays Lt. Aurora, a brainiac and rule-driven crewmember on the ship who boasts her hearty pipes at many an occasion. Gill plays Master Commander Max, an efficient engineer who belts out a fine blues tune explaining “the blues” to a robot named Nortth. The robot is given life by Jacob Foerg, who, along with the writers, can take credit for the catchiest part of the catchiest song in the showcase.
This musical highlight came during a duet between Foerg and Robinson reminiscent of The B-52’s in all their spaced-out male-female vocals and scary-catchy glory. But the ultimate hook to this song was Foerg’s monotone, robotic voice as he talked back to Robinson’s ballads in the familiar call and response format. The two actors nailed this performance, which was spurred along by excellent songwriting and solid, pre-recorded instrumentals from guitarists Matt Curtis and Spencer Willows, keyboardist Sarah Jerns and bassist Kevin Wharton.
The other two performances are by Kim Turpin and Joan Harris. Turpin plays Capt. Halley, the reckless but determined leader of the ship who desperately craves a hamburger, a beer, a cigarette and a wild night out on the town. Despite having to occasionally strain to hear her voice, Turpin’s performance was great. Another quality performance came from Harris, who plays Tiny, a curious and unwitting rookie with a good heart and an even better voice.
Taken as a whole, Ded Reckoning’s compelling and informative story arc, the eye-catching props, the actors’ solid performances and the occasionally catchy song made for a stellar play. Nonetheless, the best part of the night came before Ded Reckoning even started, when someone taking a seat kicked over a bottle of beer hidden on the floor and yelled, “Raccoon!” In short, Ded Reckoning lies caught in the paradox of any space musical – tough to please but hard to disappoint.
Wild Throne, Dryland, Totalizer, I Will FIght with Lions
April 17 • The Shakedown
A free show at The Shakedown always spells out a good night but when you have a line up like I Will Fight With Lions, Dryland, Totalizer, and last but definitely not least, Wild Throne, you’re in for a night of great times and obviously some heavy rocking.
The bands definitely didn’t disappoint. As the night progressed it only got better and Wild Throne ended it with an explosive set. If you were there, you know what I’m talking about but if not, let me recap it for you.
It was a bit of a late start for the show but I Will Fight With Lions warmed up the crowd with an instrumental and atmospheric set. I had never seen them up until this point and during their set I couldn’t help but think of how much they remind me of of Explosions In the Sky. Their guitars were most likely what made me think this way. They were full of huge reverb and delay. It sounded really great. With an almost hour long set though they may have overstayed their welcome as an opener but I enjoyed listening to their music.
Dryland got everyone banging their heads right off the bat. Their sludgy, riff based rock was just what everyone needed that night. They were energetic and very exciting to watch. Brad Lockhart’s booming and shouting vocals backed by the heavily distorted band are a fantastic combination and they were completely responsible for getting the crowd moving that night.
As the night got later it only got heavier. The fast rocking, hardcore band Totalizer swooped in and took no prisoners. These guys have only gotten better with the time and seeing them really showed me that they fit into their shoes now. Where Bellingham lacks in hardcore and punk music, Totalizer makes up for it and plays a killer show. Frontman Nick Dillon had no qualms about jumping into the crowd and getting rowdy. I respect that. It’s too often that I go to a heavier show and I’m in a sea of folded arms and bobbing heads. Great job guys.
Wild Throne was what everyone was buzzing about though. It’s hard to know where to begin. They were extremely well rehearsed, their set was so enjoyable that I didn’t even realized they had played for almost an hour and 20 minutes and their music was a nonstop collection of heavy, fast and melodic tunes. There’s no question as to why these guys are gaining the success they are and they deserve it after all these years of making music. Their energy was fantastic. Wild Throne never had a dull moment. Also, thanks for bringing some super cool strobe lights that definitely added to the ambiance of the performance.
I’m sorry if you missed the show that Friday. It was fantastic and I look forward to seeing all of the bands the next time they have shows. I highly encourage you to see any of these groups if you get the chance.
Benefest Day 5: Jacuzzi House, Creech, Animal Lover, John White, Couch
Bellingham is a place where you can pack a house show on a Sunday night, have everybody respectfully pay a cover the fee, raise enough money for awesome touring bands, and still donate healthy proceeds to a worthy cause. We love our town for this, and props to the people from Benefest for putting that exact kind of night together.
The concert was the fifth and final show of Benefest, a weeklong all DIY and all ages festival dedicated to raising money for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services. I’m not going to lie, I expected the numbers to dip and the energy to drop after four straight days of shows, but Bham came out in full force to support the bands and the mission.
I hadn’t heard of the first band that played, Couch, but they quickly proved worthy of the bill. The three piece brought gutsy guitar builds, big vocals, and a lot of power stances to the stage. The set was a little rough around the edges, but that seemed to suit their aesthetic just fine.
The next band, or artist accompanied by a band, was John White, who provided a complete 180 from Couch. White and his backing band played very pretty folk-style tunes, and thanks to the large cast of players, created some truly breathtaking soundscapes. Though the show didn’t provide much for dynamic shifts or big energy, it was a cool (literally much less sweat) and pleasant change of pace.
Animal Lover, on tour and away from their home in Minnesota, tore it up. Their set had that little extra je ne sais quoi that bands get when they’re touring. Maybe it’s confidence, or maybe it’s just consistent practice from playing nightly shows. Either way, their noise punk sensibility was crafted to perfection, making for a very loud, and very fun set.
Hometown heroes Creech brought the night home. Not unlike their brother band, The Palisades, Creech play infrequently enough to merit serious excitement for their shows. They’ve built up a fan base and left them wanting more. Luckily for us, they definitely delivered. The band played hit after hit from their amazing 2013 EP Pasture, and their dedicated fans showed them love by singing along to nearly every word.
Dead Prez, Jary Dee, Dom Dishes, DJ Clint Westwood
April 25 • Wild Buffalo
I woke up pretty sore the day after the Dead Prez show. Granted, most of that came from a security guard opening an exit door into my back, but there was still a lot of the good kind of soreness after the show—the type you get from turning up to an awesomely energetic performance.
First on the stage was Bham’s own DJ Clint Westwood, who was serving up old school beats a la Digital Planets and Pharoahe Monch. Meanwhile, fans trickled into the venue and waited in line for their drinks. It was good music to get any party started, and particularly well suited to compliment the headliners of the night.
Next up was Dom Dishes, a rapper from the Seattle/Tacoma area who rocked the stage in an oversized palm-tree patterned shirt and a Chicago Bulls hat. (RIP Sonics.) His music, like his clothes, were of the times, a sort of cloud-rap style reminiscent of A$AP Rocky mixed with the west coast sounds of a Schoolboy Q or an Ab-Soul. He fought the good fight as the opener tasked with energizing a sleepy crowd, and added a much needed electricity to the room.
Jarv Dee, another Seattle based rapper, took the energy from Dishes’s set and turned it up a notch. Literally. The bass got to that volume where you to start to feel it take the air out your lungs. It’s a feeling you can either fight or get down with, and the audience definitely chose the latter. Hands went up in the air, bobbing to the beat as the crowd swelled in size, the truest of northwest hip hop fans rapping along to Dee’s every word.
By the time Dead Prez took the stage—Stic.Man and M-1 accompanied by one of the freakiest, most fly, and most skilled DJs I’ve ever seen—the crowd was nearly in a fever pitch. It only took a few songs to push the concert over the edge so that the whole venue was jumping. Dead Prez own the stage when they perform. Years upon years of professional touring show their worth in the form of vicious technicality and complete stage control.
But of course with Dead Prez, the music is meant for more than partying. Stic.Man and M-1 took turns cutting off the beat and rapping a cappella so the audience could hear their more nuanced social and political rhymes. Even in banter between songs, the two MCs would hit the audience with wisdom. “A soldier follows orders, a warrior fights for a cause,” M-1 advised. Dead Prez straddle the line between politics and entertainment as well as any artists around, and their live show proved their expertise and style.