Live Reviews

Tortoise, 1939 Ensemble

April 22 • The Shakedown

Tortoise photo by Tommy Calderon

The two band bill of 1939 Ensemble and Tortoise, certainly was appealing to more than just myself as The Shakedown quickly began to fill with concertgoers on this Saturday night. Who could blame them for showing up early? The show was already slated to be great and it certainly exceeded even that expectation.

Portland’s 1939 Ensemble opened the show with a set of beautifully crafted instrumental progressive and experimental music. The band set up on the floor in the front of the stage. Everything on the floor made the space feel very close and intimate especially as the venue became full. Listening to their music was like being sucked into a wormhole and traveling to another universe. As their set started, I was transported to a completely different dimension and all of a sudden their set was over.

I was completely enraptured by their music. Their use of reverb created fantastic atmosphere and at times I could imagine what floating in zero gravity feels like.

It seemed the main music elements of focus were the electric vibraphone that wonderfully accented the sub synthesizer while guitar or trumpet poked its way into the mix. Drums kept everything together while also being rhythmically complex. This quartet makes great use of the tools at their disposal and everything felt like it had purpose.

Closing out the show was Chicago’s Tortoise. This post-rock group of middle-aged gentlemen grabbed and held the attention of everyone for their entire hour and 20 minute performance; controlled cacophonous chaos at times and ambient melodic nirvana at others. They beautifully layer polyrhythms on incredibly complex intricate melodies. Tight and well rehearsed are a way to describe them but when watching them, the ease of their performance exemplified their spectacular talents as individuals and as a group.

I loved their use of two drummers and it is most likely the best I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to make two drummers sound like one giant cohesive machine of percussion and Tortoise does just that.

It’s not often that a $20 ticket for a show is seen at The Shakedown, but this concert was certainly worth much more. Seeing these two talented groups in such an intimate setting was another great reminder of how hard the staff at The Shakedown work in booking such wonderful shows for us.

-Tommy Calderon


Beats Antique, Mr. Bill

April 16 • Wild Buffalo

It was a normally sleepy Sunday and the most sought after ticket in town has long since sold out. The Wild Buffalo was already packed as Mr. Bill took the stage. Originally from Sydney, Australia, this lifelong music lover and current Denver resident began his DJ set with a nice mellow flow that crescendoed into an electronic whirlwind with his early rock ‘n’ roll and metal influences shining through.

As the house lights dimmed for Beats Antique, the crowd pressed into the stage in an attempt to get just a little closer to the magic about to happen. Beats Antique is known for their multi-genre mind bending fusion of world music as well as stunning visual performances and stage sets.

Opening with “Semblance” off their new album Shadowbox, their tenth, Sidecar Tommy and David Satori set the mood with soft keyboard and an almost dissonant violin that intentionally stumbled into a flowing melody that was quickly joined by electronic beats. When Zoe Jakes appeared on stage all eyes focused on her. Wielding a glowing hexagon like a sorceress she took all under her spell as she lithely moved across the stage in perfect rhythm to the hypnotic vibrations of her bandmates. This show introduced a new dancer to Bellingham fans, joining Zoe for a number of tracks, though regrettably she wasn’t introduced to the crowd.

Shadowbox is in many ways a retrospective of the past 10 years of the band’s time together, an homage to where they have been as well as an exploration of where they are headed musically. Their set list was a masterful tapestry of old favorites as well as six new offerings. The dancers’ costumes and transitions from visual performers to grabbing drums and joining more directly with the vibe was nothing short of captivating, with necks stretching and bodies jockeying for that better view.

Their unique blend of beats, rhythms, and genres is simply mesmerizing in its simple complexity. That, combined with their high energy, high concept stage show makes for an amazing performance every time. Definitely a must see band whether they are playing the Wild Buffalo or the Great Pyramid of Giza. Next time get your tickets early.

-Victor Gotelaere






Kyle Kinane, Lee Cox and Paul Danke 

April 23 • The Underground

Live comedy at… The Underground? Absolutely, yes and many “ha-has” were provided! And despite this being a virgin territory for the popping Bellingham nightclub, the show went off without a hitch.

Making their debut hosting a comedy show, The Underground turned out to be the perfect spot for this sold out show. Hosted by Bellingham’s own Timmy Riney (formerly of Basque Rats), a good portion of the crowd showed up to this sold out event on a Sunday evening to see Bellingham’s own Lee Cox, the Bellingham native Paul Danke, and of course, the voice of Comedy Central himself, Kyle Kinane. While Mr. Kinane may have been headlining the event, both Lee and Paul brought excellent additions to the show as well.

First up was Lee Cox, who is also part of the Way North Comedy troupe which also features Clay Cristofferson and Kyle Engberg. He was in prime form telling awkward tales of pumpkin intimacy and his personal struggles in male-feminism.

Paul Danke, who was touring with Kyle, had also mentioned he was born and raised here in Bellingham. Paul’s comedy was more in line with the struggles of being a father and the rage of his young adulthood continuing steadily with age. His set included a lot of crowd work as well, and was also hilarious.

Lastly, the man of the hour was Kyle Kinane. As an avid fan of Kinane’s comedy that’d never seen him perform live, I was surprisingly pleased to notice that all of the jokes he performed were brand new to me. Kinane’s style is along the lines of comedic story telling containing witty anecdotal metaphors that really no one can make quite like Kinane can. Such as comparing his addiction to the news as, “Like an ex-girlfriend made of McRibs.” Kyle Kinane is also well known for his signature voice (acting in such shows as Bob’s Burgers, Adventure Time and Trip Tank) but his comedy is truly second to none.

With how exceptionally well the show went on this Sunday evening, I’m sure this won’t be the last we’ll see of Kyle or of live comedy at The Underground. I, for one, am very excited to see what Tim and our other talented local comedians will cook up next and eagerly await the next big set.

-Daniel Von Herbulis




That 1 Guy, Willdabeast 

March 28 • The Wild Buffalo

Tuesday is not an easy sell for most musical acts, but March 28 was no ordinary show. Things kicked off at The Wild Buffalo with Willdabeast at the DJ stand spinning and stacking tracks to get the crowd warmed up. A more stripped down version than recent festivals shows, the Beast was laying down a wild soundtrack to another grooved out night.

As Willdabeast wrapped up, That 1 Guy (Mike Sullivan) came to the stage. Set on a raised metal platform,  the stage was backed by a number of video screens with the platform itself adorned with metal cup foot pedals, a single drum and the “Magic Pipe.” The Magic Pipe is a one of a kind instrument made out of a crazy twist of metal tubing, which incorporates strings and electronics to create a unique and deeply funky sound.

Incorporating both music and magic, the show was not just audibly but visually captivating; a concert, magic and puppet show all in one. Although most of his performance was focused on working the Magic Pipe like a pole dancer out of a deranged “Magic Mike” sequel, “Magic Mike Sullivan” is also known for other unconventional instrumentation, playing percussion off a cowboy boot that has a pickup added to it, some crazy belt with rods protruding from it, and highly specialized wood saw as well as a bubble machine with bubbles popped to the beat of the music.

After opening with some fun and funky bass heavy tracks, he segued into a slow jam of “The Star Spangled Banner” before tearing loose and getting wicked on the pipe. The visuals on screen ramped up and the fisheye lens he had trained on himself came alive, the footage very “Max Headroom-esque”. He delved into some tribal beats and throat singing all while slapping, strumming, bowing and caressing the magic pipe. The next thing you know he is rapping the lyrics to “Butt Machine.”

Like a Mario Brother gone turbo, That 1 Guy plays the pipe like his life depends on it. An innovator in every regard, he really is a must see show whenever he comes around. See you next time.

-Victor Gotelaere


Jacob Navarro

April 22 • Anacortes Depot Arts Center

After an exhilarating wind delay where yours truly helped move a wayward canopy or two that threatened to become airborne, Jacob Navarro performed a solo set at the Depot Arts Center in Anacortes. Jake periodically performs with Danny Barnes (banjo) as a duet, and with William Cook (on upright bass) in Spoonshine.

Fans of good bluegrass/Americana guitar flatpicking are familiar with Jacob’s playing, and this solo set did not disappoint. Despite the inclement weather and the relocated stage, Jake performed an energetic show in his hometown. Familiar Spoonshine material like “Song of the Sockeye” interwoven with a unique cover of “Hey Joe” made a grey overcast day under a big white tent the place to be.

Jacob is a musician’s musician. His fluid alternate picking and deft runs with alternating chording and single note phrasing is impeccable. Even as impressive as his technique might be, his performance is always complemented by a truly expressive and unique voice. His vocals almost seem to self-harmonize, splitting into a reed-like auto-duet.

Those brave enough to withstand the gale force winds were treated to a foot-stomping good time.

-Joel Askey