Live Reviews: November 2019
Black Pumas, Neal Francis
The Shakedown • Oct. 17
It was a dynamite night at The Shakedown with super-groove artists, Black Pumas and Neal Francis, playing to a sold-out crowd. Fans were presented with a powerful force of heavy-funk, the kind that leaves sweat on the dance floor.
The opening act was 70s styled rockers Neal Francis and his band. The group plays classic rock songs with a New Orleans’ raw jazz twist. Francis’ vocal approach is comparable to ferocious singers like Dr. John, although he creates a clear distinction by swapping out the rasp with a baritone voice that makes for an overall perfect low-end sound.
Their cover of New Orleans’ musical legends, The Meter’s “Africa,” was a real crowd pleaser and an ode to one of funk’s most renowned bands. Francis keeps it original with bigger hooks and heavier riffs.
Another standout hit of his was “She’s A Winner.” Francis channels his inner Bowie on this track, with a glam-punk production that highlights an alternative side to their sound.
Headliners and rising stars, Black Pumas, made a lasting impression with their Bellingham debut. The Texas based two-piece was crowned the best new band of 2019 at the Austin Music Awards, after being recognized for hit songs such as “Black Moon Rising,” “Fire” and “Colors.”
Puma’s founders, vocalists, Eric Burton and guitarist/producer, Adrian Quesada, have assembled a power house group of backup singers, keyboards, drums and bass who travel the country bringing funk to the people.
Burton channels his love of psychedelic-gospel music into dynamics of the band and his supernatural voice, making the whole show a truly religious experience.
Instead of playing it safe by standing still on stage, Burton becomes one with his fans by dancing with the crowd and vice versa by inviting them to become part of the show.
This is a group that isn’t going away, not by a long shot. If you missed them this time, I urge you to not miss them in such an intimate venue again. Before you know it, they’ll be on their way to headlining arenas and festivals.
Dinosaur Jr., Steve Gunn
Wild Buffalo • Oct. 25
It was certainly a night to not forget your earbuds as Dinosaur Jr. returned to Bellingham to deafen fans with crunchy riffs, electric phasers and slamming beats that left ears ringing into the following day.
This group is famous for their setup of ginormous Marshall stacks and a sound that overpowers any venue with an onslaught of volume.
Opening the bill was acoustic solo performer and occasional Kurt Vile collaborator, Steve Gunn. Unfortunately, I missed most of Gunn’s set because at the same time, I was living the rock lifestyle, performing down the street at the Makeshift.
Still, from the songs I did catch, I was impressed with Gunn’s ability to capture the attention of a sold-out show as a one-man band, a task that is challenging when playing to a crowd who is restless to see a band as great as Dinosaur Jr.
Finally, the moment fans had been waiting months for had arrived. Dinosaur Jr. are one of the seminal punk rock groups of the 80s and 90s whose influence can be heard in their musical peers such as Nirvana, Sonic Youth and The Pixies.
Since reforming the original 1985 lineup of J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph in 2005, the group has done extensive touring, playing for festivals, local clubs and filmed studio sessions all around the world.
Their almost two-hour set included all of their greatest hits such as “Feel the Pain,” “Start Choppin’,” “The Wagon” and “Thumb.” Mascis ties the band’s fuzzy riffs with solos that are a beautiful blend of Hendrix and Greg Ginn. Fans moshed, head banged and crowd surfed to their wailing rock bangers.
After a quick break, the band returned to the stage for a thunderous encore, playing a Deep Wound cover of “Training Ground” (a song that Mascis and Barlow have played since their teenage years), “Kracked” and the ultra-heavy “Sludgefeast.”
It would be easy for Dinosaur Jr. to skip by our little town with a show in Seattle the day before and Vancouver the following night, but their presence is another indicator that our musical city is a place where legendary small-town bands feel at home.
Make sure to follow this band on their current tour and keep an eye on their social media pages for any new releases.
BEARAXE, Incanus, Mount Saturn
The Shakedown • Oct. 25
It was an icy-cold Saturday night in Bellingham. Everyone was flocking into their nearest bars, breweries, and music venues for warmth. At The Shakedown things were getting toasty as three electrifying bands laid down the sauce, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Mount Saturn opened up the night, packing the house with metalheads and punk rockers. It was clear everyone was there to get heavy and doomy. Joslynn Vasquez was a powerful presence on stage. Her lyrics centered around fury, equal rights, and tearing down the patriarchy. Which was the perfect feminist tone to lead into the next act BEARAXE.
The wrath of BEARAXE is like no other. These Seattle prog-rockers brought the house down in all their thunderous soulful glory. Members of the Seattle grunge movement, along with other bands like Thunderpussy, Wild Powwers, and The Black Tones, these rockers did not disappoint.
Matthew Williams’ bluesy rock guitar riffs shocked the crowd into rhythmic hypnosis. Similar to Jimi Hendrix, the guitar’s unchained melodies laid down a heavy rock tone to lead the rest of the band into an outpour of energy.
This bluesy rock guitar part mixed with Jon Lemmon’s heavy toned bass provided a perfect backing to singer Shaina Shepard’s unique approach to lyrical storytelling of strength and resilience. This overarching combination of hard rock and soulful story brought a rollercoaster ride of emotions to the crowd.
There were moments when BEARAXE transitioned to a deeper, more mellow jazzy sound. Then quickly jumped back into their signature grungy feel. There was even a point in which Seattle artist Terry Monstrosity made an appearance on stage and rapped over BEARAXE’s soul-punk tunes. Which just goes to show how talented and versatile the band really is.
Wrapping up the night, Incanus were the perfect end to this rowdy evening. The heavy psychedelia vibe mixed with their punk-metal sound. This unwound the crowd and sent everyone home in a fuzzy daze.
Overall, I’m so happy I was able to make it to this show and witness all its grungy magnificence.
Bobby Petite, The Mary Anns
Mallard Ice Cream • Oct. 22
Bellingham’s favorite downtown ice cream shop hosted their debut full band live show and it was a big success.
Fans of cold desserts and music packed the shop to enjoy the delicious flavors Mallard offers. Some showed up just for the ice cream but were pleasantly surprised by an even sweeter treat.
For promotional purposes, Mallard created flavors of ice cream names for the bands who perform there. They are currently serving “Bobby Petite Pumpkin Dream” and “The Mary Anns Red Hot Rootin Tootin Kentucky Coffee.” Be sure to try some before they sell out.
The Mary Anns opened the show with their brand of wholesome, Americana-folk-rock. The group has been on a roll, with this being their third show of the month.
A stand out element to their musical approach is that there is no specific band leader. While founding member, Skylar Tibbets is on lead vocals for a majority of the set, occasionally co-founder Serafima Healy takes the reigns with songs such as “Indiana” and “I’ll Be Around.” Violinist Skylar Kaster also picks up the guitar for a song that is so good, it foreshadows what is to come from the band and herself.
Headliners Bobby Petite played a stunning set after returning from a series of Seattle gigs. This show included fan favorites like “Want your Number,” “Take Me to Your Party,” “Sour” and some new tunes which made their live debuts. The new unnamed songs are sounding just as good if not better than their previously recorded live sets and is a good sign that this band has a long bright future.
Their songs are feminist anthems that cry out to frustrated women who have to deal with “dudes” who suffer from egotistical, toxic masculinity, the kind who feel every woman wants to be hit on.
This was a particularly interesting show for Bobby. Bassist and lead singer, Oli Moseley, had broken her arm and was wearing a cast, leaving her unable to play bass. Fortunately, her injury didn’t stop the show. Instead, she used a synth which actually brought some heavier depth to the songs and proved that nothing will stop this band.
You can find these groups on social media for any new songs or upcoming shows in the area.
I Love You Avalanche, Wilma Laverne Miner, The Mary Anns
The Shakedown • Oct. 2
It was a hoedown at The Shakedown with local folk-rock bands the Mary Anns and I Love You Avalanche, also featuring Wilma Laverne from Missoula, MT.
The Mary Anns made their Shakedown premier as the opening act and took the opportunity by debuting their new song “Nickle and Dime.”
Since forming last year, the band of young college friends have made momentous strides in their musical journey, going from playing at The Underground Coffee Shop to opening Lawnstock 2019.
At first listen their live performances may seem similar to the Lumineers, but throughout their set it becomes evident that they have a deeper originality and unconventional approach to playing contemporary folk music.
There are heavier elements to their writing both lyrically and instrumentally as they search to find beauty within the darkness with songs like “Hello Love” and “About the Gods.”
They retain the new-wave, indie style that Bellingham is known for and capture a raw power that can only be described as what it would sound like if Debbie Harry sang with R.E.M.
Another plus is the diversity of instrumentation. Along with guitars and drums, they include a standup bass, violinist and the occasional mandolin. All of these musical layers create a colorful and thoughtful tone that adds a western-psychedelic element to their sound.
For a club like The Shakedown that normally hosts hard rock and metal shows, The Mary Anns are an interesting band to add to the bill. And yet, without Marshall stacks they drew a similar reaction of loud cheers and dancing fans.
Following, was “jukebox-dream-pop” band Wilma Laverne Miner. Their synth and pop punk style mixes well with their country-western influences. When listening to the heaviness of their live sound I can only think of what Chris Cornell was talking about when he sang “Looking California, but feeling Minnesota.”
Lead vocalist Kaylen Alan Krebsbach takes control of each song with a range so powerful, you are blown back whether she is singing softly or belting her notes.
Headliners I Love You Avalanche brought their melancholy-rock in full force. Musical duo Ana Arvan and Nora Hughes on guitar and vocals, backed by the powerful rhythm section of Kristen Stanovich on bass and Zor Batron (also of Dryland) on drums.
Their songs like “Eurydice” and “True as That” sound like the perfect soundtrack to the next Wes Anderson film. Some of their cinematic traits that are noticeable in their recorded material is lost in a live setting. But what isn’t lost on stage is their love of playing with each other and for their friends.
You can keep up with all of these bands on Facebook, Instagram and Soundcloud, for any new music or updates.
Bird & Shooter, Smooth Kiwi and Sugar Candy Mountain
Firefly Lounge • Oct. 1
It was a quintessential fall day and a small handful of Bellingham locals braved the chilly air to come celebrate the beginning of a new month.
Bird & Shooter started off the night, the five-piece band bouncing off each other to make hard hitting tunes. The band consists of not one but two drummers, a sound that forces your boots to dance. Some songs are heard best with closed eyes, the beginning of a cathartic night. They have an intensely unique sound, something I haven’t heard much in the rock scene that most Bellingham bands find themselves in. Their chemistry radiates into the audience; smooth, bending guitar riffs over rhythmic, clashing drums and soft vocals to round it all out.
Smooth Kiwi followed up, keeping the vibe and the audience in question of what “alternative indie” really sounds and looks like. Their tunes are a bit funky, a little psychedelic, but always full-bodied and strong. They did an awesome cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Everyone sang along.
Sugar Candy Mountain finished off the night with lilting guitar and an impressive range of vocals. I didn’t really know how popular they were in mainstream music until I did some digging after the concert but their music was incredibly enjoyable for my tired ears. Their smooth guitar riffs and easy-going melodies were a relief to the tired concertgoers making it out on a rainy Monday night.
Their biggest hit “Windows” set the vibe for the entire night. It was what high-school me always wanted for prom. I wish the Firefly had red light bulbs that could be turned on for these slow, intimate moments in music.