Live Show Reviews: February 2016
6th Annual Make.Shift Valentine’s Day Cover Show
Feb. 12-13 • Make.Shift
In photo: Zev Pipestrelle belts out covers of Babes in Toyland with Amanda Hodgins (drums) and Nika Feline (guitar) during Make.Shift’s annual Valentine’s Day Cover Show. PHOTO BY TOMMY CALDERON
Christmas struck again in February with the 6th Annual Valentine’s Day Cover Show at Make.Shift Art Space. Two nights of late 90s to early aughts rock and pop crammed into the lovingly cozy basement guaranteed not only a steady flow of straight bangers, but also a stream of sweat, singalongs and strong performances.
The first night kicked off with a nervously energetic Unwound cover group, who managed to jolt some life into the Olympia post-hardcore outfit’s decade-plus old discography. It seemed fitting start to the night, given the band’s DIY obsession and preference for all-ages venues. A second stage was set up opposite the other “main” stage, much akin to the Warped Tour format so many of the cover acts had been a part of in the past. This helped cram both nights with twice as many bands as before, and made for exciting shifts in the crowd.
Pixies played next, a great group who shared vocal duties and a respect for the original material, but couldn’t shake the smiles of getting to play great songs live. The upbeat attitude followed as Blink 182 took the second stage, a couple of younger guys who did their best to start up the crowd singing along to “Dammit.” Nirvana followed suit, who surprisingly didn’t play “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a hit-denial that was simultaneously hilarious and frustrating. Avril Lavigne, powered by a group of first-timers, got the crowd amped up with the chantable “Girlfriend.” Smoking Popes, fronted by longtime Make.Shift Gallery Director Jess Flegel, delivered a thunderous rendition of the pop-punk quartet’s signature crooning vocals and tight rhythm work. An absolutely crushing Babes in Toyland set followed, with the vocalist in particular shredding already tough songs into manic little pieces. The first night was capped off with a Katy Perry cover band, who arranged the Max Martin-penned hits into a more accessible four-piece rock format. Given how bananas the crowd went for “Hot and Cold” and “I Kissed a Girl,” I’d wager we’re all a little bigger Katy Perry fans than we’d like to admit.
Night two started off with an intimate performance of some Billy Bragg tunes by a lone singer, who had come from Canada for every Valentine’s Day show prior and wanted to take the plunge of performing a set. His honest rendition of the singer-songwriters’ songs helped bring everyone together. Things kicked into high gear as KISS took the second stage, where the band (complete with face paint, shoulder pads, fake blood and leather straps) ripped on classics like “God of Thunder” and “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night.” Nintendo-themed band Nintendo Entertainment System played a great string of Megaman-inspired hits from the 8-bit days of old, all arranged into mathy-rock instrumentation. Modest Mouse played very true to character, playing the 7-ish minute deep cut “Night on the Sun” for about half of their set rather than trying to stick to the radio hits alone. The Killers followed suit, both literally in dressing up in suits and in playing some of the tightest renditions of that band’s songs I’ve ever heard. Brandon Flowers would be proud. Joy Division played a properly tortured set of the angsty post-punk group’s catalog before Paramore took the stage. Featuring low-flying acrobatics, gang vocals and so far the only actual celebrity look-alike, they had the crows singing along to “Misery Business” and “That’s What You Get” in a minimum nonsense, maximum fun setlist.
There’s a reason the Valentine’s Day shows at Make.Shift are so hyped by everyone who’s been before to those who have never been or participated; it’s nights like these that show how fun, inclusive and exciting music and performance can be.
– Charlie Walentiny
Three for Silver, Bellow.wing, Fretts
Feb. 19 • Swillery
The steady fall rain outside the Swillery mixes well with the thunder of Fretts inside. This most recent iteration of Jake Werrion on vocals and guitar, Steven Arbuckle on bass and Joe Douglas at the drums rumbles along like a well-oiled grungy machine. The music is drenched in ambient feedback and tense with the restrained pulse of beautiful violence. Werrion’s vocals have a friendly menace to them, quietly spoken interrogatives alternating with shouted poetic resolutions. Arbuckle’s bass and Douglas’ drums easily work through intriguing time-shifts without losing any of their primal rock energy. By the end of their short set, it seemed they were just getting warmed up.
Bellow.wing is Carrie Crockett and her amazing abilities with her accordion. The set begins with a sparse and powerful rendition of St. James Infirmary. She has that rare talent of reducing a song down to its most essential elements and making each of those elements radiant with inwardness. The next song, which she said is for those times when “love takes you lower than a restraining order”, is soaked with pain and beauty, a song from the ruins of a City of Lost Dreams. The way she plays with time and silence, where the music trembles on the edge of an inward oblivion are breathtaking to experience. These are followed by full-on expansive moans of the accordion bellows that give it a haunting and living voice. She ends her set with a lively cover of Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell, climbing up on a table and giving full voice to the bellows and the wing.
Before Three for Silver come on, Pete Irving (Hot Damn Scandal) tells me that Lucas Warford is one of the best bassists he’s ever heard. This high praise is instantly confirmed the moment Three for Silver begin performing. Lucas plays a couple of different basses: each handmade and beautiful as works of art in themselves. His playing is complex and percussive, the bass-line approaching melody all the while he is slapping and snapping intricate percussive rhythms and singing with a voice that is half Tom Waits, half Don Van Vliet. Greg Allison’s violin easily traversing from Gypsy melody to Old World Americana, then evoking Philip Glass. Willo Sertain’s evocative vocals – think Hope Sandoval meets Sheila Chandra – and her accordion add just the right counter-balance to the trio. Three for Silver will start off in Middle Eastern register, move to North Africa, reference Hungarian folk and Irish lament, then slowly metamorphosize into Tin Pan Alley and the best of American jazz. It’s a music that is original and new but as old as bones, devil music pounding out a bass made of skulls, an accordion made of human skin and a fiddle strung with tendon and gut all in the service of making music for the darkest of angels. Absolutely beautiful to witness.
Actionesse, The Fibs, The Second Hand Suits
Feb. 27 • Make.Shift
Tonight was an exciting return for two reasons: Actionesse playing their homeland for the first time this year and the return of The Second Hand Suits! Bassist/Sometimes-Vocalist Nick “Brother Stripes” Evans returned from the dead with a shiny new Rickenbacker. I guess dying pays.
But first! The Fibs from Tracyton, WA opened up. This band made me feel good. First off, all of the string instruments on stage were Gibsons and second, they played super nineties sounding pop punk. The hooks were huge. Their choruses made me wish I knew the words because the urge to sing along was so intense. I hope they come back soon.
Second was The Second Hand Suits (I really wanted to make a joke about them playing second but it’s not happening.) SHS is always entertaining, but something about this set was really different. They were both on fire and it was really fun. Anthony Navarro is probably one of the best drummers playing rock ‘n’ roll in town currently. Evans’ fuzzed-out bass and dance skills are on that same level. His vocals were on point, too. They played some new songs, and also old suits standards like “I Got My Mojo Working” (not written by them I’m pretty sure) and “Persona.” If you need a good time, go see them.
Actionesse closed out the night. If you’re not familiar with them, go check out their Bandcamp. It’s like Streetlight Manifesto meets the surfier moments of Wavves. They sounded great. I’ve never seen them not deliver and tonight was no exception. “Fight Party” ruled as always. I hope Seattle appreciates the gem we lost.
Panda Panda Panda, Mannequin Hands, Verbal Tip, STFU Robot
Feb. 20 • The Shakedown
This eclectic punk rock show at the newly renovated Shakedown was a fun time. The lineup was mostly local with the exception of Seattle’s new wave trio, Verbal Tip and brought out a good handful of people that Saturday evening. Before I hop into the review of the show I’d like to mention how awesome the newly renovated Shakedown is for the attendee. It’s now possible to stand anywhere on the ground floor and see the stage or have view of the band and in my book that’s an amazing change to an already awesome venue.
Anyways, let’s talk about the show.
Panda Panda Panda hit the stage first. They played a pretty straightforward, catchy set of punk rock that did a pretty decent job catching the attention of attendees and myself. The first thing that took me by surprise, besides the dinosaur hat on guitarist, Bill Lohse, was that bassist, Colleen Ames wasn’t present and instead, STFU Robot’s Brendan Silk filled in on bass. From what I’ve been told, Silk filling in on bass is temporary and they potentially have a new bassist on the way. Their performance was very well done and it was very clear that the band was not only well-rehearsed but were also enjoying their set a lot, this made evident by the continuous smiling and laughter shared by the band in between songs.
Next up was Mannequin hands, a very Dead Kennedys-esque sounding band.
It was manic and a little all over the place at times but they definitely got a very energetic mosh pit going with their performance. Something that was particularly great about their performance was their use of female and male vocal layering and harmonizing. Guitar distortion was a hindrance for me, however. The distortion made the guitars lack clarity and for me this really made it hard to listen to at times. This is all solvable by properly equalizing the amplifiers for the whole mix rather than per guitar.
Verbal Tip played next and were refreshingly well-mixed and sounded awesome!
The trio was tight and played a very groovy set of new wave sounding songs for the evening. It was a little bit Talking Heads and a little Blondie; a pretty great combination if you ask me. The group’s lead vocalist and keyboardist, Ali Ali Spider Check (Alianna Jaqua) was particularly emotive and has a pretty mesmerizing voice that I found to be one of the biggest highlights of the band. Some songs did feel a little thin, however, mostly due to not having a constant bass presence. It would be great if they had a dedicated bassist instead of a guitarist/bassist to help fill in the mix and make the band sound fuller.
Lastly, STFU Robot took the stage as headliner. You heard me right, headliner. Bellingham’s super opener closed out the show and did a really great job. They played some of the classic tunes like, “F# in Your Face,” “pt. II: The Climax” and “I Hate Mans,” but also played a new song that was absolutely groovy and jammed.
While their performance was very well done and well rehearsed, I can’t help want more from the band after hearing their new song. It was really that good. (I know you’re reading this Charlie and Brendan so I’m calling you out. Make it happen.)
Overall the evening was a good time and a good way to spend a Saturday night. Catch any of these bands if you see them on a bill in the future.
Terrapin Flyer, Melvin Seals and Mark Karan
Feb. 9 • Wild Buffalo
Tuesday, Feb. 9, Fat Tuesday, and Terrapin Flyer with Melvin Seals and Mark Karan playing the Wild Buffalo. Seriously?!
Melvin spent 15 years playing the Hammond B3 with JGB (Jerry Garcia Band) and has continued the tradition ever since. Mark Karan was with the band post Jerry when they rejoined as The Other Ones, played a number of years with Ratdog alongside Bob Weir, and can be spotted sitting in with Phil Lesh at Terrapin Crossroads from time to time. These cats are legit as they come. Geared up, beads on, face paint applied and all signs point to “ready”. Walking through the door of The Wild Buffalo was like stepping back in time. Not “ready”. You see, Ken Keysey’s Merry Pranksters came along for this magical musical journey and brought the true spirit of the Grateful Dead and the acid tests with them. (Check out Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test for more on the Pranksters). Everywhere were tapestries of DayGlo paint splatters and tie dye. A chill zone was set up to look at blotter art and classic prints, or take a spin at creating something of your own.
Pre-show they set the mood “furthur” by showing old home movies and video clips of the Dead and the Pranksters on the Buffalo’s 20-foot projection screen. Above the stage, overhead projectors were throwing oil art onto huge white tapestries. The crowd, a mixture of Mardi Gras revelers and hippies in full-flowing garb, made the flannel clad everyman stick out.
As the band took the stage the crowd felt electrified, it was time to laissez les bon temps roulez, which on that night loosely translated to “pass it to the left”. Starting out with a stellar cover of “Bertha,” the dance floor was instantly in motion and didn’t stop as they lead us through other favorites “They Love Each Other,” “Dear Prudence,” “After Midnight,” “China Cat,” “I know You Rider,” “Love Light,” and knocking it out of the park with “Johnny B. Goode” as well as a number of others.
Into the second set a few of the Pranksters pulled out a giant white sheet and covered the entire dance floor to which everyone responded like it was the most natural thing ever, dancing undercover as the light show ramped up… then as soon as it started it simply vanished back into the Pranksters’ little storage chest. Throughout the second set everyone’s attention kept getting drawn to the oil projection screens above stage as a Siren of motion set to dancing up a sensual storm and really put a cap on the visual aspects of the performance, her silhouette lingering well after the show had ended.
Ultimately love won out again as the elated throng made their way into the evening streets but stuck around outside to just continue sharing in the bliss, and to remind each other that no matter if Jerry is gone, whenever we convene to enjoy the music of The Grateful Dead, Our Love Will Not Fade Away.
Minor Plains, Ibex
Feb. 19 • The Shakedown
Friday, Feb. 19 marked the closing of a major era in the local music scene: the end of Minor Plains.
Ibex opened our night of farewells at The Shakedown and distracted us from our heartbreak with an impressive set, proving that sometimes, one opener is all you need. Lovers of heavy are bound to find something they like in Ibex. There will be no deep cosmic nodding to this group, but instead, an asteroid-dodging, frantic sort of bob to well-calculated and swelling psychedelic math drone.
My eyes danced from member to talented member, not sure who to call focal point; such layered music seemed not to come from just four people. I did however find myself entranced by electric violinist, Carly Gilliland, and admittedly paid her the most attention. Perhaps it was that her melodies, sometimes in perfect synch with the guitar and sometimes on a tangent of their own, filled that place in the mix where a vocalist usually does. Perhaps it was her gentle shredding of a unique instrument, appeared to have been whittled away from carving out songs. Nevertheless, I was enthralled by all.
Songs by Ibex allude to something Floydian but with a heaviness of their own: each song several movements, each movement fully realized but not tired. I had almost forgotten why I was there. In short, check this band out.
If you don’t already know about super-tight progressive math trio, Minor Plains, I’m afraid it’s too late for you. Most of us know of the threesome, though, and I don’t think I speak of only my experience when I say that knowing of or seeing Minor Plains perform felt like witnessing something special. That’s why The Shakedown was full of somber faces this night: we were beginning to mourn the loss of a beloved piece of our scene.
But fans of Minor Plains weren’t about to let this funeral be a drag. The room hung heavy as a final salute played as an intro to their song “Glacial Echos”. Nate and Lucas took off their shoes and we in the audience silently agreed that our funeral offerings would be showing our appreciation the best way we know how: smashing ourselves into one another repeatedly. The whole time, heads banged and so did meat suits. Fists flew, and near the end, so did every member above the heads of their supportive fans. I heard there was some flash photography but I don’t recall; I had eyes for three things and three things only: tap-off show-offs Raleigh Davis and Lucas Phillips, and machines-as-arms Nate Goldizen. I know I’m not the only one who woke up with bruises and bumps all over my knees and ankles. I haven’t seen a pit like that at The Shakedown, not to mention the unadulterated artist worship, since Red Fang, just with fewer people. Still, the turnout was fantastic and we sent our boys out right: on a show-high ship ablaze with Jim Beam.
It was hard to leave The Shakedown, the birth, and now death place, of our beloved Minor Plains in high spirits. But it was better to have loved at all, and I look forward to what the members of Minor Plains do next.
All published in the March 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine