REVIEWS: LIVE SHOWS
Elephant Stone, Black Mountain
The Shakedown • June 4
A night of jam-packed jams and mega-fans accompanied Elephant Stone and Black Mountain at The Shakedown. Elephant Stone led off with a diverse and catchy sound, a psych-infested drone-pop laced with one sitar and a bit of “Hindie rock,” as the band jokingly refers to it. With this, they ruled from here to India, over to their hometown of Montreal and back throughout the set, riding similar wavelengths as The Beatles and the Aussie psych-rock band Tame Impala.
Elephant Stone also sounds a bit like the San Fran-based the Brian Jonestown Massacre, which Rishi Dhir (Elephant Stone frontman) previously played in. Dhir, who bounced on stage between the sitar, the bass and the keys, has also performed in The Black Angels for about a year and helped found the Montreal psych-pop heroes the High Dials. Skilled multi-instrumentalist as he is, it’s no doubt the sitar stands out.
Still, if Christopher Walken were here, he’d be all like, “Needs more sitar.” Though Dhir didn’t pick up the sitar enough for the hypothetical cowbell-loving Christopher Walken, I enjoyed that it wasn’t overdone. Dhir danced barefoot over to his sitar and wrapped himself up on the ground just long enough to show his chops a few times and to indulge in a few gnarly sitar-shreds to a welcoming crowd.
All was cool until some mystery Middle Eastern choir-like voices emerged from nowhere during a song. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Elephant Stone and they definitely picked up some new fans in Bellingham. In fact, it was quite clear their number-one fan was in the audience, as some good-hearted soul waltzed around like an Oriental majesty with a paper fan cooling everybody off through the show. It was fantastic.
Black Mountain followed up with the heat of psych-infused Southern rock and the complimentary male-female vocals. Also from Canada, this band brought with them some wicked stoner rock, though not quite wicked enough where you can’t imagine them all chowing down on some milk and homemade granola cookies after the show. Still, their jams were so jam-packed that I was left zoning out for what seemed like 20 minutes only to return to the same riff. Mainly, I was pumped to hear a song from their soundtrack for Year Zero, a post-apocalyptic surf film.
Though it was Dhir from Elephant Stone who had ties the Black Angels, it was Black Mountain that really took on that vibe of groovy but mostly head-banger appropriate rock – rock that could no doubt sell a Dodge Ram and a half – as the Black Angels have been known to help sell a car or two. This was clear in the crowd’s response – they ate it up. At one point, two dudes competed in fist pumping the air to match the drummer’s symbol crashes – in this case, age/experience paid off.
Oh, and to the lady in front of me who bobbed her ponytail against my hand designated for drinking whiskey at least 153 times, not cool.
Kimya Dawson, Ghost Mice, Your Heart Breaks, Baltic Cousins, Pretty Okay
Makeshift Art Space • June 18
New York born, Olympia, WA based singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson (formerly of the Moldy Peaches) is a legend when it comes to DIY mentality and indie-folk music. She returned to Bellingham with a nearly sold-out show at Make.shift, that made for a cozy night of fun for people big and small.
Bellingham’s Pretty Okay started out the night with some angst ridden, fast and loud riot grrrl inspired punk rock. This was the band’s first performance outside of their formation at last year’s Bellingham Girls Rock Camp, and despite only playing three songs and being very young (it was mentioned that some of the members had recently graduated from the 8th grade) they played their simple, in-your-face brand of punk with plenty of confidence and enthusiasm.
Next up was Bellingham folk punkers Baltic Cousins, who played a short but upbeat and concise set that fit nicely into the night’s lineup. Though not the most memorable performance I’ve seen the band play, the songs were tight and most of the audience engaged.
Seattle’s Your Heart Breaks followed with their self described “indie pop punk queercore rock and roll.” Singer Clyde Petersen is a natural storyteller, leading the audience through his various Northwest adventures, stories from years of touring, and Star Trek: the Next Generation references. The band itself plays catchy rock and roll anthems, accented with a horn section, sometimes giving them the fun and dancy feel of a Springsteen-obsessed bar band.
After a quick gear swap on stage, Bloomington, Indiana’s Ghost Mice were up. Veterans of the folk punk scene, Ghost Mice have been around for over 10 years and are well known for their DIY ethics. Their performance was honestly a little underwhelming. That’s not to say it was bad, but for as long as the band has been in existence, they haven’t really changed musically. And in a 40 or so minute set of 2 minute songs of simple, fast chords on an acoustic guitar layered with a violin melody and sometimes passable vocal harmonies, things tend to blend together and get boring, unless you’re already an avid fan. Which seemed to be the vibe in the room: a handful of hardcore Ghost Mice fans dancing and screaming every word and the rest of the crowd just sort of standing around politely but indifferent, and waiting.
Kimya Dawson closed out the show but before she did, she had the audience sit down so kids and adults alike could see the stage, where she sat with her mic and acoustic guitar. Dawson started the night out with a number of songs from her children’s album Alphabutt. There is something to be said for Dawson’s soft spoken but completely open and playful stage presence, not many people could keep a room full of adults (and a dozen or so crazy 3-10 year olds) entertained while playing a bunch of one and a half minute songs about bodily functions and just genuinely liking bears a lot. The rest of her set was sprinkled with a variety of songs from her catalog. Dawson even took time out of her set to compliment the girls in Pretty Okay on their first show, inviting the singer to come up and sing one of her original songs for the crowd (which was great!).
Towards the end of her set Dawson made an offhand comment that was to the effect of “I’m all of your grandmothers,” and in a way that’s kind of what her set felt like: compassionate and welcoming, subtly interjecting dirty jokes when she could, and sometimes forgetting the words she wants to say/sing but playing it off well enough that nobody really cares.
WWU • May 31
I saw many things at Lawnstock, but I was not able to see Kithkin. Blame work, blame the man, blame the sundial, but don’t blame me. You’ll just have to ask a friend or maybe search the web for “What is a Kithkin?” Anywho, I’ll share some of the things I did see at this free festival on Western’s grassy lawn.
Specters – a near-exact lovechild of Weezer and Pavement. In other words, the perfect band to book for this hive of jivey college upstarts who secretly want to go back to mom’s basement. Still, Specters brings it and they bring it in plenty – in plenty of buckets of… fun, yes fun. They are buckets of fun. They are fun buckets! But if you hear them and think, “Man, that really sounds like Weezer,” that’s because they are playing Weezer.
Shaprece brought a nicely-modernized soul and R&B to the stage with the help of electro-ambient producer IG88. With her sultry vocals and cool demeanor, Shaprece’s set reminded me of Lauryn Hill. Basically, Shaprece is like Erykah Badu if Erykah Badu didn’t catch the Macy Gray bug and have a constant frog in her throat – though that frog has no doubt helped in selling records and making good music with a catchy and scratchy voice, it’s nice to hear a vocalist with a clear throat. The background music was typically soft and airy but had enough bass and thump to do well in a smoky room. With just two E.P.s under her belt, this up-and-coming artist is sure to have fans and labels keeping a close eye on her progress.
Beat Connection were next – immediately, beach balls hit the air. Funky and upbeat in an almost Bruno Marsy-poppiness, Beat Connection pumps out what this college crowd wants as the sun goes down – dance tunes. Frontman Tom Eddy brings the crooning pop vocals to a very tight group of musicians who clearly know their way around a stage. Eddy shouts out to the crowd, “Get it, get it!” What was once a small sea of seated students has become a beach towel ghost town – the people are up. But the security guards maintain their professionalism. Evidently, no band that day was catchy enough to break the Hippocratic Oath of the college-venue security guard to not groove – even after they had just scanned the crowd for doobies and monsters. Bravo.
The Shakedown • June 18
On Thursday, June 18 The Shakedown was graced was an intimate night of garage rock featuring a well-paired smorgasbord of both locals and touring bands.
First on stage were locals Invictus, playing one of their first shows since their inception. The band was a melting pot of hip-hop, rock, reggae, and soul with a little pinch of Rage Against the Machine. Their vocalist Jonah Falk weaved through the rhythms and beats with promise, mixing both rapping and singing to great effect. The variety between songs was a pleasant surprise with each new track having its own distinct feel and emotion. The band looked like naturals to the stage and they are definitely going to be a force to reckon with as they hone their sound and become more comfortable and confident.
Next up was another new local band on the scene, The Cleos. Their dedication was evident, as the three-piece sounded as tight as can be as they navigated through their set of nostalgic rock songs with a modern tinge. It was grunge mixed with garage rock mixed with indie styling that brought forth songs that felt like proper homages to the good old days of Nirvana and The White Stripes. The Cleos know who they are and what they’re doing and they do it well. Do yourself a favor and catch them at their next show.
Closing out the night was the touring act from Spokane, Boat Race Weekend. The band’s set was a straight up, no frills, no holds barred sprint through the world of pop punk. The group’s admiration for bands like Blink-182 and The Wonder Years were evident as every song was oozing with yearning for the glory age of when Brand New ruled the scene. Their performance put a cherry on top of a pleasurable evening and rounded out another night of great music at The Shakedown.
Mt. Baker Theater • June 29
Oh the lobster rocked, don’t you worry. The B-52s, royalty of the new-wave, garage rock/post punk, retro-hip dance rock scene, lured in the nostalgia-seeking masses with their world-renowned charm. And they were good – I mean that lobster rocked hard.
The three original members on the tour with the re-christened B-52s are vocalists Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson – all of whose voices haven’t aged a bit since the band formed in 1976 after drinks in a Chinese restaurant in Athens, Georgia. Rumor has it they were served “Hot Lavas,” inspiring the classic track “Lava,” which they nailed with the backing of four band members who could not have been born back when The B-52s were playing CBGB’s.
Fred pulled out the cowbell and a kazoo-type instrument between laying his uniquely-80s Talking Heads-ish voice over the track. Kate Pierson with her uber-red hair, 70s Vegas get-up and ultra-fun voice absolutely nailed it. Cindy Wilson did the same throughout and during her solo song, though she was donning more of a Lady Gothga outfit.
Checking off all the classics and mega-hits – “Rock Lobster,” “Love Shack,” “Dance This Mess Around,” “Planet Claire” and more – The B-52’s more than entertained the crowd of white hair and Hawaiian shirts. I even walked away with a handy fact from the show – that Mesopotamia is 6,000-8,000 years old – thanks dudes and dudettes.
The only sub—par thing I saw was the visuals – they looked in hibernate mode on a Microsoft 2000 computer that just had some bunk acid. By the way, to all aspiring bands, know that you haven’t made it until your mic stand comes adorned with cup and trusty-tambourine holders.
During “Is That You Mo-Dean?” which probes the idea of aliens and UFOs, I realized something – that’s where The B-52s came from – space! There’s no other answer for their bizarrely-catchy and genre-bending material. The whole set was a thrill to watch and hear. When they stepped off stage though, people were worried. “But my lobster wasn’t rocked,” they were crying. Not for long.
The-B52s re-emerged from behind stage in their not-so-dusty, casino-venue-reeking glory, and rocked the living bejeezus out of that lobster. Long live the lobster and long live The B-52’s – and rest in peace to the mad shredder Ricky Wilson.
Reviews published in the July 2015 issue of What’s Up!