Live Show Reviews: January 2019
Howlin Rain photo by Chris Butcher
Supermissive, Garcia Peoples, Howlin Rain
Jan. 10 • Firefly Lounge
Boots were rocking and stomping to heavy jams of soul-psychedelic rock by California’s Howlin Rain. The group, which includes former Comets of Fire guitarist, Ethan Miller, came to town during their North American tour to promote their newest record, The Alligator Bride. The band delivered loads of raw sounds as they jammed alongside some special guests, including New Jersey’s Garcia Peoples and local act, Supermissive.
The night kicked off with Supermissive, one of the heaviest and experimental music groups on Bellingham’s contemporary music scene. Their sound is reminiscent of bands that came out of the desert-rock scene, landing them somewhere between the abstract and poetic sounds of The Doors to the fuzz-rock riffage of Kyuss. A captivating effect of Supermissive’s act is how each song flows perfectly into the next. The band uses reoccurring riffs, melodies and lyrical themes, making for conceptual songs that deal with the destruction of our environment and the malevolent nature of mankind. Songs like “Necessary Evils” is a perfect example of how Supermissive can carry a catchy jam while still maintaining their doomy aura.
It’s easy to imagine the band members actually feeling the planet’s pain when their vocalist screams out “what a beautiful place to build a pipeline and these lands are not mine and that’s just fine” from their song “Fluorescent Lights.” Lines like these show the simple genius and beauty this band can express through such dark channels.
Garcia Peoples kept things going by thrashing out songs in Grateful Dead fashion. Combining grungy tones with bluesy rhythms, overlaid with atmospheric keyboards. Their twin guitar sound discharged fuzzy shrieks through scorching solos. Then they brilliantly transitioned into using hefty duel rhythms similar to those used in the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” mixed with the folksy progressions like that of Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh of the Eagles.
To close out the night, Howlin Rain showed up sounding as if they had traveled from a world of intergalactic cowboy jams. Their love for the seventies’ rock futuristic production style was unmistakable. This band seemed to have a tank full of soul, and showed no signs of running out. By laying down infectious grooves, the audience was caught in a dancing mosh.
Dan Cervantes punched out crunchy guitar riffs over Miller’s chaotic solos that bounced off the pounding foundation of rhythm section Jeff McElroy and Justin Smith. Just when it seemed as if they were done, Howlin Rain retook the stage for an encore at the request of the crowd’s chants, continuing their performance in the name of rock and roll.
Shiny Things, Sawyer James, Squanch
Jan. 5 • Wild Buffalo
Metanoia Collective’s January commencement saw the Wild Buffalo transformed into a glittering, purple, alien disco, debuting a custom-built stage decked out in all manner of iridescent ephemera. As usual, Metanoia set out to provide an event that would offer something a bit more playful and interactive than the average concert experience. The Buffalo’s stage was turned into a dreamlike space, featuring a flashy silver table flanked with potted trees and sparkling, LED-encrusted structures. To the left of the stage sat a handmade spaceship, which rattled in anticipation for blast-off as the DJs began to fill the club with bass-heavy electronic music.
The night began with Metanoia’s own Squanch, who recently released his first track, “Herd.” Squanch warmed us up with a classic, streamlined mix of experimental bass music; pulling people onto the dance floor from where they had been milling about, exploring the event. Following Squanch was Seattle’s Sawyer James, who kept the dark, heavy vibes rolling as he pumped out an equally intense set of bass music. People wove in and out of the floor as they competed in a scavenger hunt designed by Metanoia contributor Lauren Taylor, scouring the Buffalo for the rhyming clues taped to places like the bathroom’s trash can and Metanoia’s merch table, where they were vending hand-bleached logo tees. To the right of the dance floor, Bellingham artists Keara Mulvihill, Stephen Baddeley, and Morgan Scott worked to bring their individual visions to life as the music played.
When Vancouver-based headliner Shiny Things took the stage, he began to shift the mood. This Shambhala veteran always delivers a sassy, thumping set filled with rap samples slung out to a bouncing BPM. The Shiny Things magic is in an experience that weaves deftly between bass bangers and tracks like Kash Doll’s “Ice Me Out,” teasing showgoers into feeling just as steezy and confident as the man delivering the music. It was interesting to observe the undulating floor population, as Shiny Things’ slower musical intermissions allowed people to move around the room before unleashing another banger and snapping the floor back to attention.
As he played, professional dancers Andrew Haydock and Natalia Dlab took turns intermittently gracing the stage; with Andrew whirling and floating in an experimental, contemporary style and Natalia hooping and contorting herself in a criminally hot presentation.
Meanwhile, Metanoia’s lighting master, Charlie Christenson, would occasionally venture from the VJ booth, game controller in hand. Attendees were delighted to discover that this controller was linked to the video projections, effectively making the event as interactive as possible.
As Metanoia’s first official production at the Wild Buffalo, the night’s success bodes well for both future Metanoia events, and the hopeful return of Shiny Things to Bellingham.
Jan. 17 • Wild Buffalo
Formed in Chicago in 1997, Fruit Bats are a dialed group of musicians, playing indie-folk music that makes you want to dance and maybe go on a spontaneous road trip. The band has toured in many different iterations since its genesis, but has always revolved around their front man Eric T. Johnson.
Eric used to teach at The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, Illinois, and was formerly in The Shins. Fruit Bats have released four studio albums under the Seattle-based Sub Pop label and are currently working on another. In the past the group has been smaller, but in their recent performance at the Wild Buffalo they played with a seven piece band, and they sounded awesome.
They covered material from their previous albums like “Absolute Loser” and “Spelled In Bones”, as well as first time performances of unheard material that Eric referred to on stage as “the new shit.” They lit straight into their set with “Tony the Tripper” followed by “You’re Too Weird,” both off of the album “Tripper.” Most of the music they played was up lifting, with some more somber numbers punctuating their set.
The house was sold out, and the crowd seemed to be quite familiar with their music. Their stage presence was personable, fun and playful, and every aspect of their musical performance was fantastic. Eric’s voice is a bit hypnotizing, able to sing a wide range of notes, and even able to hit high notes with a Supertramp kind of intonation. A female backup singer added a strong layer to the vocals and the band comprised of guitars, bass, drums and keyboard were synchronized and clearly well practiced together, making for a show of continuously great music.
They played two encores and the crowd still wanted more. Don’t miss Fruit Bats next time they’re in town, and keep an ear out for their new album to be released soon!
Jan. 24 • Wild Buffalo
Tim Kasher is pissed. Like so many of us on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 he was appalled by the election. I can’t know what went through his mind that night but Kasher, who has made a career with Cursive by wearing his deeply personal reservations about the darkness of humanity on every album’s sleeve, undoubtedly awoke the next morning more worldweary than ever according to his latest record, Vitriola.
And for Tim Kasher that is really saying something.
Cursive has been here many times before. Their skill in crafting achingly honest and beautiful concept albums about the worth and worthlessness in all of us confused humans is indie rock legend. From his narrative cosplay of his own artistic demons and the mess of hero worship on The Ugly Organ, to the coercive chemistry between religion, power, sex and war in small town America on Happy Hollow and the mirrored image of one’s own polar evils on I Am Gemini. It’s here we arrive at Vitriola and at the Wild Buffalo as the band tours in support of its latest piece.
With such a large catalog of work at this point Cursive had to pack a lot into their 90-minute set of fan favorites and deep cuts. But the show was, of course, heavily juiced with Vitriola. The record has taken the band and Kasher’s voice in a distinctly more bitter direction than ever before. All of Cursive’s previous albums express a signature mourning over life’s hard truths and emotions. But this is different. Vitriola is devastation. It’s utter bewilderment at where our culture has found itself.
And, like so many of us feel living in a world where endless information flows more than ever and yet we increasingly have no idea what the hell is going on, it is very angry about that.
The Buffalo show hit all of Vitriola’s standout tracks and more. With the addition of cellist and vocalist Magan Seibe to the touring lineup, Cursive was able to pull off moments of their catalog not seen on stage much since 2003’s The Ugly Organ tours. The strings from that era came back to life on songs like Happy Hollow’s “Into The Fold” and Organ’s “The Recluse” with Seibe singing Kasher’s female vocal counterparts the songs need to stay true to record.
Despite the dense emotional content of his music Kasher still kept it charmingly light at moments. He admitted his own clichėd bluff while announcing their “last song,” laughing, “Nah, you guys, that’s not true. We’re just going to go back there and take a shot then play some more songs.”
Theme wise, I have seen Vitriola loosely described as Cursive’s “Trump album.” Like all of the band’s work it is, of course, more complex than that. Yet, as much as I’d like to dismiss the descritor too simplistic, I just can’t imagine the pain of Vitriola existing as it is without that obvious catalyst. Kasher’s disgust is completely unambiguous as he sings from the stage, “So this is it, the world just goes to shit? …This civil war ain’t civil anymore.”