I love seeing shows at the Knitting Factory. It's a small enough space to be intimate, and big enough to have a good crowd. My concert buddy K and I got there way early and had dinner at the pub attached to the venue so we could get early admittance. Had some good conversation with other fans while we were hanging out, including with a couple who had seen Rusted Root on the same edition of the H.O.R.D.E. tour that I saw them back in 1996.
Early admittance meant we got a table right at the rail just above to the GA floor, so we had great seats for the show. Really, the only bad place to be in that venue is up on the balcony on the upper risers. Everywhere else has a great view. But it's nice, at my age, to have a chair.
First up was Malea McGuinness, who did a short but sweet set of material. I wasn't overly impressed with her songs, but her voice made me long to hear her do a bunch of 70s Linda Ronstadt covers. I'm sure we'll be hearing more from her as time passes.
Opening act was Skinny Lister, a pub band from England who do traditional style pub music -- chantys and barhall singalongs and such. They were a LOT of fun, had the crowd singing and dancing along by the end of their set. I bought an EP of theirs in the lobby and got some signatures during the interval. I can't wait for a full album from these guys, and hope to see them again soon. Makes me long for a pub culture where such kinds of music is more common overall.
Finally, Rusted Root. They did a great set, leaning heavy on early material, with a few bits of newer material and I think two new tracks from their upcoming album. They didn't play Cruel Sun, but they did do a lot of my favorites -- Food & Creative Love, Ecstasy, Back To The Earth... I think they may have done Virtual Reality... They're completely independant now, and are looking for Kickstarter funds to get the recording done. I may have to kick them a few bucks when I get the money.
The crowd really loved the show, and after about half the show sitting with K I finally had to go down onto the floor and let the music move me. It was fun watching people get looser and looser as the evening went on, and by the end of it the floor was pretty full of people all doing their own dances to the great drumming, shouting/singing along with the chanting choruses, and
Anyway, it was a great show. K is a new convert, and I hope he enjoys them from here forward as much as I have across the years. Hoping to see them again soon.
Second show: The Polyphonic Spree, Neumos, Seattle, April 6
I really wasn't planning on driving to Seattle for a show, as Polyphonic Spree had been planning on playing Spokane. But, the venue put something else on the date they had reserved, so the Spree skipped Spokane altogether. After hrming and huhing over it for about a month, I finally just decided I was going to make the drive.
Got out of work a bit early, took off with my new Garmin on the dash because I didn't know where the venue is. The traffic congestion feature of the device had me diverted off my known roads and suddenly over a toll bridge. Some kind of pay-by-mail thing, haven't gotten the bill yet.
Anyway, got to the venue early enough to sit in Moe's Bar next to the venue, where I chatted with the staff (as the place was deserted), and when people started coming in talked to some other music/concert fans for a while. I also had some amazing battered fried asparagus, a form of asparagus I've never had before. Wow, that was good.
Got into the venue right as it opened, very early in line, and ended up right at the stage. Neumos is a small venue with a low stage, and I was right next to it. As in, close enough that I was setting my schwag and drinks on it while waiting for the show to start. While waiting, I met one of the founders of the Polyphonic Spree Forum website, and had a great time talking to him about the band and such. Through his encouragement I think I'm going to be more active with my interest in them.
The show finally started with Sweet Lee Morrow, a singer-songwriter who had great melodies and thoughtful lyrics and sang with a powder blue acoustic guitar and nothing else. He was charming and I really liked his set.
During the interval, I went out for a smoke and ran into Sweet Lee himself. Had a bit of a chat, thanked him for his set. Turns out he is also the keyboard player for the Spree, and I was standing right in front of the keyboard station, so I knew I'd be seeing him more quite soon.
Next up was The New Fumes. Hard to describe what this set was like. Solo performer using an electric guitar, an electric harpsichord, a computer, and an array of effects pedels. Could maybe be called noise rock, but was also kind of techno and had lyrics and stuff. Very interesting. I wonder what his studio output is like.
(Turns out that he used to play guitar for the Spree, and when I bought my schwag, he was manning the merch table. Turns out a Spree tour is really a family endeavor!)
Finally, the Spree emerged from behind the red fabric stretched across the stage, and the true glory of the show began.
I love a Polyphonic Spree show. Even in the smaller version I saw, there was still 14 people on stage. The tamed and shaped musical mayhem is overwhelming and contageous, and the crowd, at least in the front where I was standing, was in a full state of thrall from the very beginning. They did a bunch of my favorites, the two new songs they've released in the past few months, a really great medley of songs by The Who including See Me Feel Me and Pinball Wizard. The show ended, after a lengthy encore, with The Championship, the final chorus and chant of which Tim led the audience in an acapella singalong until we were all unified and overjoyed and exhausted.
The show finally let out around 1:30am. I hopped in my car and drove to the first rest stop back on the way home (FAR to long a drive -- nearly 90 miles) and then crashed out in my sleeping bag in the passenger seat until I was sane enough to drive the rest of the way the next morning. Great stuff.
Third show: Thomas Dolby, Showbox at the Market, Seattle, April 11
Yes, that's right. Thomas Dolby is back after a 19 year hiatus from recording. His new album The Map Of The Floating City is pretty excellent, and I was pretty excited to see this show.
K and I met up in George, WA to drive across the pass to Seattle. We got to our favorite hotel for concerts, The Inn At Queen Anne, and after a brief rest, wandered down to the 5 Points Cafe for happy hour dinner and drinks before the show.
You can't argue with $2 pints and a $2.50 cheeseburger and fries happy hour menu. We had a good meal and chatted with the quite gay server who goes by the name of Babe, oddly enough about the balloon fetishist bear Buster who I met back in my Phoenix days. That was surreal.
Off to the venue. One of the things I like about Seattle right now is that I've been there enough that I kind of know my way around, and that nearly everything in the places I tend to go is walking distance if you're prepared for an urban walk.
Got to the Showbox plenty eary to hang out in the attached bar for a bit, where the prices had us in a bit of sticker shock. The place filled up a lot as people assembled for entry. When we finally got in, we discovered that the floor of this place had been covered in folding chairs as a special higher-priced ticket section. Still, once again K and I got seats right at the rail overlooking the floor, so that was great.
Opening act was Aaron Jonah Lewis and Ben Belcher. A traditional fiddle and banjo duo, they really captured the crowd with their charming slightly awkward stage personae and their AMAZING musicianship. I really recommend checking them out. I hope to hear a LOT more from them over the next while.
After their set, I got their CD and autographs, and got to see the really handsome bushy-bearded man up close. He was pretty amazing all around.
Dolby himself played a great set. His band consisted of him on keyboards and computer, a guitarist, and a drummer. His set list was a good blend of old and new songs, and the only album he didn't play anything from was the soundtrack he did for The Gate To The Mind's Eye. He brought out Aaron Jonah Lewis to play violin on a couple of tracks, and man, that lad can REALLY play rock violin!
(Frankly, I think the show would have been better without all the chairs. The audience sat in place for the entire concert, to the point where for his final number Dolby had to actually ASK people to get up and be enthusiastic. Kind of sad, that. The energy would have been entirely different if they'd all just been standing all along.)
All that aside, it was an amazing show. Dolby is so charming, and his show was filled with accounts of how songs were inspired and other chit-chat. It felt nearly like a coffeehouse act, it was so full of storytelling. His son Graham played drums for him on a couple of songs, and afterwards I went and had a quick conversation with him about how odd it was having that name in the US. That was fun.
Back to the 5 Points Cafe for a nightcap and more chatting with Babe and other staff there, and then to the hotel for sleep.
The next day after breakfast and a walkabout down along the shoreline, we went to the SIFF Uptown movie theater to see Wim Wenders' Pina in 3D. I've been wanting to see this film for over a year. I love Wenders, and I love odd art films, and I love really well-done 3D, and this promised to offer all of those things.
Well, it offered all that, and more. Full of haunting images and astonishing dance pieces that are more performance art than true dance, it had a deep effect on me. The pieces seem to largely be made up of repeated movement which appears to have no meaning when first seen, but as it is repeated, the evocative nature and subtle narrative of the movements becomes clear. So many of the pieces are so stark and startling. I was sad that the entire piece done to The Rite Of Spring wasn't included in the film, as the pieces that were carry such emotional and symbolic weight as to be unforgettable.
In fact, much of the film is unforgettable, and I'll be reflecting on it for quite a long time to come. Might even be one of the rare DVDs I purchase, as I already want to see parts of it again. K was a bit confused by the whole thing, although after chatting about it on and off over the evening I think he was starting to "get" it.
Anyway, after the film, back to 5 Points Cafe for cheap food and beer again, then on to the...
Fourth show: Elvis Costello And The Imposters, The Paramount, Seattle, April 12
The Paramount is a really beautiful historic venue. Happily, it's full of reserved seating, so we didn't have to rush off to get to the venue early.
The interior is really intense and I wish I'd had more time to really look around. But we got there about 5 minutes before the lights flashed to let us know the show was about to start, so we went on up to our seats in the upper level.
No opening act, so Elvis Costello and The Imposters came out pretty quickly and played an AMAZING show. His setlist was determined largely by bringing audience members up on stage to spin a giant game show wheel with songs or song categories on it. In the end it ran to nearly 30 songs, covering a lot of favorties and stuff I'm not familiar with, but overall an OUTSTANDING performance. There were so many highlights, from when he stepped out from behind his mike and turned the electrics off on his acoustic guitar and did a verse of a song completely without amplification, filling the hall of nearly 3000 seats with attention and focus from the audience. Or when he did his lengthy This Wheel's On Fire medley that ended up wringing every emotional button possible during its course.
Overall, it made me from someone who knows Elvis Costello in the most oddly cursory way (I've owned Spike, The Juliet Letters, and that album he did with Burt Bacharach at various times) to someone who wants to know him much more deeply. I guess I have my homework to do, given the length and breadth of his career.
After the show, back to the 5 Points Cafe for nightcaps (and yet more Babe), and then off to sleep. The next morning, back on the road to George, where I picked up my car and headed home.
So, there it is. 4 concerts in 12 days, two trips to Seattle, and a really awesome little cluster of life and music richly experienced. Sometimes my mundane existence has highlights -- this one stretched out for quite a while and will be long remembered.