LIVE SHOW REVIEWS
Girl Guts, Just Friends, Candysound, Cat Bomb
March 12 • Make.Shift
It was a power weekend at Make.Shift. Not only did the previous night of Wild Throne, Muscle Beach and Tetrachromat start with a bang, Saturday’s show kept the hype going with an amazing show.
Cat Bomb opened up with some pretty straightforward garage rock that took me back to the mid 2000s; think, The White Stripes, Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall.They did a decent job warming up the crowd and had some pretty catchy tunes throughout their set. Their last song however was a little exhausting though. It was filled with false endings that drew the song out longer than it had to be, in my view. If the band were to rework these I think it would have been a banger of a song, due to the song’s high energy and solos.
Next was Candysound’s first show in almost two years! The band has a slightly different lineup since they last played as well – Erik Wallace formerly of Fictions on drums, Brendan Silk of STFU Robot on bass and Jesse Cohen now on guitar. It was great to see them again. They were solid, well rehearsed and played many songs that fans of the band love and some new ones to boot. One of my favorite parts of their performance was when they played “Beacons,” they reworked this one slower song into a more up-tempo song. It worked perfectly.
Welcome back Candysound, Bellingham has missed you so, so much.
California’s Just Friends were up third that evening and exploded with a set of horn fueled punk rock. This was their third show in Bellingham but by the way the crowd was moving and singing along, you would have thought they were long-time hometown heroes. The band played an hour long set that flew by in the blink of an eye. Part of what made their set so memorable was each member’s’ amazing stage presence and enthusiasm while they performed. They all sang along, encouraged others to join in and joined the crowd in dancing through each of their songs. Not only did they bang through their entire new album, Rock 2 the Rhythm, but they played their previous EP and ended their set with a killer cover of “Give It Away” by Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Girl Guts ended the show maintaining that high energy that Just Friends brought leading to an epic conclusion for the night. The crowd sang along, moshed and sweated as the temperature rose in Make.Shift during Girl Gut’s high energy punk rock set. Everytime I see Girl Guts, I’m always left with goosebumps. Maybe it’s the way everyone chants to “Two Kids” or how the first chords of “The Horses Got Out” hit my eardrums but I swear it happens every time.
Girl Guts are probably one of the most important bands in Bellingham and if you haven’t seen them you’ll understand when you do.
What’s Up!’s 18th Birthday: ässwipé, SOSA, The Co Founder, Fretts, Hello, I’m Sorry
The Shakedown • March 18
It was another wonderful Friday night at The Shakedown, kicking off a weekend full of free local music in celebration of What’s Up! turning 18 (Friday) and The Shakedown turning five (Saturday).
First up where Fretts, who feature What’s Up! writer Jake Werrion (ex of Sarah Goodin Band). It was the band’s fourth show, but their collective inexperience with this band didn’t show up live – the trio was as solid as a band that’s been around for years. Playing Pavement inspired, bent indie rock, they cranked their parts of their latest recording, Goat EP, while mixing in new music they’d created as a band (the project began as a solo outlet for Jake). I knew the band would be great, but I didn’t realize just how much I’d enjoy ‘em – their songs took odd turns, had unique passage and great melodies. If they’re this good and fun to listen to now, can’t wait to hear ‘em in six months.
Following Fretts were Hello, I’m Sorry, a band featuring members under 21 and, part of the future of Bellingham’s music scene. And thank God that’s the truth, because they were fantastic! The band took the good parts of mid- to late-80s wave and indie pop, crafting it into their own creation. The songs were dynamic, fun and Seth Little’s vocals fit so well in the soundscape. They just released Consolation Party, which we’ve reviewed in this issue. So good.
The Co Founder was next up on the bill. The brainchild of songwriter Hayden Eller (another What’s Up! writer and he helped book the show) the band is beginning to move past the traditional singer/songwriter format, opening up a who new world of sound to the listening audience. The set opened with two songs featuring Jake Barrow (Vervex) on drums and it was a great glimpse into the future sounds of Co Founder – bright and dynamic pop songs, along the same lines of The Palisades (members of The Palisades are now in City Hall, which Hayden has toured with). After Jake left the stage, Hayden went back to the focused and soothing songwriter mode, before bringing Jake back up for the final few. It was almost like seeing two bands during the same set, which was an added treat. Hopefully Jake and Hayden will grab a bass player to round out the sound (which would make the songs RIDICULOUSLY good).
While the entire night of music was fantastic, Sosa, who followed The Co Founder, really stole the show. Featuring a who’s who of Bellingham music vets (Wes Davis, Aaron Tapscot, Joe Metzger, Jonathan Sherman and Rodger Brown) the band jokes they’d be a super group if it were 2008. But, in truth, having all the members be in their 30s, two with kids and one expecting (congrats Tapscott!), has given the band a perspective that was lacking years before. Sosa’s songs were so well thought out and it was apparent to everyone lots of care had gone into the song structure, even each note. It was pop music on a different level – fluid and deep – with a lot of intelligence. Obviously, that’s not to say the other bands didn’t have the same qualities, but Sosa was SO on, it was a thing of beauty. Look for their debut record out hopefully this spring and a story in the mag to follow.
Last up were the legendary ässwipé, playing their second set in a couple months after an 18-plus year “hiatus.” It was also their debut as a trio with bassist Tim Franz and guitarist Charley McCoy sharing vocal duties (Kyle Logghe lives in California and wasn’t able to be there). As they did a couple of months ago, ässwipé scorched through some of their best and most remembered songs, while adding in a few bits of gold for fans of Charley – they covered three Sharpie songs including “Thinner” as well as a Camarojuana song (which lasted less than a minute, so they played it a few times). Much like Sosa, there’s a different dynamic when a band is playing just for fun, and it was true for ässwipé. They were focused but incredibly loose, just in it to enjoy being on stage, sharing music and vibrations of sound with friends.
It was the perfecting ending to a night that included songs that helped inspire the magazine to start (Sharpie) and will continue to inspire for years to come (the under 21 Hello, I’m Sorry). A great mix of young and old, it was the perfect way to celebrate our 18th birthday.
Janet Feder featuring Jen Gilleran, Guillotine Eyes, Neoglyphic Media
Feb. 29 • Alternative Library
The evening of experimental music and performance art at the new Alternative Library (929 State Street) starts off with a premeditated exercise in mentally unbalanced narcissism of which the less said is the better. The new location of the persistent Library is open and inviting, full bookcases lining the walls, with a sweet open space for shows that seems more living room than library.
The crowd congregates around Cullen Buckhorn of Neoglyphic Media, who kneels in an electric circle of pedals and effects boxes. A projector lights up the wall. Sounds coalesce into rhythm and melody then shatter back into noise like a musical kaleidoscope, fragments fall over each other hypnotically. On the wall flash panels from a comic by Drew Miller called Shelf Reflection published by Neoglyphic. Cullen wryly narrates the surreal and bone dry humor of the thought balloons. Following this is an excerpt from the beautiful comic Slithering Sleep by Danielle Burton also on Neoglyphic. Imagine Don Hertzfeldt’s Such a Beautiful Day in utero and soundtracked with a music that approximates the mathematical reveries of Carl Gauss.
The highly anticipated Janet Feder is next. Janet is a classically trained guitarist who performs with a prepared guitar. She places clips and washer-like elements to the guitar stings. These vibrate and tremble as she plays, adding fugue-like sonic textures to her pieces. Accompanying her is percussionist Jen Gilleran. From that charged space of sound-check and tuning, the performance unfolds immediately. The music from her prepared guitar is sublime and spell-binding. Notes double and quadruple over each other into textures that seems wrought from more than just a single instrument. Jen Gilleran’s percussion is sparse and elegant: the creak of a door hinge in the wind, a rocking chair, a distant bell, ethereal cymbal quavers. Feder fuses each separate piece out of the elements of the previous one, evoking that sense that time itself is the film being soundtracked.
The classical and more refined aspects of her music assemble into structures that, at times, contest against the unpredictable tones and rhythms of the prepared elements giving the performance an improvised immediacy. As a listener, this immediacy is compelling and endlessly fascinating to witness. Imagine the music that might be generated by the recursive and hypnotic landscapes of Escher and you get a sense of what it’s like to hear Janet Feder.
What follows is Guillotine Eyes. Zach Zinn on a chair in the middle of the room, an amp humming next to him, warping Delta Blues through The Birthday Party on a guitar that is dripping wet with reverb. Darkness enters the room and against this is the silhouette of Scary Monster in a Cab Calloway suit and hat in the doorway. An amalgam of the Preacher from Night of the Hunter and Andre Breton’s worst nightmare. His face is a featureless blur of a nylon mask. He enters the room dragging a plastic baby behind him, his words oozing out of his mouth like snakes at an Alabama revival.
Zach creates these sublime stark landscapes of sound on his guitar, dark pools of dissonance surrounded by unhinged song structure. Scary Monster stalks around the room, singing like a devil on a sinking ship, up in people’s faces, getting inside of their heads. Imagine Nick Cave tripping hard on acid inside your living room, inside your clothes, inside your skull with you. But it’s perfect. The long snake moaning in the bones of Guillotine Eyes compels your attention and refuses to let you just stand there passively absorbing the sweet venom and dark beauty of the music.
Wild Throne, Muscle Beach, Tetrachromat
March 11 • Make.Shift
A buzz of excitement was palpable as Wild Throne was to play their first Bellingham all-ages show in about two years. Despite an initial slow turnout for this three band bill, Make.Shift had a decent sized crowd of around 80 people by the end of the night. And by the end of this year, however, I don’t think anyone will be able to go to a Wild Throne show in town without it being packed.
Tetrachromat started off the night with a fairly solid set of heavy and partially progressive instrumental songs. They’re a relatively new band to town but no doubt to become a locally recognizable name within the heavy bands of the scene as time goes on. Tetrachromat’s music is comprised of shredding eight-string guitar, ambient overdriven guitar, heavy well controlled drumming, and that nice low end from the bass to help give it the whole ensemble body. Songs were mostly heavy ambient tunes reminiscent of Russian Circles and Red Sparrows. During the set I found myself enthralled at times, especially during more technical and progressive portions of their set. After taking the set as a whole however, I did find some of the writing to be almost too alike. As time goes on, I think this band has great potential to strengthen their songwriting capabilities though because they already have a pretty solid foundation.
The crowd began to grow as Denver’s Muscle Beach took the stage and this band almost immediately grabbed the attention of the crowd and held it throughout their whole set.
Muscle Beach is fast, aggressive, and even unrelenting at times with their post-hardcore music. For me, they were the highlight of the evening. Their performance as a whole was incredibly well rehearsed and together. Their dual screaming vocals, heavily distorted yet comprehensible guitar and bass, along with huge sounding drums were so extremely satisfying to listen to. I found myself wishing they were from here just for the sake of seeing them on a regular basis. To put it simply, we need more bands like this band in Bellingham and I’m excited for them to return.
After Muscle Beach it was finally the moment, the moment that many were so highly anticipating all night; it was time for Wild Throne.
This show marked their send off to South by Southwest for the band as well as their two month long tour which runs through April and May.
By this point the Make.Shift was at its high point for capacity and we were ready.
A flash of lights and they were off.
People were almost instantaneously moving and moshing as Wild Throne began.
Their set was incredibly fun and full of many of the “hits” of their most recent album Harvest of Darkness. The highlight of their set was definitely when they played “Death of a Star.” It amps me up everytime I see the band play this song. It was also perfectly placed in their set. The songs begins somewhat low key, has an incredibly heavy mid-section and ends with a huge bang. Not a moment of their set was wasted and had a visibly good time playing throughout it as well. While I did love their performance, I did feel their set was a little short and felt I could have used at least one more song. There were also technical difficulties with the guitar and while this was so, they were taken care of very quickly and were by no means that much of a hinderance to the show as a whole.
Wild Throne is an unbelievably talented group and if you have yet to see them I really question your life choices.
The Good Time Girls Documentary Premiere
March 16 • Pickford Film Center
It is happy testimony to the popularity of the Good Time Girls that their Documentary Premiere sold out almost immediately. The lobby of the Pickford is full of friends and family drinking wine and eating corset shaped cookies. All are excited to see this film which has been over three years in the making – a true labor of love for director Dan Hamill and his crew.
After a sweet presentation of flowers of gratitude to those who have been involved with the production, the film begins. What is immediately striking is how absolutely charismatic Marissa McGrath and Sara Holodnik are as The Good Time Girls. There is always a certain weirdness to seeing someone you know projected onto a giant screen, but Marissa and Sara have natural and charming screen presences. Their conversations with each other and for the camera are beautiful to witness – full of humor, incisive wit and poignant insights.
Sara and Marissa formed The Good Time Girls in 2011 to give historical walking tours around Bellingham. They dressed up in Victorian corsets and garments and led eager audiences through the sort of history that doesn’t make it into textbooks or Chamber of Commerce brochures. Whorehouses, gin joints, murder sites, infamous suicides, haunted places and any weird historical curiosa became part and parcel of their popular tours.
The comfortable narrative of the film traces their efforts to evolve from the tours to opening a bar. Along the way, they are met with one obstacle after another, personal and professional, more than a few of them related to a “perceived stigma” of their work as The Good Time Girls. Credit should go to Hamill and his editor for not hammering down on the bitter irony of this subtext.
There is a wonderful moment in the film where they are standing in the center of the Bellingham business district pointing out one building after another, saying, “That was a brothel. And right there was a brothel. And that one too… a brothel.” The cameras follow them around on tours as they pass by so many familiar places in town. And here you see what a vital and beautiful presence the city of Bellingham is in the film. You also see how much behind-the-scenes hard work buried in the archives and intrepidly exploring old buildings goes into The Good Time Girls presentations.
But here’s the thing that really comes through from the film: their stories of Bellingham, the items from the dustbin of history, add needed depth and richness to the city. As much as the documentary is about Sara and Marissa’s trials and tribulations, it is also an oddly charming love-letter/vignette to the city we call home.
It is a captivating and well-made documentary. Sarah Goodin’s spare soundtrack with songs by Pete Irving is haunting and evocative. The only problem I have is I wished the film were twice as long. In the Q&A that followed, Dan tells us The Good Times Girls Documentary is hitting the festival circuit. I can only imagine it will win a bunch of awards and then become a Netflix hit. Then, when the Good Time Girls are world-famous and their tours are always sold out and their shop, The Bureau of Historical Investigation, is main destination for all of their fans, we can all say, “We knew them when…”
The Green Frog • March 24
In What’s Up!’s early stages, we took a shine to a young songwriter named Chris Riffle. His wonderful voice, which had a unique ability to – in a whispered tone – convey a full soul worth of emotion, was engaging, beautiful and incredibly exciting. Chris was often talked about in the mag’s pages; how wonderful he was and that everyone needed to check him out. But, like so many musicians at the time, Chris graduated from college and moved away, landing in NY. While moved on, he always held a spot in this editor’s heart.
Through the years, Chris continued to work on music, though it seemed to have ebbs and flows to it and he rarely toured all the way back here (Chris played the Green Frog several years ago). But he never gave up and now, in his late 30s, Chris is back, at the tail end of a tour that included house shows and venues, taking him through the West Coast, with Bellingham as one of his last stops.
Which takes us to the Green Frog on a slow-ish Thursday night. Chris, along with Jimi Zhivago (who until recently worked at the famous The Magic Shop Recording Studio in NY, which closed) played a set to a sparse but enthusiastic crowd. The duo, which featured Chris on acoustic guitar and Jimi on electric with effects pedals, played a range of songs from Chris’s catalog, many from his most recent release, Out of Town. While, as stated before, I’ve always loved Chris’s music, it was amazing to see how much Jimi’s playing opened up the songs. An extremely talented musician (he’s played on music from Norah Jones to Rufus Rainwright), Jimi added texture and ambiance to the songs, often echoing a vocal line from Chris, but with beautiful sound manipulation. The two playing in tandem were fantastic – Chris helped anchor Jimi’s sonic atmosphere while Jimi helped open Chris’s acoustic songwriting.
The set lasted approximately an hour, ending with thanks to those who came out to the show. It was great seeing Chris play in town again after all these years, and hopefully he’ll bring his NY sound back to Bellingham once again.
Go Slowpoke, Sleepy Genes, I love You Avalanche
March 27 • The Swillery
It takes a lot to drag me out of the house on a Sunday night, but on occasion there is a show in Bellingham that I can’t resist, and this was pretty much the epitome of that type of show. A line-up composed almost entirely of people who used to live here and whose music I’ve admired for a long time, but rarely hear anymore. For a Sunday, The Swillery was fairly crowded with excited people, many of them also mainstays in the music community in town, so I guess I wasn’t alone.
I Love You Avalanche, playing with a stripped-down line-up of Anna Arvin (ex-Bellingham) and Nora Hughes, started the show with a mix of new songs and old favorites. It had been over a year since Anna performed in Bellingham, and some of the new songs had a more traditional-folksong arrangement than her older indie-pop songs, but her lyric sense is the same clever melancholy, in which things are often painful, but still necessary and worth-doing. Nora Hughes was harmonizing and playing the shaker egg throughout the set, and a lot of the crowd joined in to sing along to the choruses of the older tunes.
Sleepy Genes is a new project from Jess Bonin (formerly of The Daffodils) and features members of both Kurly Somthing and the late-$hit Machine (all playing instruments that I’m not used to seeing them play, which was interesting), performing pretty straightforward, mid-tempo guitar-rock. I couldn’t help wishing that Bonin’s vocals were louder during the set because I couldn’t hear the lyrics very well, and I have really liked her voice when I’ve heard her in other bands.
Go Slowpoke has kept the same line-up together now for quite some time, and approaches the stage in the same way as I remember – sad, biting songs, with goofy humor in between from singer Peter Woiwod. One thing about Go Slowpoke’s songwriting is that even when half of the songs are newer, they still seem familiar, like between his more melancholy side and his acidic sense of humor, Woiwod is able to create things that sound like a conversation you once had. The sound of the music in the band might seem strange to those who remember them in their more folk-pop incarnations. Now that Peter lives in Portland, the band – consisting of Kevin Lee, Tom Farrell and himself – play along to a drum track with an echo-y, heavily flanged guitar effect. Lee was at one point singing back-ups through a telephone. Peter was wearing a Trailblazers hat.
This show was a great time, not only because of the music but also the warmth of the crowd and, for myself, a reminder of a great period in Bellingham’s pop music scene a couple of years ago.