In the days of yore, when I still called myself a Seattlite, it was a rare time when I missed out on any show Michael Jaworski’s former band The Cops put on. I burned out MP3 players blasting through their albums, and very strongly, and I imagine annoyingly, pushed them upon anyone who’d give me a moment to rant. Jaworski, entirely a foundation of the Seattle scene, has a new band, Virgin Islands, and their churning waterfall of last-wave punk drags me right back in to the sweaty confines of The Sunset Tavern, with a crowd of Cops-happy fans elbowing me in the back. Not to say, Jaworski’s pulled a mulligan, oh no, Virgin Islands take the howling madness of Cops-era Jaworski and refine it with a world weary political drive that propels it in to a new spectrum. Count me the newest sycophant at the alter of Virgin Islands.
It’s a big week for Seattle music venues. Not only is Seattle getting a reborn venue in the form of Columbia City Theater, we’re also celebrating the 10th anniversary of one of the best music venues in town: The Sunset Tavern.
To celebrate, The Sunset is hosting a 10th Anniversary Blowout starting Thursday and lasting through the weekend. Sunset regulars The Cops will be reuniting for the event and folks like Jason Dodson (of the Maldives), Tomo Nakayama (of Grand Hallway), Kinski, Red Fang and Virgin Islands will be taking the stage to wish the venue a happy 10th birthday.
We’ve done our part to celebrate The Sunset too, sending Justin Ripley of “Sound on the Sound Radio” and Salmon Thrasher to interview three folks integral to the Sunset’s success: house manager Joe Howe, sound engineer Dave Abramson and bouncer Shay Roth. Ever the resourceful interviewer, Justin managed to get the trio to spill the big Sunset 10th Anniversary secret and make a Zima joke. Clearly, if you love the Sunset or laughter, you must listen to this podcast.
World’s Greatest Ghosts ::: photo by Abbey Simmons
If it’s the first Saturday of the month and you have nothing to do, you should always head on over to The Sunset Tavern for KEXP’s Audioasis. Not only does the event benefit a local charity, you’re also always bound to see a great band take the stage for that good cause. In fact, you should have been there Saturday April 3rd, and by the looks of the big bustling crowd, you very well might have been. Gone was the traditional five feet of politeness that often separates the crowd and bands when they play Seattle. Saturday’s crowd at the Sunset sought to be pressed against the stage, where they could better sing and bob along to their favorite songs.
Hometown opener Ravenna Woods showed why they are one of the most buzzed about local bands of 2010. The trio makes a head-on impact with songs that reverberate through your mind, not only because they are catchy, but because they pack a lyrical punch. Ravenna Woods crafts political poetry about wealth distribution, poverty and environmental destruction, in a way that sounds wise rather than preachy or pretentious. (Which is saying something indeed.) While the melodies and percussion sound simple, the subjects discussed within are anything but. With support from KEXP and a crowd who had clearly arrived early for the band, it is clear that Ravenna Woods’ isn’t just our little secret anymore and we couldn’t be happier about it.
Where Ravenna Woods’ meditations were political, World’s Greatest Ghosts‘ were playful. Hailing from Portland, the band charmed Seattle into dance with upbeat synth-driven pop-rock song about Dungeons and Dragons and autobiographical tunes about the trials of five people with intertwined relationships (beyond being in a band) living under the same roof. World’s Greatest Ghosts play perfectly pleasant Portland party music and there’s no denying that one of the first words that comes to mind is “adorable.” However, this isn’t simple synth pop. Where World’s Greatest Ghosts’ lyrics may be simple, the arrangement that accompanies them are dizzying. (They’re the opposite of Ravenna Woods in this manner.) On their last night of a month long tour, World’s Greatest Ghosts played with the fervor of band who could almost feel their bed and who had nothing left to save for. They gave it their all on stage and were having a great time, and they inspired the same in the jovial crowd.
So when the first Saturday of May rolls around, you know where you should be right? KEXP’s Audioasis.
World’s Greatest Ghosts ::: photo by Abbey Simmons
World’s Greatest Ghosts ::: photo by Abbey Simmons
World’s Greatest Ghosts ::: photo by Abbey Simmons
See More Photos of Ravenna Woods & World’s Greatest Ghosts on Our Flickr
On Sunday we caught Kasey Anderson’s early set at the Sunset Tavern. Abbey took a video of the much talked about “I Was a Photograph”, and that is embedded below. The explanation at the beginning might be a bit long, but it’s an important piece of context about the song from the songwriter in his own words. Most song’s don’t really have a reason to warrant such a speech, but this one most certainly does.
“I Was a Photograph (Blake’s Song)” by Kasey Anderson at the Sunset Tavern
It’s a gritty image of a dirty and bloodied Marine smoking a cigarette, finding a moment of respite from the battle of Fallujah and a night of avoiding bullets. The day after the photo was taken it graced the front page of over 100 major newspapers. It’s a quintessential image of the American psyche: of a noble survivor who perseveres in service of freedom and democracy (can there be anything more American? ). Ironically the image could have just as easily been whipped up verbatim as a political cartoon in the Guardian to depict the emerging reality that the U.S. was realizing about the task in Iraq, with the soldier standing in for U.S. Resolve in the face of Fallujah. Dirtied and sleepless, he looks wistfully off into the sunrise as if to say, “I’m now starting to begin to understand the scope of my task, and I’d rather be anywhere else right now.”
The young Marine made famous by that photo is Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller. The senseless death of war weighs heavily on those who are doing the dirty work on the front lines, and Miller was no different in this sense when he returned to our shores and became burdened by inescapable guilt and fear. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) became a constant presence in his own life, as it had in his grandfather’s life after he returned from serving in Korea. Through the coverage of his story he became a unofficial representative for those affected by PTSD, struggling with treatment and then becoming acquainted with the consequences of ignoring treatment. Being unable to properly sleep for instance.
His story has persistedlong after his discharge from the Marines and today brings us another chapter in the story. Portland musician Kasey Anderson, who has a new album called Nowhere Nights on the new release rack right now, has deftly committed this complex and dense story to song:
MP3: “I Was a Photograph (Blake’s Song)” by Kasey Anderson from Nowhere Nights on Red River Records
I asked Kasey to answer a few questions to offer some context as to why he felt like he had to write on such a heavy topic as PTSD and Cpl. Miller:
SOTS: How did you come to this story and what about it affected you enough to write a song about it?
KA: I was working two days a week at a little shoe store in Portland called Johnny Sole, where my duties consisted primarily of completing the daily NY Times crossword and dusting the shelves. At some point, I picked up an issue of Rolling Stone and found Jenny Eliscu’s piece on Blake, and Luis Sinco, the man who took the photograph. I was just incredibly moved by Blake’s story and felt immediately that both Blake’s story, and the larger issue at hand (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), should be covered from every angle possible, and the only way I knew how to do that was to write a song about it.
SOTS: From the things I’ve read and the stories I’ve heard, Cpl. Miller’s story feels hardly unusual with regard to PTSD. Does that read of the situation with returning troops ring true to you as well? Is Blake simply an analogue for the peril every soldier faces?
KA: It’s not unusual but, for whatever reason, it is treated differently both by the press and by a significant portion of the American public. People don’t seem to understand that the psychological damage sustained in combat is every bit as debilitating as the physical damage sustained. In that respect, Blake is analogous, yeah, but his story is unique because his face was everywhere, and people used it as a mirror. Anything you want to see in that photograph of Blake, you can find it if you look hard enough and long enough. But, really, underneath what everyone has projected on his face, Blake was just incredibly exhausted. That’s what I see in that photograph and that’s what I hear when I talk to Blake. He was, and is, just truly exhausted in every sense of the word.
SOTS: The song read’s as a dedication, but also a scathing commentary about our new Americanism. Do you think a soldier can escape the notion that while his motivations and end goals are supposedly noble in pursuit of democratic nationalism, his sins are “all [his] own?” Though his country and everyone around him has proclaimed him innocent and righteous, he has found himself in his own heart of hearts guilty of something unforgivable.
KA: I think I will never understand the burden those men suffer – “the things they carry,” to paraphrase Tim O’Brien – during and after combat. However noble the cause, however these men and women – or anyone else – justify and rationalize their actions, they have to carry the death, the destruction, the exhaustion, and the impact of war with them for the rest of their lives. I can not imagine that feeling, the weight of that. It is immense beyond my comprehension. And humans are not equipped psychologically to withstand that kind of anguish, so they find ways to cope and deaden things.
SOTS: Should America feel guilty about what’s going on? I definitely feel guilty identifying myself as an American after listening to the song five times in a row thinking about these questions.
KA: There is a sort of culpability implicit in being involved by proxy in what’s happening over there. I mean, our government, our military, they’re supposed to represent us, the people of this nation. That’s the whole idea of democracy, right? Of the people, by the people, for the people. So, the question then becomes, how do you alleviate that guilt? How do you and I let our voice be heard? For me, it’s raising my voice against the war, and against keeping our men and women over there; it’s writing a song about Blake so that maybe people begin to look at the impact of this war in a different light, to understand that it’s about far more than a body count. At the end of the day, those are small things, but enough of those little sparks can light a fire.
Kasey Anderson who is at the beginning of a massive spring campaign in support of his record is having the official a record release show for Nowhere Nights at the Sunset Tavern in Seattle this Sunday February 28th. Tickets are $7 at the door and since it’s Sunday, I expect things will start around 9pm. Matthew Ryan and Shasta Bree open.
Last Saturday KEXP hosted an eclectic line-up of local bands at the Sunset for their monthly Audioasis benefit. In a completely guitar-less night, three great genre crossing artists took the stage: the confessional piano pop of People Eating People, the dangerous rock swagger of Blood Red Dancers, and the conscious hip hop of D. Black. As bizarre as the bill might have seemed to some, I was delighted. Such genre-crossing bills expose audience members to artists they might not otherwise hear of and only serve to highlight the diverse riches of the local music scene. These are a few of my favorite photos from the evening.
I’ve got an early, easy prediction for 2010: Dog Shredder is about to take the local metal scene by storm. Though they’ve only played a few Seattle shows and the beastly Bellingham trio doesn’t have an album out yet, the band has a steadily growing buzz and they’ve already won over one of the voices that matters most in the Seattle metal (and music) scene.
Last Saturday, the aptly named trio played the Sunset Tavern for KEXP’s Audioasis, where they stunned the crowd with their intricate and frantic sonic assault. Phil was correct when he said, “Dog Shredder are a band of spastic intricacy that never gives you enough time to stop and catch your breath.” You never knew what was coming next or whether a song was ending or just getting started on a new heavy epoch.
Much of Dog Shredder’s set was instrumental and showed off the technical chops of guitarist Josh Holland, drummer Noah Burns, and bassist Jeff Johnson who play with astounding speed and force. It’s not so much a set as an onslaught. Much of Dog Shredder’s performance reminded me of battles between Bebop jazz trumpeters trying to one up each other on how fast they could play. While the band only technically played 5 songs, their final song alone sounded like 40 miniature metal songs combined for an epic 10 plus minute thrash fest. If break-neck metal, heavy intricate riffs, or witnessing the equivalent of the guitar agility Olympics appeal to you, you’re about to lose your mind over this band.
Watch it Sparkle produces a brand of gutter rock that can’t help but exist on the fringes. Nothing about the band or it’s songs is particularly shiny or eye catching. At best a generous person might characterize them as a polished dumpster, something that even at its “cleanest” is still intrinsically dirty.
The primitive guitar work and drunkenly bombastic singing of frontman Justin Mellor is all punk in sight and sound. He’s got a stage personality and slur sloppy enough to keep you wondering how he keeps it together, but on the whole the songs are groovy enough to keep your feet engaged. Providing some key help in keeping it together is drummer Starr Harris and bassist Steb, a rhythm section that appeals to both the pure punk (with the drums) and hard rock (with the bass) elements of Mellor’s performance.
As a local music writer of even minimal repute I probably should have been tripping over myself to cover the Pixies “Doolittle” show Friday night. A low ceilinged room where you can step right up to the front of the stage will always be the place I’d much rather take in a show though, it just somehow seems the more proper environs to commune with a band and it’s music than in a cushioned seat 50 yards from an expansive stage larger than the most of the said rooms I usually frequent. So there I was. At the front of the stage. Feeling a bit dirty. And not at all regretting my decision of band or venue.
Before enjoying a plethora of musical choices tonight (No Depression Festival, Robin Pecknold/Drink for the Kids at Neumos, The Ironclads & The Hands at Mars Bar, Thee Emergency for Free at The Nectar, The Pharmacy at The Comet, Mad Rad at Chapel…) I highly recommend you make your way to The Sunset Tavern to support another talented local artist, Stoic Swine.
On this blog, Stoic Swine is best known as Blowdog of the dearly departed Hopscotch Boys. His performances, which we’ve described as “part art, part felony” were confrontational, dark, abrasive, fascinating, enthralling, and totally unique. The same can be said of the artwork he creates under the name of Stoic Swine.
While I’m no art critic or historian, Stoic Swine’s pieces evoke the same sort of reaction in me as his performances as Blowdog: enamored revulsion. As Stoic Swine describes his own work, “soul in the soot, head in the ether.” His art, like his performances, toes the line of grotesque, in a way that makes you want to see more, not less. It is raw, honest, totemic, evocative, and I think, beautiful in it’s portrayal of the flaws and vices of man. Much like Blowdog on stage, it’s work you’ll either love or hate, there’s no middle ground. I for, one, love it.
So does The Sunset Tavern on Ballard Avenue, which is currently hosting Stoic Swine’s latest collection, “YESTERDAY’S HERO, TODAY’S GOAT.” The artist describes his work, created just for this show at the Sunset as:
Spanning from the fumes of the room’s storied past (from shaky Chinese restaurant to a debauched sailor dive) to its present lore as one of the city’s finest rock clubs, this work was created specifically to be installed in the legendary Sunset Tavern. All portraits on display are of figures I could imagine, at one time or another, filling the Sunset with their gregarious personalities and drunken behavior as they unwittingly question life’s greater existential formalities. Hopefully no amount of their blood, sweat or ejaculate has been spared in my faithful depiction.
Tonight the bar will be hosting an artist’s reception during Ballard’s Art Walk for Stoic Swine and his work from 6 to 8pm.
Alive Record’s Radio Moscow is currently pimping their new record Brain Cycles, a record inspired by the guitar heroes and experimentation of another era. Their psychedelic jams occasionally summon images of Hendrix while the heavy blues grooves they favor could’ve come straight out of the Black Keys worn songbook.