LIVE SHOW REVIEWS
Croak, Red Giant, The Meridian Guide
Nov. 20 • The Pitt
The air was crisp and chilly as the usual group of house-show enthusiasts shivered their way into The Pitt, a relatively new house venue with not only loads of potential, but the world’s comfiest couch.
With a short and sweet bill of three Bellingham bands, the eagerness in the packed living room was apparent.
First to take the stage was Red Giant. The atmosphere was charged with a nervous energy as they announced that this was their first live show. The crowd was encouraging and engaged, ready to add another screamo band into their repertoire.
Red Giant’s songs comprised of nostalgic guitar melodies that built onto heavier chords, completed by thrashing drums. The singer gripped the microphone with white knuckles, spewing lyrics to a crowd of 20-somethings bobbing their heads along. Despite this being their first show, I can say there’s no doubt that Red Giant will nestle comfortably into the Bellingham music scene in no time.
Up next was The Meridian Guide, or as a fellow crowd-member heckled, “Painters Part Two”. The set started out with the Guide’s familiar sleepy bass awakening to intriguing riffs, lulling the audience back and forth. When their music really hits you is when singer Adam Gelatt screams into the microphone, mouth wide open and eyes squeezed shut.
As the songs progressed, I had to admit that this wasn’t the tightest performance that I’ve seen from them. However, the great thing about house shows is that nobody really cares when you mess up; The Pitt and most other DIY spaces have a very reassuring ardor to them.
Suddenly, a few songs in, their amp began to malfunction. They stopped mid-set to swiftly switch it out, all thanks to Croak guitarist and Great American Hero, Chandler Johnson.
The band joked around, jamming out to keep the audience (and themselves) sane throughout the impromptu ten minute intermission.
The crowd stayed put, hungry for more.
When everything was up and running again, they played one of their loudest and best songs, and the one I know I always remember from their shows. It was angry, angsty and melancholic – a highlight of the night.
Ending the night was Croak, one of Bellingham’s greatest treasures.
Croak shows are always bursting with energy. Their songs are exciting and loud, chaotic and well-intentioned. Every crash of the cymbals and pluck of a chord meant something.
People swayed, stumbled and jumped into each other every time singer Madi Nupcharoen screamed into the mic. The provoking melodies of the guitar and bass tied everything together in a big, cathartic knot.
Every word from Nup was like a punch to the gut, featuring lyrics like “I no longer fear God because I am God”.
Red, ambient light emitting from light bulbs enhanced the feeling of urgency, and spooky guitar riffs haunted the crowd until each song reached the chorus – loud, sleepy and sharp.
With a final shove from the mosh pit, it was finished. If anybody ever tells you that younger bands can’t produce complex and meaningful music, take them to a Croak show.
After the show, however, I had a friend approach me about being groped in the crowd.
Nobody noticed and they were too shocked to speak up. From personal experience, this isn’t a normal occurrence at spaces like this, but that doesn’t really matter.
It’s incredibly important to keep an eye out for assholes like this and to keep the crowd (especially minors!) feeling safe. Nobody should have to tolerate this kind of behavior especially at a show with where all of the bands promote safety and kindness. Speak up!
Ryan Bingham, Jamestown Revival
Nov. 13 • Wild Buffalo
Ryan Bingham brought his foot-stomping mix of Americana and country tunes to a cold and rainy Bellingham, but mother nature couldn’t keep people away, as the Wild Buffalo was packed with fans both young and old eager for his southern sound.
Opening act, Jamestown Revival, didn’t disappoint offering a folky, southern vibe that entertained the crowd. The harmonies of Zach Chance and Jonathon Clay really meld nicely together and they put on a great show, getting the crowd energized for the headliner. I’m kind of surprised they’re not a bigger band; they have the look and sound to be a mainstay on popular radio and the ladies loved them.
Ryan Bingham took the stage and immediately got the crowd moving, firing through selections of his new album, Fear and Saturday Night. Having seen Bingham a few times over the years, he has really grown as a performer and his voice is the perfect whiskey soaked growl that he strived for years ago. Sure, his involvement with “Crazy Heart” brought him sudden fame, but there is a reason he has continued on with success after shying away from the limelight — Bingham is a true wordsmith and each of his songs tells a moving story that speaks to audiences; and that connection factor is worth more than any award or recognition.
Bingham came out guns blazing and didn’t let up, ripping through new and old songs like “Dylan’s Hard Rain,” “Top Shelf Drug,” “Tell My Mother I Miss Her So” and “Depression.” Bingham wasn’t alone; his backing band was on point, with fiddle player Richard Bowden stealing the show. This old man could saw that bow and it really added to sound. The crowd was very impressed with Bowden, saluting him with praise after every solo.
Along with the great tunes, Bingham had nice interaction with the crowd, chatting everyone up between songs and even split the crowd into two sides, seeing who could be louder. Halfway through the set, it came to fruition that Bingham and his crew are an amazing bar band, playing perfectly tempo’d tunes that could please any patron. But maybe since he shuns the spotlight, that’s all he’s ever wanted?
The highpoint came mid-set, when Bingham traded his trusty acoustic guitar for an electric and proceeded to shred through “Bluebird.” The slow burning build of the tune is ridiculously good and takes Bingham into psychedelic territory, offering a rocking jam session with a side of Americana. Surprisingly, after the momentum built with “Bluebird,” Bingham slowed things down for the first time. His performance of “The Poet” was nice, but you could feel the crowd wanted more of the foot stompers than the slow ballads on this evening.
Overall, it was a great night of music thanks to Bingham’s storytelling abilities and the ferocity of his stellar backing band. His moment of silence for the tragic events happening in Paris earlier in the day just proved he’s a class act, a sentiment already known by the large number of his fans in attendance.
Spirit Caravan, Elder, MOS Generator
Nov. 6 • The Shakedown
It was the first Friday of November and this show really kicked of the month. Spirit Caravan, Elder, and MOS Generator kept the night heavy for the decently sized crowd that attended the show. Each group gave a great performance and was a wonderful reminder of how fantastic heavy metal can be.
MOS Generator kicked off the show with a huge, fast and solo ridden set. As an opening act they went beyond warming the crowd up. They actually set the expectations for the rest of the night on a very high bar. Tony Reed left an everlasting impression on me as a fantastic frontman – He lead the band with his shredding guitar solos and full gritty voice and had the crowd very engaged. MOS Generator were, simply, top notch.
Elder followed with a 60 minute prog-rock set. For some people, reading that previous sentence may make cause salivation and for others, like myself, it may sound exhausting. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too exhausting. Elder are a very talented bunch of dudes that play some wonderfully heavy and technical music. Despite a few technical difficulties with guitar cables, their performance at The Shakedown was very good. They were tight, great to listen to and fun to watch. Vocally the band didn’t seem to meet the high standards of their musical ability. It could have been the sound mix, the singer’s voice or a little bit of both. Either way this observation is miniscule to how great these guys perform.
Spirit Caravan ended the night with more tunes. The band’s sound is that classic doom metal sound; mid-tempo and fuzzy. They played for about an hour and a half and for the time they were on stage it was all eyes and ears on the band. The set was full of catchy riffs and long heavy jams that made the crowd appear to be a sea of bobbing heads and beer. Spirit Caravan knows how to play a show and they’re really fucking good at it, after all they’ve been doing it for quite some time. Their performance was straightforward and heavy, as it should have been.
Be sure to catch any of these bands next time they roll back into town.
Cheatahs, The Co-Founder, So
Nov. 12 • The Shakedown
It was a slow night at the Shakedown when London-based band Cheatahs found themselves in Bellingham at a near empty bar.
That said the music was still the best part of the evening.
Local singer-songwriter, Hayden Eller, also known by his stage-name, The Co-Founder, started off the night performing a solo acoustic set. Acoustic shows are hard, especially when you’re still gaining a fan base. You don’t have the weight and backing of a band to grab people’s attention which can be painful to witness in a room where you’re the only one paying attention to your music. There were so many different influences during his set that it would be hard for one to put their finger on just a few. Co-Founder’s acoustic indie pop did gain some attention as the show went on, but the Damien Jurado post pack of smokes and hanging out with Justin Vernon influenced songs started to blend it one another as well.
Local three-piece, So, is up next.
The band starts off with some shoegaze infused emo rock, to the likes of bands such as Codeine and Sunny Day Real Estate. The songs are groovy, easy to bob ones head to. Loud fuzzy guitars over hushed vocals. However, after a while it became evident that the band was nervous. The singer’s vocals started sounding more shy than just quiet and the drummer looked like he was holding back at the last minute, hesitant of hitting too hard like he was playing someone else’s drums (which he probably was). Zero banter between the songs made tuning a little awkward, except one point where the singer told the crowd that they had tens songs left, a little sense of humor from someone who knows what it’s like to sit through a band you’ve never heard on a Monday night.
You are influenced by whom you surround yourself, which is to be expected and it seems like many local bands have at one point or another fallen down the rabbit hole that is “math rock:” intricate time signatures, dissonant melodies and usually loud guitars. This doesn’t mean that it’s bad at all but at some point the bands start to blend in to one. It would just be nice if someone put some passion into it instead of just carbon copying whatever is popular in the scene.
Lastly, Cheatahs. The headliners touring in support of their latest album Mythologies drew a crowd closer to the stage with their ethereal, psychedelic guitar swells and flashy visual aspect, a projector flashing up groovy psychedelic images onto a white banner behind the band the bared the name “C H E A T A H S.” Their radio-approved shoegaze pop and driving progressions granted steady head nods from a few and made their Krautrock influences evident.
By the time Cheatahs played Bellingham they had already been on tour for about a month and sounded very well rehearsed and tight which was another positive aspect of the show.
About halfway through the show, the members of So were caught dancing to the band with each other on the upper balcony.
Nothing like a good show.
Petunia and The Vipers
Nov. 14 • SPARK Museum
The country crooning from Petunia’s golden voice-box shot around the electricity museum as The Vipers got the crowd out of their seats and into the rug-cutting business. It was quite the scene. The room’s atmosphere was an odd blend of a town hall meeting and a Viagra commercial but it was still infused with all the fun of a down-home hoedown. Even for those who don’t jump at the sound of a fiddle, Petunia and The Vipers can no doubt please an ear canal or two.
Overall, the music was superb, even though the mic levels needed some severe adjusting (ironic as the show took place in an electricity museum and was a fundraiser for KMRE 102.3 community radio). Nonetheless, Petunia’s succulent voice seems to jump straight out from a phonograph – you know, one of those old-timey record players with a horn on it. Perfectly oscillating between a silky baritone and a high-pitched, nasally country yelp, his voice is damn near surreal. And when he’s not crooning alongside his guitar-strumming, Petunia dons a mini-horn that he wears like a harmonica – it looks like one of those little horns that go on bikes or that belong in a clown’s bag – so that was a nice touch.
But Petunia wasn’t left hanging. The Vipers are an incredibly skilled crew: the drummer has mad-jazz skills, the stand-up bassist slaps with gusto, the lead guitarist knows just when to twang away and the fiddler plays like she was on a ten-story roof. I have to say though, I was bummed that the lap-steel guitar didn’t make an appearance, as I’m told it has in prior performances – too bad. But the band did have some nice versatility, adding some Latin and gypsy rhythms into the standard rockabilly mix for a salvo of country flavor worthy of granny’s kitchen.
The SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention proved to be quite a rad venue, offering plenty of seats for those Readers Digest subscribers with bad knees, plenty of sights for the odd toddler roaming around and plenty of space for the plaid-laden lovebirds to dance. And for the lone wallflowers there was choice beer and wine along with a massive brick wall that was nice to peer into. And I can’t forget about the portraits of the rare electrical geniuses of Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin and Nicolas Tesla, or, for that matter, the lab coat-wearing skeleton hanging from the ceiling for some unknown reason – that made for quite the shock.
But the real shocker was that the incredible rockabilly sounds on the stage weren’t coming from the legendary Charlie Feathers himself, but from a revivalist band in the year 2015. Petunia and The Vipers have effectively made their mark on the world of country and rockabilly – few acts can go up against this tight cast of characters. Though, again, I do wish the lap-steel guitar made an appearance.
Reptar, Breathers, Oh, Rose
Nov. 13 • The Shakedown
The Shakedown isn’t the first place that comes to mind when I think “boogie,” but now I wonder why. The drinks were stiff, the lighting was moody, the sound was on point, and the talent, as always, had me moving. Any bill with Reptar on it was sure to satisfy, and the whole bill proved worth showing up early for.
Oh, Rose of Olympia started the night off with what felt awfully like Indie rock Jewel songs. This might be the impression you’d get from walking passed the venue, but upon closer listening, the band revealed a gorgeous layering of ambient keys, surf-like drumming and guitars, and Riot Girl vocal delivery. Songs about calling into work to make out with your lover all day had me hypnotized by soft, wave like rhythms and gorgeous cooing turned excruciating cries. Watching Oh, Rose was like incurring an infatuation and suffering the heart ache of rejection. None of the viral puppy videos I’ve seen this week had anything on the band’s adorable group-hug post set, and I came to the conclusion that this was a band I’d be keeping an eye out for, here in Washington.
Avant-pop eccentrics, Breathers, have been Reptar’s direct support since leaving home in Georgia and it is no surprise the two came out of the same scene. Despite this, Breathers packs a very unique show onto one stage, and sports an impressive 4:3 keys to member ratio. To say that Breathers has a fascination with music’s history would be an understatement. This band exhaled the 80s. It reeked of Aqua net and cigarettes and everyone LOVED it. From drum beats sure to have been inspired by Prince, to triumphant synthy breakdowns plucked right from Karate Kid, Breathers had everyone in this venue kicking up their heels and doing the Carlton (You think I’m kidding, it happened!) The front man seemed not to realize he was on The Shakedown stage, as he carried himself as though he were performing for an entire arena. The audience didn’t seem to know that it was actually 2015, though, so it was perfect.
From the basements of Athens Georgia, came self-described Disco Dust makers Reptar, who got their buzz from playing house shows and flatbed trucks in SXSW parking lots. I have been following this band for a few years and was delighted to see their name on The Shakedown’s newsletter. To my surprise, all of Breathers returned to the stage, now the official lineup since their last EP. Brought with them was an increase in percolating keys and samples but it was apparent you were watching a very different act. African Music inspired the rhythms, while Psychedelic Pop-Rock and hints of Surf can be heard in these funky, groove-worthy examples of sonic wanderlust. Singer, Graham Ulicny, provides a fun juxtaposition of damaged boy band vocals atop joyous, bouncy melodies. This band is silly. Watching Reptar is like having an alien dance party on a tropical island where costumes are expected and making out is encouraged: totally awesome. If you are new to Reptar, do yourself a favor and start with Body Faucet. Thank me later.
The only thing lacking at this show was more people to dance with, although I did get to boogie with a Yorkshire terrier who really knew how to cut a rug. Everyone in attendance was there to have a good time and I think we all got exactly what we came for.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Moment of the Month
Published in the December 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine