Kelli Schaefer ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth
The end of summer should go out with a bang, a thump on the kick drum, a chord that sends a front man’s guitar soaring above his head as the vivid lick fades into falling leaves, and then the white silence of winter. It’s why I love fall music festivals; the air that tastes of wood smoke and sweet piles of leaves, the drastically warmer venues pulsing with people who get too hot dancing and then burst into the chilly air like it’s a first breath.
I strolled into Ballard for Seattle Weekly’s Reverb Fest all giddy for a full fall day of music coming from every conceivable corner of the long street. First show; The Golden Blondes.
The Golden Blondes are essentially your standard rock three piece, with an unassailably cool lady on stage adding some vocal sparkle to the hooks that sound like they were ripped right out of a 90′s garage. There’s something cosmically perfect about a power trio. When the mix is right, the drums have room to kick you smack in the face, the guitar somehow spreads wings, and the bass can create the most powerful undertow. Front man Josey Markiewicz swung and sweated all over the place, in a London punk band he’d fit without question. He led The Golden Blondes through a set that turned a daylight show at the Tractor on its head with a possessive coolness. Their fiery riffs exhibit a certain rock and roll attitude that is hard to achieve and is never dated.
Next up; Cataldo.
I have been a fan of Cataldo since before my recent move to Seattle. I saw Eric Anderson, the songwriter and leading man, open for Laura Veirs in the winter of 2010 in Colorado Springs, and I was taken by his bright melodies, his subtle cleverness that so deftly balances against an earnest warmth, and the occasional penchant for a sing along chorus. Since moving here I have seen more than a handful of singer/songwriters, and there is a disappointing trend toward character acting as a performer; taking honest emotions and singing caricatures of them, blanketing them in modern indie tropes. Cataldo’s music, though in that genre, has a terrific sense of reality to it, and in that, is unique. They played in the upstairs of Salmon Bay Eagle Club, a room with vaulted ceilings and hardwood floors that held sound warmly. The guys who make up Eric’s band are Matt Batey (also of Conservative Dad and The Warm Hardies), Sam Anderson, and Colin Richey (both of Hey Marseilles), and play together with remarkable ease and skill. I firmly believe Cataldo has the kind of fresh approach we need to combat the stagnation that comes with formulaic timidity. It’s not that he breaks all the rules; they just suddenly make sense again.
I walked back to the Tractor to catch the rest of Don’t Talk to the Cops.
Don’t Talk to the Cops, a study in height difference having no effect on stage presence, is a golden song and dance, breakbeat show with band members named DJBlesOne, Emecks, and Gatsby. The real magic here is between Bles and Emecks, Bles being a towering Nordic pillar of a man, and Emecks a slight short woman who can really dance, and has sass enough to make herself seem about eight feet tall. I’ve heard it said that there are some folk bands, some rock bands, in Seattle that can really get a crowd moving. I do not doubt this, and have even experienced this, but there is an intention behind Bles and Emecks dancing on the stage. It’s thought out, a production. Their music is equal parts goofy, smart, and catchy, with some wacky sampling and mixing in between Bles and Emecks, and it all plays directly into the dancing. Don’t Talk to the Cops is a show you have to see to understand what they’re going for; it’s as much a dance show as it is about the music. To conclude, a word to boys with guitars: go ahead and make me dance, you can sometimes do it, but if I want to really get down, I’ll be back here in a heartbeat.
It was about this time I started feeling my pizza dinner start to kick back, and being active was just a little less appealing, but I knew I couldn’t miss Portland’s Kelli Schaefer. Honestly, I’ve seen Kelli a few times. So I should be over it, right? But this extraordinary thing happens every time I see her play, where she engulfs the room, possesses it. I can’t miss that. I stood toward the back, leaning against the leather booths in the corner of the Tractor, and considered unceremoniously kicking the people talking during her set. She stood stage right, and even though I was behind festival goers whose attentions were not directed at Kelli, as soon as she began it didn’t matter who the hell was listening. She was mighty, and her voice and guitar poured to the back effortlessly. There is a trend in the Northwest I have noticed where women sing with their throats, often masking a beautiful range and natural timbre. It has become a real sticking point for me at shows, a vocal trend much like when many tried to copy Eddie Vedder’s signature throat bubble voice. Kelli does not do this. She opens up her mouth and wails from her chest up, and it can suck the air from a room. Kelli’s band added a tight accompaniment to her thoughtful songs that can stand strong on bare bones legs, making subtle arrangements to flesh out familiar songs into things of ecstatic breadth and life. She ended her performance by imploring anyone in the audience who felt they could possibly express themselves by making music to do so. Though I won’t be honing my high school flute skills any time soon, I left inspired, into the rain, into the fall, grateful to have all this music on one street for a day.