Category: Concert Reviews

Jay Farrar +Five Drunk Guys = Five Star Night

It has been raining for somewhere between forever and two weeks in the Mighty Pacific Northwest. The days are short, the nights long, and most people walk around with a blank expression that is 50% desperation and 50% caffeine. It is times like this that we all need something to look forward to, and for me, last Sunday  was a milepost shining out there in the darkness: Jay Farrar was playing at the Tractor in Ballard.

Haven’t heard of Jay Farrar? Son Volt? Uncle Tupelo? Okay, it doesn’t matter because this concert review isn’t really about Jay Farrar, it is about five drunk guys.

Ballard is one of a handful of interesting neighborhoods in Seattle. In the 1900’s Ballard was known as the neighborhood for old Norwegians and lutefisk. These days Ballard is cool. (Not that old Norwegians aren’t cool. I don’t need any comments comparing me to Donald Trump.) In the industrial area, which used to be dedicated to the Seattle fishing fleet, some great microbreweries have popped up in abandoned warehouses and the old town part of Ballard has been turned into a Disney street for hipsters looking for a wild west experience.

My friend and I were looking for an entertaining evening and a great concert, and that was exactly what we got.

The Tractor is a small venue modeled after some bar in Missoula, Montana, I guess, at least, that’s my guess. A couple animal skulls, a big tire screwed to the brick wall, a porcelain trough urinal, and lots of visible pipes and wires make the bar seem like the owners told the interior designer, “Make this place look like we didn’t spend a dime.”

The designer: “That’s gonna cost extra.”

Owners: “Yeah, we want to spend lots of money, just make it look like we did it ourselves. We’re going to call it The Tractor.”

The designer: “Cool. Want me to put a tractor in that corner?”

Owners: “Won’t that bring in dirt?”

The designer: “I’ll wash it in organic water.”

Owners: “Can’t we just call it the tractor?”

The designer: “I guess.”

My friend and I arrived in Ballard and right away I knew we made a mistake. I wasn’t wearing flannel and neither one of us had on a knit hat. It is fashion errors like this that make me feel a bit awkward, but we recovered and made our way into the bar like the punk rock rebels we were in 1980. (Where I grew up, punk rock meant wearing Sperry Topsiders.)

The opening act (an unnamed guy with a guitar) was sitting on a stool bent over his guitar like he had really bad gas pains. He started his set by telling a story. This might be a good way to liven up a crowd if the story was something funny, or uplifting, or inspirational, but it wasn’t.  “I was in Paris playing a gig a few days ago…yeah. It was intense…” Dead silence. Then he began singing. His voice wasn’t great, but hey, Bob Dylan’s voice isn’t great, Neil Young’s voice isn’t great, my singing in the car voice isn’t great, but that doesn’t stop me from really belting it out, and unfortunately, it didn’t stop this opening act either. Guys who can’t sing have to work extra hard to write great lyrics or spend lots of time growing out their hair so they can join a screamo band.

Unfortantly, the opeing act guy’s lyrics included gems like, “I went to Safeway.” This made me turn to my friend and ask, “Who is this guy?” My friend got out his phone and did an extensive search but found nothing. Between songs were long storytelling breaks that were just plain weird. Maybe, just maybe, his voice was worn out after all the traveling he had done recently because all of his stories started with “a few days ago I was in ____________.” For somebody with no singing voice and no lyrical talent, this guy got around. The stories always included lines like, “My dad used to live with Joni Mitchell. He trimmed her trees and lived with her.” Or,  “David Carradine went up to the casket and grabbed the dead guy by the lapels and broke his body in half.” Or, “Alex Chilton was sitting on the couch with Charles Manson.”

Then the five drunk guys arrived.

Usually, I don’t appreciate the human animal in its most drunken state, but these guys were the right kind of drunk: happy drunk. Well, one of them was sit-down-on-a-bench and refuse-to-drink-anymore drunk, but the rest of them were drunk enough to shout the things I was thinking. They were an odd collection of dudes, one had a cribbage board sticking out of his pocket, two of the guys looked like they just robbed a Goodwill and were wearing their ill-gotten gains, one guy looked like he just got off work from the forest service, and then there was the ring-leader who looked like he thought 1970s porn star was a fine fashion choice. How did I know he was the ring-leader? He was the one who was passing out hugs and was the first to shout at the opening act.

The opening act guy told a long rambling story ending with, “That story got no reaction in LA but Portland loved it.” This spurred drunk porn star guy to shout, “Portland sucks.” Which sent me into hysterics. He then began flipping off the guy on stage and shouting, “You suck,” multiple times.  We were standing far enough from the stage that I doubt the opening act heard drunk porn star guy, but I could not stop laughing. The drunk guy noticed my friend and I laughing and began asking for confirmation, “You guys know it. He sucks doesn’t he?” What can one say when confronted with scientific fact? It was true, I couldn’t deny it. He then turned back to the stage, “We want Son Volt. You suck.” I took off my glasses to wipe the tears from my eyes…maybe you had to be there.

When the opening act finally stopped telling stories and left the stage, I was a little worried that the drunk guys were going to be as obnoxious when Jay Farrar took the stage, but that wasn’t the case.

Mr. Farrar told no stories, he didn’t even say, “Hey, Seattle,” which I thought was required stage behavior, he played music and sang in his rich, deep, twangy way. Man, it was beautiful. It turned out the drunk guys were drunk because they LOVED Jay Farrar. They put their arms around each other, swayed to the music, and sang along with Jay. Every so often they would try to get sit-down-on-the-bench drunk guy to join them, but the best he could manage was raising his hand toward the stage and moving his index finger to the beat. Knowing your limitations comes with age; it’s called wisdom. Drunk bench guy wasn’t wise enough to pass up the flask when it was passed around, but we all have our weaknesses. Judging the narrow edge of pleasure and pain is what life is all about in my opinion.

We left The Tractor bar and walked through the rainy night to the car when it was all over. My ears were still ringing when we arrived at the ferry, but why have hearing at all if you aren’t going to damage it occasionally. It was 90 minutes of great music, great memories, and another milepost closer to long summer nights with clear skies.

Chance the Rapper says, “Hey, Seattle.”

IMG_3347For the past four years, I have been pretending to be a reluctant father who gets dragged along to rap concerts in Seattle. I don’t know how many shows I’ve been to, but let’s just say dozens. That time is coming to an end. Rap music isn’t coming to an end, but it won’t be long before my daughter moves out, starts going to the most expensive college she can find, and begins attending rap concerts with college friends. One of the good things about getting older is knowing that things do end, that experiences don’t happen again, that time will not allow for the perfect moment, so when your 17-year-old daughter asks you to see Chance the Rapper on a Thursday night, you go. You know ahead of time that it might make for a difficult workday on Friday, but you can sleep after your daughter leaves the house.

Who is Chance the Rapper? I don’t really know. I saw him on Stephen Colbert’s show. He rapped. He danced. He seemed like a nice guy, but I didn’t load his music on my iPod. He is young, he is from Chicago, and he likes to wear a Chicago White Sox hat. (That is the official end of anything resembling factual information in this post.)

When we arrived at the Paramount my daughter and I made our way through the heightened security checks, found a couple spots on the floor and sat down. My daughter was meeting some friends at the concert, so I did my job and took up maximum space on the floor. When my daughter’s friends arrived, I did my job. I grabbed everyone’s stuff and made my way to the back of the concert hall. This is when things started to go well for me. I noticed there were cushioned chairs around the side of the hall with signs on them that said, “ADA Priority Seating.”

I don’t park in handicapped spots. I try not to use the big stall in public restrooms. I’m an okay person…but I had a feeling I could get into one of these seats. I walked to the back and talked to someone who looked to be keeping people out of the seats and said, “Can I sit in one of these?” The person (I’m not a snitch) said that if I found a seat where no one could see me I was probably okay to go there.

I scored a great spot and was able to stretch out and really live life like a boss. (For the record, if someone in a wheelchair arrived, I would have given up my seat. I’m not an animal.) I felt pretty good about my seat for about five minutes and then something bad started to happen. Other parents (all of them moms) started sitting in the ADA seats. Hold on a moment. What has happened in the last four years? Parents–don’t take your kids to a rap concert. Don’t you know rap music is the path to drug addiction, drive-by shootings, and baggy pants? What are you thinking?

The concert officially began like all rap concerts; a guy came out with a computer and began playing his iTunes playlist called LoudAssBass. The DJ/Mixologist/Aerobics Instructor would play about 50% of a song; grab the microphone and shout, “Seeeaaaattllee” and then all the kids in the mosh pit area would scream. This is something I think authors should start doing at their reading tours. I would love to see Toni Morrison grab the microphone before reading a passage from The Bluest Eyes and shout, “Seeeaaatttllleee.” Maybe the only people who would get fired up would be the cartographies in the audience, but hey, we all need dreams.

The music was loud, too loud. So loud that if the DJ started playing a song I actually knew it would take my brain about 20 seconds to recognize it. This type of music distortion happens in larger venues and it is one of the reasons I would rather go to a show at a smaller club, but I’m sure Chance the Rapper is a few years away from doing living room shows.

After the DJ ran out of music on his playlist the real show began. Towkio came bouncing out onto the stage and began rapping…I think. I could not understand a single word he was saying. He could have been shouting recipes from a Martha Stewart cookbook for all I know. To me, it sounded like his mic was cutting out but after a few songs I determined that his rap technique was something new. New stuff isn’t for 50-year-old men, unless it is stuff that grows hair on your head, or makes you lose weight without exercise.

Then Towkio started dancing. You know those t-shirts that say, “Dance like no one is looking”? Towkio must have a few of them. Now 50-year-old men who live in glass dance studios have no room to criticize, but if you saw someone moving like Towkio as they walked down the street you’d think they had late-stage rabies. Think: Bob Marley meets Pee Wee Herman and you’ll get the idea.

Towkio wrapped up his set and then it was time for D.R.A.M. to do his thing. D.R.A.M. had long, neat dreads, and wore a green bomber jacket like he just landed a biplane at Boeing Field. He was not a rapper; he was a singer…kinda. You know the distortion thing I mentioned earlier? I was worse for D.R.A.M.’s set. I assume he can actually sing, but Nigel Tufnel must have set up the sound levels in the Paramount. I couldn’t even understand what D.R.A.M. was saying between songs. I think he explained his name and what is stood for. I think he said something about living on a couch last year, and I think he passed on something about following your dreams, I don’t really know. He sounded more like Charlie Brown’s teacher than Martin Luther King Jr. but I don’t believe it was his fault.

Then D.R.A.M. did something foolish. Maybe his bomber jacket inspired him, maybe he spent the afternoon watching a concert video of Nirvana at the Paramount, or maybe he was caught up in a moment. Why isn’t important, what happened is. D.R.A.M. decided to do a surprise stage dive. There are two vital parts of a stage dive:

  1. Let people know you are jumping into the crowd.
  2. Trust they will catch you.

D.R.A.M. jumped. The crowd parted like Donald Trump’s hair. I was too far away to see if he hit the ground like Humpty Dumpty or if he bounced around like a Plinko ball, but he jumped and then was gone for about two minutes. For me, it was the highlight of his set. Yeah, that’s not nice, but sometimes the truth hurts as much as hitting the Paramount floor.

There was a little break between sets and then Chance hit the stage. I couldn’t see the whole stage from my ADA seats, but it looked like Chance did not have a DJ. I think all the music was played live: Drums, synthesizer, trumpet, and guitar. His sound is unique, more Jazz than Rap, and his show was as tight as oil filter after 10,000 miles. The lights, the video screens, the musicians, everything was planned out to the microsecond. The sound was still too loud and my eardrums were like little canastas, but I was entertained by the spectacle. I like bright shiny things just like other simple-minded beasts.

Chance ripped through a 90-minute set and had at least one t-shirt change that I noticed. The crowd rapped along with Chance, the moms sitting in front of me knew his lyrics, and once again, I was feeling like the oldest man in America.

Near the end of his set, Chance had a message to deliver which was, “Hey.” I don’t want to make too much of a big thing out of something simple, but I do think Chance wants us to make a big deal out of it. “Hey” is one way of recognizing others. I don’t want to get all Immanuel Kant about this simple message, but Chance is right: All rational beings deserve respect. It doesn’t matter if they grew up in the south side of Chicago, or Syria, or anywhere else in the world, human dignity is a simple message that should resonate with all of us.

Our human experience is a shared experience. We all bring different perspectives, but in the end, much of how we experience the world is through the decisions we make. For me, the best way to experience the world is by saying, “Hey” and “Yes,” two simple words with more power than fear.

But if you are going to stage dive, make sure you say, “Hey, will catch me?” Then listen for an answer before jumping.

Bambu’s a Party Worker, but Conner’s a Piece of Work.

Bambu and his Party Worker album landed on stage at the Crocodile last week. If Bambu and DJ Phatrick had produced this album in 1950 (highly unlikely since the hip-hop scene in 1950 was limited to the guys who produced Refer Madness) they certainly would have been called before Senator Joe “I see a commie” McCarthy (R Wisc.) and his House on un-American Affairs Committee. (Wisconsin has a history of electing idiots to office, for example, the current republican governor, Scott Walker. A diet of cheese and Packer football does have side effects.) Party Worker is an ambitious thematic album set at an organizational meeting where each guest rapper represents a different member of the working class, in other words, communism. (At least this is how Faux News would view the show, and since I am currently slipping closer and closer to their primary demographic–old, white male–I thought I should start using the proper verbiage.)

Bambu was in Seattle to perform and sell albums (more capitalist than communist, but a man has to eat), and I was in Seattle on a school night because I am a bad parent and my daughter (Emma) has spent the last six weeks of my son’s chemotherapy being largely ignored, so when she asked to see Bambu’s show I could not refuse. (Bad parenting is full of sentences that end with…I could not refuse.)

The Crocodile is a Seattle landmark club in Belltown where everyone who is anyone eventually performs, so Emma and I have been there several times. We had a plan, and it was a good plan: eat dinner, get tickets, hang out at the dirty coffee shop, see the show. The plan got derailed right away as I spent 40 minutes driving around in circles looking for a place to park. Belltown is a popular place and unlike Capitol Hill where everyone rides a fixed gear bike, people in Belltown drive cars and so by the time we got to the restaurant I was a little grumpy.

As we entered the restaurant we were confronted with a question from the hostess, “Are you here for the show, the thing in the back, or dinner?” We were there for dinner. “Well sit where you like then.” Emma and I took a booth against one of the walls and within 30 seconds I was ready to leave. There was a small group of people testing a sound system by saying, “Test, test, test…” while walking up to the speakers and getting Jimi Hendrix levels of feedback. It was annoying, but not as annoying as the group of people who were arriving for karaoke (aka ‘the show’). There are two types of karaoke, regular drunk karaoke where everyone knows they suck, and then there is the type of karaoke where people show up in costumes and think they are the next Susan Boyle. People were showing up in costumes. I turned to Emma and said, “If these people start to sing, I’m leaving. I don’t care if we haven’t eaten yet.” One guy, in a full length Liberace jacket, was walking around the restaurant randomly testing how loud he could sing high notes, I don’t know if he was trying to psych out his karaoke opponents, but I do know that people who “warm up” for karaoke have an emptiness in their hearts only matched by the emptiness in their heads.

Liberace continued to roam around looking for attention, but what started to interest me was “the thing in the back.” Youngish guys wearing backpacks kept coming into the restaurant and telling the hostess they were here for the thing in the back. They would walk by “the show,” past the bar, and through a red curtain covering a doorway. These guys fit the profile. There was a disaffected, lost quality to all of them; outsiders not accepted by society and forced to meet secretly in a Slavic Belltown restaurant. Had I fallen into a secret meeting place for terrorist cells? Were these guys plotting? Were they falsifying passports? Should I call the FBI? These questions lingered until my food arrived and then I forgot about the burgeoning terrorist plots of losers in the back of the Slavic restaurant.

The food was good, the bill came, and we escaped the restaurant before the singing officially started. As Emma and I walked around the corner, I saw two of the karaoke singers hiding in a doorway smoking a joint like they were Miles Davis preparing for a concert. Their attempt to hide made it obvious that they were doing something naughty and when I looked to see what other nefarious activities could be taking place in the vicinity, I saw what the “thing in the back” was. A curtain was drawn back just far enough for me to see the disaffected group of young men huddled together. They weren’t plotting, they weren’t falsifying passports, they were playing video games.

We arrived at the Crocodile, got our tickets, and were let into the venue. This was an all ages show, so anyone under 21 had to stand in an area the size of an elevator to the right of the stage and the rest of us were free to wander to the bar and drink beer from plastic cups. I found a dark corner with a seat and did what I do at concerts, waited and watched. As 10 PM approached, the crowd grew and my personal space started to shrink. This is when Conner came bee-bopping into my life. Conner was a little guy, we were never formally introduced, but because of who Conner is everyone within ten feet of Conner got to know him. Conner was wacked out of his gourd. He was smoking something from one of those vapor pen devices that caused him to have an excess of energy; whatever he was smoking caused his buddy to vomit in a nearby trashcan. Conner didn’t vomit though. Conner jumped around, bumped into people’s drinks, and generally annoyed everyone. I don’t know Conner, but I am going to guess a few things about Conner: 1. He rides a motorcycle, 2. He carries his motorcycle helmet wherever he goes so people know he rides a motorcycle, 3. Conner spent a good part of his high school years getting stuffed in lockers. At one point, Conner sat next to me. He had a girly drink from the bar. How do I know it was a girly drink? It had a straw and ice. After Conner finished sipping his drink, he began taking the ice cubes and tossing them at people’s legs in the crowd. This gave Conner such a charge of joy, he looked over at me for approval, I gave Conner the “get off my lawn” old man look, and he got up and ran away. Of course, Conner spilled the remains of his drink and ice on the bench before leaving so the next four people who sat there got wet pants.

While Conner focused on the “party” portion of Party Worker, Bambu took the stage and left no doubt that his allegiances were with the workers attending his show. His lyrics bend towards issues of social justice and equality, and his performance was a celebration of his working class roots. The set began with tracks from the Party Worker album which I am certain won’t be played at the Mitt Romney for President 2016 rallies. Well, to be honest, there probably won’t be any Party Worker tracks played at any of the democrat rallies either, unless Elizabeth Warren wants to attract the hip hop demographic to her campaign.

My favorite part of the night was when Bambu was joined by DJ Nphared and Prometheus Brown on stage. For those of you not as hip as me, this trio is known as The Bar. I saw The Bar at my first hip hop concert, so when they began their song Rashida Jones it was like a little journey down memory lane for me. Bambu and Prometheus Brown have mastered the art of emcee stage presence. There are some standard movements for all emcees: pointing with non-mic hand, non-mic hand raised above the head, march across the stage to the left or right non-mic hand pointing at crowd, and then there is the jump straight up and down while bouncing the non-mic hand like you are patting a dog on the head. The more difficult mc moves are combinations of the above moves, but also involve spins and Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation chopping motions with the non-mic hand. (Don’t try this at home if you are too white, or uncoordinated, you might put an eye out.) I have begun to believe that 1/3 of the show is stage presence and both Bambu and Prometheus Brown have that 1/3 down.

After the set by The Bar, another emcee came out, but she did not want to be known as a lady emcee, she just wanted to be known as an emcee, so I won’t assign a gender to her. She also said that everyone should love each other for who they are and I was feeling all warm inside…then she began to rap. Let me just say, her message to the audience and her rap lyrics didn’t seem to be from the same person. Maybe this was a paradox, or irony, or maybe even a juxtopositioning, to hyperbolize her situation, but her set confused me. I’m not saying she didn’t have energy and a message, I’m just saying that I am probably not her target audience. My daughter liked her, so there you go.

Bambu closed the show by telling us to go out and change the world. Don’t wait for the change to drop by and invite you over. Go out, organize, and change things.

Taking my 17 year-old daughter to a hip hop concert on a school night might not get me the Redbook Father of the Year Award, but when I think about what I want my daughter to know about the world, I am happy that she has these experiences. True learning isn’t something that takes place only in a classroom, it isn’t something that can be boiled down to a few stupid test questions, it isn’t something that can be learned through reading, it is something that must be experienced.

Summer Solstice Fremont Style: Put on Some Pants Old Man

The annual Summer Solstice Festival in Fremont (a small neighborhood in Seattle) is well-known in the PNW because it is a kooky gathering of strange people celebrating the longest day of the year. How is it celebrated? Well there is the street fair, and a concert, and a parade, and…what am I forgetting? Oh yes, the part where a few thousand people take off their clothing, paint their bodies, and ride naked through the streets of Fremont.

This was my first Solstice Festival but if you live near Seattle you know about the festival because it is covered annually on every news channel. Why is it news? Well, it isn’t really, but if you take a big camera to a parade of naked bike riders you probably don’t look like a pervert, but having spent a little time in a newsroom I can say that is exactly why it is covered each year.

I was not in Fremont to see naked people I was there to see the concert because I am a cultured and responsible member of society. Did I accidentally see naked people riding on bikes? Yes, I tried not to look, and I tried not to take pictures, but somehow it still happened. Will I post pictures of the naked people? No. Okay, I will post one.

There you go. If you want to see more show up next year.

There you go. If you want to see more show up next year. If you click on this picture to enlarge it you may go blind. A notice will also be sent to the NSA.

I was expecting about 50 naked people who would zip by pedaling like they were chasing Lance Armstrong but that did not happen. There were hundreds and hundreds of naked bike riders pedaling like grandmas on a Sunday afternoon, maybe even thousands, most of them with elaborate body paint jobs, but there were also a few old dudes who put on a Viking helmet (and only a Viking helmet) and just started walking down the street.  These old guys didn’t seem to get the whole point of the parade and I’m sure haven’t looked in the mirror in about 25 years. (If you feel the need to be naked in public do everyone a favor and eat a sandwich while standing naked in front of a mirror. If you can’t finish eating the sandwich, then you should put some clothes on and never expose your body to the fresh air.)

I don’t know how long the parade lasted, but since everyone was crowded around the parade route we (yes, I took my daughter to the parade because I am an excellent parent) figured  this was the perfect time to get something to eat before the concert started and avoid the long lines at most of the food booths.

With our bellies full we headed to the main stage area to watch the opening acts. My daughter headed to the front row barricade and I found the beer garden was a great place to kill time.

Cascadia 10 opened the show. How would I describe Cascadia 10? Jazz? I think jazz. I don’t know, there was no singing but there was music so I guess that means it was jazz. My attention span was challenged so I started watching the sparse crowd and this is where I decided that Cascadia 10 was a good jazz group. (Who can really tell these things?)

Dance like nobody is watching.

Dance like nobody is watching.

Cascadia 10 dance party.

Cascadia 10 dance party.

See the guy in the green and yellow shirt? This guy was dancing the way everyone wishes they could. It wasn’t beautiful dancing, it was joyful dancing. The music was flowing through him and he let himself go. I have never been there, the place where your body says, “We are dancing, stop thinking and just dance.” When I dance, which is not often, my brain is usually concerned with telling my body what to do, and then it is also saying, “You look ridiculous moving this way. Move your arms less. Try a little swaying. Just stop. Please, just stop!” Maybe it is me, but I don’t think so. We spend our lives controlling our impulses so allowing our bodies to be released to the wilds of the id feels unnatural. I was a little sad when Cascadia 10 finished up their set and this guy left, but as John Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” I am happy right now by just looking at pictures of this guy.

The Flavr Blue (I am sure they know that blue is not a flavor and that flavor has an o in it) was next on the main stage and I was looking forward to hearing them. I have never been a huge fan of the synthesizer/techno music even back in the 80’s when everybody else was listening to Flock of Seagulls, but there is something fresh about The Flavr Blue’s music. Hollis certainly can belt out a tune and the energy of the band got most of the growing crowd moving. About halfway through the set I began to wonder what sport Hollis plays. This may not be what musicians want audience members thinking about, but there are people who just move like athletes and there was something about Hollis’ jumping around that made me think she would be a good athlete.  I decided after some consideration that Hollis is probably a very good tennis player. Her footwork looked strong and I imagine she can cover the net like a boss. Her overhead game probably needs some work, but that is what tennis lessons are for. Hollis, if this singing thing doesn’t work out, I suggest joining the USTA and winning some Grand Slam tournaments.

Hollis, Lace, and Parker: The Flavr Blue

Hollis, Lace, and Parker: The Flavr Blue

It is difficult to put a simple tag on how The Flavr Blue sounds but they are a fusion of electric, hip-hop, and pop. What does that mean? Go here: http://theflavrblue.com/ and see for yourself. Do your ears a favor and download some of their free music. Hollis’ vocal range reminds me of Kate Bush and that is about as good as it gets.

The Physics took the stage as the sun started to finally dip in the sky. If you live closer to the equator, you really don’t know how awesome summers in the mighty PNW are, but let me say the summer day exchange rate makes one Seattle summer day worth four summer days in LA. (This does not mean that I want more people to visit Seattle in the summer. It just means I am lucky and you should stay home and not make it hard for me to find a parking space.)

This was my third Physics’ show and they did another fantastic job, in fact, this was my favorite show so far.

Sun setting, Physics playing, crowd putting their hands in the air.

Sun setting, Physics playing, crowd putting their hands in the air.

I recall how confusing everything was the first time I went to a rap show (you can read about that here) but these days I know a little more about what is going on. (I still have no idea what the computer/DJ guy does, but mysteries like that should never be solved.) Thig Natural is a great lead showman and by the time the sun set he had run through a pretty tight set of seven or eight songs. There is a lot to like about The Physics, but I like their R&B backing sound best. (What does that mean? I’m not sure but you can listen for yourself here: http://thephysicsmusic.com/blog/) There is something Motownish about the their music, but there is also a modern twist that mixes the synthesizer and rapping that doesn’t really sound like anyone else I have heard.

Once The Physics wrapped up their set I turned around to see that I was no longer standing in the back of the crowd, I was surrounded on all sides. Maybe people were waiting for the sun to go down so they didn’t have to slather on sunscreen, or maybe the crowd knew that the Blue Scholars had not performed in Seattle in over a year and did not want to miss the show.

Geo and  DJ Sabzi

Geo and DJ Sabzi

What makes the Blue Scholars great? For me, music with a social consciousness is always better than music about pouring sugar on people, and the Blue Scholars have intelligent lyrics that challenge the status quo. Art must challenge people’s thinking and that is what the Blue Scholars do.

DJ Sabzi and Geo took the stage and put on a fantastic show. I don’t know enough about rapping to enlighten readers about what makes Geo’s style appealing, but here is what I do know, Geo writes poetry that can be rapped. There is a natural iambic rhythm to his lyrics along with creative rhymes that are backed up by DJ Sabzi’s beats and samples. It is everything music should be.

The show had a hard curfew of 11PM (which was too early for those of us attending the show but I suppose the people who live in Fremont 11 was about right). I was left wondering why these two guys are not more widely known. Maybe the lyrics are too PNW-centric, maybe there are things I don’t know about music, but in the end I cannot understand why the Blue Scholars are not famous and Kim Kardashian is.

It was a long day (therefore the extra long blog post) and well worth the hassles with parking, long lines at the bathrooms, and naked people.

 

Rappers + Cameras > Wrappers + Cameras

It was the rainiest May day in Seattle history and where was I? Seattle. I like to attend all the historic weather moments I can. There was the record-breaking heat wave I attended in Europe, the 40 days of 100 degrees when I toiled at the Lemoore Cemetery, and then there was the coldest winter in Spokane history. I have been to them all, and I survived.

I was in Seattle on my Father of the Year tour with my daughter to see the latest Rappers with Cameras show. What is Rappers with Cameras? Well, there are Rappers who take pictures and then the Rappers (Prometheus Brown/Geo and Thig) display the photos and people who like photography and rapping come together and hang out. Stuffed bears are also allowed to attend.

Bear

I’m pretty sure this bear felt awkward. He stood in the corner the entire night and spoke to no one.

My daughter and I arrived early, after spending 12 unsuccessful hours trying to find a free place to park on Capitol Hill on a Saturday night, so that she could interview Geo and Thig for her school newspaper. The event was being held in what I think was a clothing shop. (The shop also sold dishes, plants, knives, books, backpacks, and stuff any hipster would need to be cool.) I am naturally uncomfortable in any retail clothing outlet because I am…how do I say this…a freak of nature and cheap. I am 6’6″ and I only buy clothing that fits and is on sale, so being in a store where you know that everything there is made for normal sized people with money is a little like a Vegan looking at the menu at a rib shack.

Photo Wall

Yes, gentlemen, that’s what a lady’s legs look like.

Anyway, when we arrived I walked around looking at the pictures and price tags on the clothing while my daughter talked with Geo and Thig. I found a rubber raincoat from Sweden for $400, some super ugly shorts for $120, and lots of other stuff that confused me, but since I have lived in a state of confusion for well over 20 years I did not panic, I just went with the flow.

When my daughter finished her interview she introduced me to Geo and Thig. For those of you who are not as hip as I am let me fill in the gaps for you: Geo is also known as Prometheus Brown and he raps for The Bar and for Blue Scholars; Thig is also known as Thig Natural and raps for The Physics. I talked to Geo about photography, his life as a Navy brat, and the Seattle rap scene. Since I know little to nothing about any other city’s rap scene, Seattle’s situation strikes me as unusual. The people involved in music in Seattle are incredibly supportive of each other. Geo thought the cohesiveness was due to the outstanding music programs in local schools and the fact that geographically Seattle is removed from the rest of the country and is able to do their own thing.

Black and White Poloroids

Black and White Polaroid’s of the guests.

It is a little odd that about a two years ago I was a little concerned about my kids going to a rap show at Neumos so I tagged along to protect them from the dangerous world of rap music, and now I find that the concerts and events are one of my favorite family activities. This probably makes some people think I am one of the worst parents in the world.

Geo and Thig

Thig (on the left), Geo (on the right).

More Poloroids

More Polaroids

The crowd at Rappers with Cameras continued to grow as it got later and this is when I realized that if The Smiths (the 1980’s/90’s musical group) were to show up on Capitol Hill they would fit right in. The hipster haircuts and clothing are exactly what Morrissey wore circa 1987. This took me on a circular thinking tangent about whether these people knew who The Smiths were, whether Morrissey knows that the entire hipster movement can be traced back to the video There Is a Light That Never Goes Out, and if Morrissey knew he was responsible for the hipster movement  would it make him sad enough to write really depressing lyrics? (For those of you who don’t know the Smiths, all of Morrissey’s lyrics are depressing.)

Is that Morrisey?

Is that Morrissey?

Around 10:30, the agreed upon time of departure for catching a ferry back to the boondocks, I found my daughter talking to Hollis. (Hollis is one of the featured singers on the Macklemore album and member of the group The Flavor Blue.)  My daughter was attempting to hitch a ride to Corvallis with Hollis for an upcoming show. I wasn’t sure if I should be impressed by my daughter’s initiative or upset that my daughter was acting like she was in a Jack Kerouac novel. I explained that picking up my daughter would probably add about four hours to the trip which, for some reason, did not strike Hollis as the best plan.

We left Rappers with Cameras and ventured back out into the downpour. The drive home was quiet as I thought about how rapidly my daughter has gone from the little girl to young lady. I’m sure my daughter was thinking about something similar, or she might have been thinking, “If I could just get to Portland, then maybe Hollis will pick me up.”

 

 

Tangerine Is Playing Here? Really?

Seattle, like most cities, is a collection of neighborhoods. Most people who visit the city see very little of what makes Seattle Seattle. Tourists will see Pike’s Market, the Space Needle, and most of the downtown core, but people who live in or near Seattle have their favorite neighborhoods. About 25 years ago, I loved the U-District (the area abutting the University of Washington). There was a Tower Records on the “Ave” and it was not difficult to find a place where young people gathered to imbibe and socialize. I recall standing outside a bar named REDACTED wondering if I should go in. I looked in the window and saw a young man standing on a table pretending to surf. The table broke sending glasses, beer, and the young surfer crashing to the ground. It was a cool neighborhood. I don’t visit the U-District too often these days because there is no longer a Tower Records and because it is where young people gather to imbibe and socialize, but when my daughter asked to attend a concert in the U-District to see Tangerine (a band I really like) I could not refuse.

I asked where they would be playing and my daughter said, “Heartland.”

I was not familiar with Heartland, “Where is that?”

“It’s an art studio.”

“Oh, that sounds nice.

Where is it located?”

“It’s on REDACTED, next to REDACTED.”

This is not the entrance to Heartland. The entrance is a secret. These are the Elephant gates in Copenhagen.

This is not the entrance to Heartland. The entrance is a secret. These are the Elephant gates in Copenhagen.

People always say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and I would like to think that life is better lived by not judging things by their covers, but once you reach a certain age (right around my age, I suppose) judging things backed by years of experience can save a lot of time. I will also save anyone looking for Heartland time too, it is located at REDACTED in Seattle. Don’t look for a sign, don’t look on the internet or try to use Google Maps because Heartland exists in a parallel universe. All you have to do is go to the building with REDACTED, open the REDACTED, and  step across the threshold and you will be there. This was not really what I was expecting. In my head I thought the terms “art gallery” meant a place where wine and cheese are consumed and people talk about how the artist used the negative space in the paintings, Heartland is not that type of “art gallery” it is more of a place where you bring your own sandwich and you wonder if the string that the dog pictures are taped to is hemp. We arrived early, even though we were about 45 minutes late, and were told that there was a five dollar donation for the show. I am certain there is some tax related reason to call it a donation, but if my donation went to the bands or to the cleaning bill for Heartland then I am completely cool with the “donation,” but I felt like I was back in college paying for a red cup after the keg was empty. There were about a dozen people standing around talking, there were free jelly beans (I am a germaphobe so I didn’t eat any), and I did my best not to acknowledge the strangeness of it all but I felt like I was in an episode of Portlandia directed by David Lynch. My daughter and her friend (one of the many nice people who my daughter has met through this whole Seattle music thing) gabbed about stuff while I spent my time trying to figure out the rules for this alternate universe located behind the blue door. There were rules, they were listed on a poster.

IMG_2511

Can I comment on these rules without breaking them? Probably not, so I will leave it at that.

And there was art to examine.

Dog pictures on string, dangled from dead branches...ahh.

Dog pictures on string, dangled from dead branches…ahh.

I spent far too much time trying to figure out the dog pictures. Here is what I discovered: There were pictures of dogs, the pictures were attached to string with black duct tape, the string was attached to branches (which might be significant to a botanist) at the top and bottom of each “artifact,” and after 30 minutes I knew nothing more about the pictures than before. Maybe this “art gallery” was a tax-exempt organization that needed to have some art so they put this stuff up to keep the feds out of their pockets. It is the only explanation that makes sense to me. Finally, about an hour and fifteen minutes after the advertised start time, the opening act (Mr ______ Saltpeter) took to the stage carpet. He gave a very brief and incomprehensible explanation as to why he was there and not the expected band, and then he began to play. There was a song about denting a car and writing a song instead of leaving a note (which is against the law in Washington State, but apparently not in Heartland), and then there was a song about having a short attention span, and there was some nice banter with the audience between songs which was really easy because they were standing right next to him. The banter made the set enjoyable. Mr. Saltpeter thought that his fly might be open because people were laughing, but I think they were laughing at his funny lyrics. His set went for six song because he stated that he had only written six songs and as he started his last song I began to think about art and performance and the need for humans to express themselves. This guy was probably not going to get enough money from this gig to cover the cost of his Big Gulp and parking, but nevertheless he showed up to play to a small group of people who enjoyed his act. There was something satisfying in the emptiness and impermanence of a small man who resembled George Constanza playing songs that no one had ever heard (and would probably never hear again) in a small garage in the U-District. The Yellow Dress was next to take the stage, and by take the stage I mean they walked around the cinderblock and began setting up their stuff on the stage carpet. The Yellow Dress is a band who traveled all the way from San Francisco to play in a garage in the U-District. I know rents are pretty high in the Bay Area so maybe this was a step up for them. They might have been able to only book gigs in single car garages up to this point and Heartland is a two or three car garage, but if I traveled from San Francisco to Seattle to perform, I would have been a bit bummed to see I was performing in a garage, and that is why I am a jerk and the members of The Yellow Dress are better people than me because they were very entertaining. The band was comprised of a drummer, a bass player, a saxophonist, and the lead-singer who played a small guitar which looked even smaller than a small guitar because the lead-singer was a big fellow, if pushed to further describe the lead-singer I would say take John Cleese and put an epic Grizzly Adams beard on him, then give him a little Toys-R-Us guitar and you would have it. The lead-singer (I suppose he has a name, but if you Google search The Yellow Dress you will find lots of opportunities to buy yellow dresses) was a character. He belted out the songs, played with a wildness, and was very funny between songs even though someone had stolen his jacket earlier in the day. He insisted we all partake in eating jelly beans (I passed again), had us singing along to songs we had never heard, and offered sweaty hugs after the set (I passed).

Tangerine then took the stage carpet. Framed photographs like this gem can be purchased for $9.99.

Tangerine then took the stage carpet. Framed photographs like this gem can be purchased for $9.99.

By the time Tangerine got their gear set up and were ready to begin the tiny garage was packed. If the Fire Marshall dropped in I am certain he would have had some concerns, but if Heartland were to burn down it would be a pretty quick fire and everyone could easily escape through the garage door. The problem with the crowd was that they started to get pushy. Usually I can avoid the whole push toward the stage thing by standing in the back and looking creepy, but there wasn’t much space and looking creepy in a garage isn’t as easy as looking creepy in a club because everyone in a garage looks creepy. (Is looking creepy against the rules stated on the poster, or is there a difference between being creepy and looking creepy?)  Anyway, the crowd all pushed forward, held back only by the carpet and cinder block, and then Tangerine started cranking out the tunes. It was loud. At one time in my life I was a big fan of loud, but now that I have a limited amount of hearing left I try to protect it, so when the songs started I felt my ear canal begin to swell as it attempted to protect my damaged tympanic membrane. There was no escape from the loudness of it all, but I will say that Tangerine is really, really good. I think the song writing is wonderful, their sound is  unique and lovely, and they put on a great show. They blazed through a set of six or seven songs and left me wishing they would play a bit more. If you enjoy music and have a chance to see Tangerine, you should do so. Until then check them out on iTunes or on their webpage: http://tangerineband.com/

Sol, Friends, and one old dude at the Showbox

Sol and Friends at the Showbox

Sol and Friends at the Showbox

How does a nearly 50-year-old man end up at monthly hip-hop concerts? Well, I’m not sure. I feel a little like Gregor Samsa at times, it’s like I went to bed one day as a young man and woke up with a two kids and a mortgage.

So on Thanksgiving Eve when the rest of the United States was busy prepping for the big feast I was in a line outside the Showbox in Seattle waiting to see Sol and Friends. The show was sold out and apparently Sol is a big deal in Seattle, I know this because the line outside the Showbox at 6:15 was already snaking around the corner. Our 45-minute wait was a colorful one. The Showbox is located right across the street from the Pike Street Market (Yes, the place they throw fish) and between a strip club and Taboo Video that, thank God, would be open on Thanksgiving Day. The people who “live” in this general area are primarily homeless and have fallen on tough times. So as we stood in line we got to meet some of these folks as they worked the line for spare change. Sol had Tweeted or Facebooked or done something with the internet saying that bringing a non-perishable food item would get you some swag at the merch table. (I believe the previous sentence is correct.) So we brought along some boxes of mac and cheese to give to the food bank. The irony of bringing food for the homeless and then refusing to give money to the members of the homeless was not lost on me and I finally broke and decided to offer to buy some dinner for the next homeless person who asked for change. There was a Pho shop right next to where we stood so when the next guy asked for change I said, “I’ll buy you dinner in there.” He looked at the Pho place and then moved on to the next person in line. Now, I know it is difficult to eat Pho. Is it soup? Is it noodles? Can you pick up the bowl and drink, or do you have to use the big spoon? How exactly does one pronounce Pho? Foe? Fu? Maybe the homeless dude had tried Pho and it had been too hot for him, I don’t know, but I do know that I felt better about myself, and that is the important lesson here.

My warm feeling did not last long because it was about 30 degrees outside and 50% of the people waiting in line were idiots. Okay, that is an exaggeration; there was one pack of college/high school boys acting like morons in line. I know that the marijuana cigarettes have been legalized in Washington State and I know that people enjoy smoking these left-handed cigarettes, but I have a real problem with people assuming that you can just light up whenever and wherever you want. I don’t long for the days of Reefer Madness but I wish these kids could show a little class. The thing that made me grumpy was that one of the kids went over to this homeless guy and danced around a bit (he was not a good dancer) and then offered the guy the tail end of his blunt. I wanted to punch the kid, but that would have messed up his Flock of Seagulls hairdo and his parents (who I assume live in Bellevue) would have sued me for attending a hip-hop concert at an advanced age.

Eventually the line began to move and we were inside the venue pretty rapidly. I took all the jackets and sweaters from my crew and went to the over 21 area. My crew pushed their way to the front of the stage and waited for the show to start. I took all the winter clothing and found a seat for it and then found a spot for myself. This is when I realized I had forgotten my earplugs. I realized this because I could feel a chunk of wax vibrating inside my ear canal. It wasn’t even loud yet and I was already beginning to wonder if I should go to the bathroom and stuff some TP into my ears, but I decided to live la vida loca and just damage my hearing a bit more.

Soon the venue was packed and my seat was pretty good, Dave B was the opening act and through some stroke of luck, I just happened to be sitting next to his sister. She was a very nice young lady and not happy that Dave did not have water backstage. I saved her seat and she got Dave some water and then he began his performance.

Dave B had a lot of energy and got the crowd to put their hands in the air and dance around like they just didn’t care. The big problem with Dave’s performance was his DJ.

Now I am ignorant when it come to what the DJ does exactly, but from my perspective here are the job requirements: push buttons on a computer, turn some records and do some scratching, and know what song comes next. This is probably oversimplifying the job, but Dave B’s DJ seemed to lack one of these skills: knowing what song was next. I am not saying I could do better because: 1. I don’t know any of Dave B’s tunes, 2. I don’t know how to make a computer do anything other than collect the words I type and connect to one of the tubes of the interwebs. But, if I were being paid to DJ an event I would write down the songs we were going to play and then play them in that order.

Since Dave B and his DJ were not on the same song, there were several breaks that kind of killed Dave’s momentum. It was like watching the last three minutes of an NBA game, a little action, a timeout, a little action, another timeout, and then finally Dave B’s set was over. He seemed to take the problems in stride and therefore I decided that Dave B’s parents had done a good job of preparing him for life, it didn’t hurt that his sister seemed like a very nice person also.

The next act up was Sam Lachow and I wasn’t sure what to expect because I knew next to nothing about him, so when a dude in a sleeveless parka came onstage I thought that might be Sam. Sleeveless parka dude had a sax and was standing off on the left side of the stage looking awkward, but then a DJ got behind the turntables and started to play some music. Parka dude was dancing a little bit and I believe he had his eyes closed. Dancing with your eyes closed is a dangerous thing because even though you can’t see anything, people can see you. So unless you are a real dancing machine, I suggest keeping the old eyeballs open. Dancing sleeveless parka dude was not a dancing machine; he was like a seventh grade boy dancing by himself to ABBA’s Greatest Hits. I know that men like me who cannot dance should not toss stones at other men who cannot dance, but if you stand up on a stage and look like you making love to your saxophone while wearing a parka, somebody has to stop you while your pants are still on.

The dancing saxophone playing sleeveless parka dude thing only got stranger as the DJ soon was having technical difficulties and had to retrieve Dave B’s DJ to connect some cables or something, this took a bit longer than it should have and soon the dancing saxophone playing sleeveless parka dude was left onstage with no music playing. You could see that he was wondering what he should do. He had a couple options: stand there like a pine tree in a windstorm, leave the stage, or bust out with some Careless Whisper. Maybe he didn’t know Careless Whisper, but if he had started playing that, the crowd would have gone nuts. Instead he stood there like the last kid to get picked up after little league practice.

Eventually all the wires were connected and it looked like I would finally get to see Sam Lachow in action, the music was bumping, the crowd was fired up, and then the strangest collection of people ever to take the stage at a rap concert took the stage. The sleeveless parka dude was there, a tall guy who looked like he just wandered out of the Cascade mountains after a year-long hike, a lady dressed in a camo jumpsuit wearing a backpack, a dude with a backwards baseball hat, and a guy who looked like he stepped off the set of the 1988 movie Colors. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but let’s just say it was an odd cross-section of people and completely breaks any stereotype an old guy like me might have about what rappers look like.

Sam, the guy in the backwards hat, was really very entertaining and could spit the old rhymes. The crowd was really pumped and the entire place was jumping. It was so loud that the little piece of earwax rattled out of my ear. Sam seems to have quite a following of guys who wear their hats backwards. I am not a fan of the backward hat look. In my opinion the only person to pull it off was Ken Griffey Jr., so unless you are Junior, turn your hat around and let the bill of the hat do its job. I tell people that I have never seen a smart person wearing a hat like that, but there are probably exceptions to this scientific fact.

Overlooking Sam’s fashion faux pas, I must say that his set was really, really entertaining. I not only enjoyed the cornucopia of characters that he invited on to the stage, I also enjoyed his music.

Sam wrapped up his set and the crowd began to prepare for Sol’s appearance. During this time I had a few moments to think about whether Sam’s music was rap or hip-hop, or something completely different. Music is changing and moving in directions that simple labels don’t seem to fit any longer. I don’t really know the difference between rap and hip-hop because I have not seen a scientific mapping of the genres, for all I know they could be in the same Kingdom and Phylum (Biology class has finally paid off with this obscure reference). Anyway, I decided that Sam’s music might be something a little different from other hip-hop I have heard and decided that I would coin the term “Frat Rap™” because that is what it seemed like to me. Maybe it was the backwards hat, maybe it was the sax dude, maybe it was just me since I don’t know what I am talking about.

The stagehands came out, cleared away the opening acts’ stuff and got the stage ready for Sol. DJ Nphared (who spun the vinyl for The Bar when I last saw him) manned the turntables and computer, a drummer hopped up behind a full set of drums, and then some dude who was obviously lost made his way on stage to play electric bass. Now I don’t like to stereotype people (if you have read this far you know this is a lie, but it sounds better if I say this before I write what I am about to write), but the bass player looked like he fell off the cover of a Lynyrd Skynyrd Album from 1975. This guy’s hair was Marsha Brady long and he has probably had more trouble getting into rap venues than any person in the history of mankind. “I’m with the band” isn’t going to cut it when you look like that and are trying to get backstage. Sol later announced that this hippie was his best friend so I should probably assume other people aren’t as narrow-minded as me.

Well, while DJ Nphared pumped up the volume well past 11, Sol snuck around behind the stage to make his surprise entrance. The surprise entrance is easy once you have reached the big-time because you can get one of those elevators to lift you right in the middle of the stage, but when you are at the Showbox you have to get someone with a flashlight to show you where the surprise spot is, and that kind of kills the surprise.

Whether people were surprised or not didn’t matter because once the spotlight hit Sol the crowd lost their minds. Sol did the whole, “Seattle” thing where everyone yells because we are in Seattle and that is what you do when someone on stage yells the city’s name. The band then started playing and the crowd started hopping around and acting like they were spiking volleyballs in unison. It really was pretty exciting. I even moved a little bit while sitting on my barstool.

The highlight of Sol’s set was when nearly every rapper in the greater King County area hopped up on stage to rap about their enjoyment of the wacky weed. (Sir Mixalot was not there, but he should be working on a new version of his big butt song, I could write part of it for him… “I like big bud and I cannot lie.” Okay, the rest is up to you, Sir.) The wacky weed song seemed to bring out the need for everyone in the Showbox with a marijuana cigarette to light up. I felt super old at this point. I am not a prohibitionist, but I also don’t like to breathe in smoke in any form, so I sat on my little bar stool taking mini-breaths like a two-year-old. My body is a temple, a temple for hot dogs, hamburgers, beer, and French fries, not for second-hand smoke.

After the smoke cleared and the various rappers left the stage Sol closed out the evening with a number of songs that the entire crowd at the Showbox knew, well, almost everyone. I have not memorized any of his lyrics, that portion of my brain is already full of 50 years of music. The rest of the crowd was really into the songs though.

Photo Credit: Avi Loud. Sol mobbed by his fans.

Photo Credit: Avi Loud.
Sol mobbed by his fans.

It’s at times like this that I wish the whole world could be infused with the energy of a concert crowd. Music has such a transcendent quality that can draw us together it should be required that world leaders attend a few concerts together. The world would be a better place. From what I gathered Sol thinks so too. He took a few opportunities to talk to the crowd between songs and spoke about his travels and how music has a unique ability to cross cultural boundaries and draw us together. At least that is what I think he was saying.

The evening came to an end with an encore and it wasn’t long before I was being yelled at by the security to get moving and stop standing on the stairs. I realize that if you are a security guy you probably want people to clear out as quickly as possible after the concert is over, but old people like me break hips all the time when trying to move too fast, so take a deep breath buddy and get another neck tattoo.

We gathered the crew back together and I handed back the sweaters and jackets and we made our way to the ferry. As we waited for the 12:45 ferry we all agreed that the concert was awesome and that it was a great way to spend Thanksgiving Eve.

Too Old For Hip-Hop? Father’s Day in Seattle

How did I turn into a Rap/Hip-Hop aficionado? I had kids. Technically my wife had the kids, I just…well I will assume you know how that happened. If not, there are better websites to learn about such things than this one. (If you can’t figure that out I don’t want you procreating anyway.)

My kids have taught me many things over time: how to repair car bumpers with duct tape, how to use YouTube for any type of home repair, and they have introduced me the Seattle Rap scene. I have written several times about Macklemore (who is no longer a Seattle secret) and I have attended a few other Rap concerts because I was a bit paranoid that my kids were going to end up in a knife fight between rival gangs like the Sharks and the Jets, but so far our concerts have all been pretty tame events compared to what I expected. So this year for Father’s Day my daughter decided that it would be great for me to celebrate by taking her and a friend to see  Shelton Harris. Shelton Harris is not a family friend, he is one of the multitude of Seattle rap artists hoping to ride alongside the wave created by Macklemore. So on Sunday, when I traditionally celebrate Father’s Day by  sitting on the couch, watching the US Open and falling asleep, I was on my way to Seattle to attend a rap concert at The Crocodile. The Crocodile is one of Seattle’s most famous clubs and at one time was the center of the universe when Nirvana and Pearl Jam ruled the world with their flannel shirts and unwashed hair.

The month's line-up...also known people I did not know made a living off of music.

The month’s line-up…also known people I did not know made a living off of music.

These days the Crocodile is hosting groups who fall into the categories of “groups that I did not know existed” and Queensryche. The world has many ways of letting you know that your time is numbered here on Planet Earth (gray hair, aches in parts of your body that have previously been unknown, and the sudden discovery that all the bands you would have killed to see in the 1980s are suddenly playing at a local casino) but pop culture has the cruelest way of informing you that the world has moved on and it is time to get rid of your acid-washed jeans.

The Crocodile is in Bell Town (just north of the city center and ferry docks) and so we had a pleasant stroll through the downtown area. It was a lovely day and it was a nice walk. As we got closer to the venue we had what I later described as a Sesame Street moment. Remember the song “One of these things is not like the Other” from Sesame Street? Well, we were walking by four homeless people and three of them fit my stereotype of homeless people but the fourth guy was wearing a Tommy Bahama shirt tucked into his Docker’s shorts and had on Sperry Topsiders. I know Bell Town is a bit of trendy area but it isn’t often I see 50 year-old preppy dudes sitting on the street. This preppy guy was very friendly (drunk) and said, “How’s your day going?” I said it was just dandy and moved on. Ten feet later we walked by a Tattoo parlor and a young lady leaned out the doorway and shouted, “They’re ready for you, Dad.” The preppy/homeless guy got up off the street and said goodbye to his new friends and headed into the shop. What a great way to spend Father’s Day: drunk and getting a tattoo.

About a block later I made a friend myself. We crossed the street and were waiting for the light to change when I was approached by a ginger haired young man who was raising his fist toward me. I wasn’t sure if I was about to be slow-motion assaulted by a drunk leprechaun or what was going on. So I politely asked, “What’s going on here?”  He said, “I’m not sure.” So I gave him a fist bump. When life gives you gifts like that what else can you do but fist bump a drunk leprechaun.

We arrived at the Crocodile about thirty minutes before the venue was scheduled to open so we could stand in a very short line and so I could overhear the knuckleheads in the front of the line talk about how much pot they have smoked over the course of their short lives. Maybe I shouldn’t eavesdrop on people standing in a concert line, but what else is there to do when waiting in a line? That’s right people, when I am not actively doing something I am pulling an NSA and listening in on your most private conversations. As 7PM approached we could hear the music being bumped inside the club and just before 7 Grynch walked by. How did I know it was Grynch? My daughter’s friend yelled out, “Hey it’s Grynch.” At which point I looked for a green guy with a little heart, but instead I saw a dude with a shaved head who looked more like a computer programmer than a Seattle rapper. After the Grynch sighting we were allowed in the venue and I put in my ear plugs. I don’t wear ear plugs because I don’t like the music, I wear them because I value my hearing and some day when I am 80 I want to be able to hear. People do think you are weird when you wear ear plugs to a concert, but I got out of 8th grade a long time ago and I no longer care if people think I look weird.

The Crocodile was a little cleaner than I expected and people were very friendly. One of the bouncers told me that I could

The upstairs bar.

The upstairs bar.

head upstairs where I could get a drink and be able “to see everything” from there. He was either indicating that he knew I was a parent who wanted to make sure to keep an eye on his kid or that there was a mystical realm where all knowledge was stored just 20 feet above the stage. I wasn’t any smarter when I got upstairs and just to prove how dumb I was I ordered a Coke from the bar when there was a Coke machine 10 inches from me.

The next hour was painful, I was able to sit down and sip my Coke, but the DJ was doing everything to make me wish I was watching Phil Mickelson choke away another US Open. First off, I am certain that the DJ was competent at what he was doing, but when the crowd starts checking their email while you are trying to fire up the crowd it is time to come up with a new strategy. Play something that doesn’t cause the crowd to look like commuters waiting for a train (Hanson’s Mmm Bop might work). The music was loud enough to shake my growing adipose layer but that was the only moving my body was even tempted to do. I found myself longing for the days of DJ Gillian from the group Brothers From Another. That guy really confused me, but at least he knew what his job was: get the crowd fired up and wearing clothing so trendy that people my age will make fun of you. The DJ at the Crocodile was wearing a Mariners jersey and standing behind his turntables and computers playing song after song hoping that the crowd would suddenly decide to pay attention.

During the day he models, but at night he becomes...Rapper Mike Champoix.

During the day he models, but at night he becomes…Rapper Mike Champoux.

Finally an Abercrombie and Fitch model took over the stage and the show really got underway. Rapper Mike Champoux came out, grabbed his crotch 12,000 times, and turned the crowd from a disinterested group of blue faced Facebook updaters into a swirling mass of arms being waved in the air. There was only one thing I didn’t like about Mr. Champoux’s performance and that was his video crew recording the performance on an iPad. Of the multitude of ways of recording performances these days, I would put using an iPad right next to using a Super 8 camera. Video crews (even if it is a single person) should be inconspicuous. When you walk around the stage wearing a backpack and carrying a video monitor to record something, you are not inconspicuous.

Anyway, Mr. Champoux put on a good show, I would describe his rapping style as smoothish or flowy, which in my book is good. He had a couple guests come on stage with him: Grynch and a singer who’s name escaped me because I was wearing ear plugs. His set was entertaining and he got bonus points for introducing his parents, thanking them for their support, and wishing his dad a happy Father’s Day.

Kung Foo Grip isn't just for GI Joe anymore.

Kung Foo Grip isn’t just for GI Joe anymore.

Up next was Kung Foo Grip. They were not smoothish or flowy. They were a little more on the loud and yelly spectrum. The two rappers sported some sweet hairdos and I think if they ever want to break into the big time the DJ needs to take one for the team and get a Jheri Curl so the group’s hairdos will span the spectrum, but maybe I am wrong. The crowd did seem to enjoy the performance even though there were a couple times the DJ with the afro wanted the crowd to be quiet and listen to the words. I’m all for spoken word poetry, but I think there are better spots  for that than a Hip-Hop concert. I’m sure there are groups of hipsters with ironic mustaches at some local coffee shop in Bell Town who would love to be quiet and listen to the words, but a group of 150 kids who are attending a concert may not be the best group for “listening to the words.”

Kung Foo Grip finished their set and released their grasp of the stage around 10PM. This is when I began to worry about the ferry system of Washington State. I knew there was a ferry at 11:15 and then one at 12:45. If I didn’t have to be at work at 7:30 in the morning these thoughts would not have entered my mind, but since the DJ spent an hour playing his record collection we were now forced with a decision that no one wants to make: leave during the headlining act, or stay for the whole thing and get home around 3AM. I texted my daughter that if we wanted to catch the 11:15 ferry we would have to leave at 10:50 and then race walk to catch it.

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Shelton Harris is not blue. I am just not a great photographer.

Shelton Harris took the stage at around 10:20 and I could instantly tell why people say he might be the next big performer from Seattle, because he is pretty good at the old rapping thing. He does appear to be pretty young and I could find out how old he is by doing an ounce of research, but I am not going to do that, I will just say that he looked to be somewhere between the ages of 17-22. He has a great stage confidence for someone that young. He pumped up the crowd, joked around a bit, and then gave out great energy while performing. His DJ (Tyler Dopps) had tight beats (I don’t know what that means, but it was said on the drive home so I assume it is true) and his lyrical meter was solid. (I really dislike it when a rapper forces words to fit the meter. Find a better word, or a different word, or stop rapping.)

Unfortunately we had to leave about halfway through Shelton’s set, and it really was unfortunate because the ferry was about 15 minutes late and we could have stayed longer if we had known the ferry was behind schedule. It was also disappointing because I really do think this young man is on his way up. There are always bumps in the road for performers and the best people don’t always have the most success, but Shelton Harris does seem to have that je ne sais quoi that it takes to make it.

Hey, Macklemore, can I come to your Pizza Party?

My son and daughter have grown up in a family of two English teachers so it is not unusual for all of us to talk about fictional characters as if they are real. My children have not suffered because of this phenomenon, but there have been times when it has confused my kids.  The tables have not only turned, the tables have been upturned as my children have gotten older. The world they exist within is not the same world I grew up in, but like any supremely cool parent (sarcasm intended) I have tried to allow them to exist within this alternative universe while doing my best to educate myself about this other place. It is why I have attended my first rap concerts, learned to text message, watched the stupidest television shows ever produced, and kept my fingers crossed that I wasn’t a terrible parent.

This past week I learned a few more things: 1. Each year Seattle rapper Macklemore has a pizza party for his fans, 2. There is always a contest to get into the pizza party, and 3. Columbia City is not a bad place to spend three hours if you have not been invited to Macklemore’s pizza party but your daughter has.

On Tuesday morning, I received an email from my wife (we still like to communicate the old-fashioned way) that informed me that Owour sent a text to my daughter and invited her to Macklemore’s pizza party. I knew who Owour was because my daughter talks about these Seattle rap folks by first name, and I have seen him on television several times jumping around with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis as they played that “funky” music the children love so much.

The invitation was an unexpected and generous act that caught us unprepared. The party started a 6PM and was in an area of Seattle that my wife and I were not familiar with, so that meant I would be going. I get to venture into the unknown because I am taller than my wife and don’t mind getting lost.

We live a bit away from Seattle so it was a dash to make it to Columbia City in time, it didn’t help that the Mariners were having a game downtown, but we made it to the pizza party in time for my daughter and her invited guest to stand in line for a few minutes before being swept in through the VIP entrance. It was a little like taking her to the airport and dropping her off for a three-hour trip to some place fantastic. I know enough about the band to know that she was in a safe place with some great people.

Here is what her evening was like:

The line to get into the world premire pizza party.

The line to get into the world premiere pizza party.

Em, Jon, Ray

My daughter with the director of the Thrift Shop video (Jon Jon), and Ray Dalton.

Shoes

Macklemore’s shoes. I believe those are Ryan Lewis’ shoes to the right.

same love

Macklemore, Mary Lambert and Owour performing Same Love.

While my evening was not as glamorous, I did manage to survive. I ate an entire pizza in about ten minutes. Wandered down to Starbucks and watched some old ladies knit up a storm.

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This is before Charlotte arrived. Once Charlotte showed up some serious knitting went down.

I found a great eyeless gnome.

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My son was afraid of gnomes when he was younger, so I took a picture of this guy and sent it off to my son with this message, “Is this under your bed?”

I ate a small plate of nachos.

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After the pizza, I could not finish the entire plate of nachos.

After the pizza, the coffee at Starbucks, the discovery of the gnome, and the plate of nachos, I still had about an hour to waste. So I wandered aimlessly around the streets until it got dark. I did discover a “Gentleman’s Club” just down the street but decided that even though I am a gentleman, I should probably skip that one. (I did not have my top hat and tails with me.)

My daughter eventually emerged from the party and by all accounts had a great evening. She saw the world premiere of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ new video, met lots of people, witnessed a mini-concert, and most importantly had an experience that she will remember forever.

If there is one thing life has taught me it is that experiences are priceless. My greatest regrets are when I passed up opportunities to do something because it was slightly inconvenient or cost more than I was willing to pay. I look back on those handful of opportunities with the knowledge that the $40 I saved by not seeing Pink Floyd in Auckland was wasted someplace not as memorable, the $75 I didn’t want to spend to rebook my flight to include a Fijian stop-over probably got spent on rice and beans in Spokane, and the chance to drive to LA to see Linton Kwesi Johnson in concert would have made me tired for work on Monday, but it would have created a memory that I still have today. It is those moments I regret, but those are the moments that help to remind me that driving to Seattle on a Tuesday night and getting back late was worth it even if the only thing I got was heartburn and a great big hug from my daughter.

Here’s the new video if you were curious.

Who’s Too Old For A Rap Concert

In my family we like to say, “The more you like music, the more music you like.” I love music and have encouraged my children to love music also. Unfortunately this has caused my children to form their own musical tastes and dabble in rap music. We all know that rap music is the gateway music to anarchy, death, destruction, and the end of mankind. I will admit that I dabbled in rap music when I was younger. I listened to the Beastie BoysA Tribe Called QuestPublic Enemy, and De La Soul; but I didn’t get hooked, I knew better than to try the harder stuff like NWA and Tu Pac. I never wore a hat sideways, bought gold chains, or owned a pair of pants that sagged enough to show off my ass. While friends of mine were learning the lyrics of Cop Killer I took a left turn and immersed myself in reggae. (No, I did not grow dreads, or chant down Babylon.)

My children do like the rap music and apparently there is a vibrant and growing rap scene in Seattle, at least this is what I have been told. So when my children expressed an interest in attending The Physics album drop I was concerned. I am one of those older folks who associate most rap music with misogynistic lyrics and anti-authoritarian attitudes, so I told my children I would chaperone them if they paid for everything: my ticket, the ferry ride, the meals, and all the coffee I could drink. They agreed and that is how I ended up at my first rap concert last Saturday.

Mount Rainer from the ferry.

It was a beautiful day to visit Seattle. The sky was clear and from the ferry the entire Cascade Range was visible from Mount Baker to Mount Rainier. There is no other major city in the US that is as lovely as Seattle on a clear day. This is not an opinion; it is fact.

We arrived in Seattle and headed for Neumos (the club where the concert was to be held) on Capitol Hill. We ate lunch, walked around and looked in the shops, and spent about two hours in Elliot Bay Bookstore. By the time 8PM rolled around I was already tired. I rallied by drinking a couple espresso shots and then went to stand in line for the concert. Most of the people in line were about 12 years old (anyone under 25 looks 12 to me these days.)

Elliot Bay Bookstore, which is no longer near Elliot Bay.

We entered the venue and I set up camp as far away from the stage as possible, my kids went the opposite direction. Neumos has an upstairs for over 21 drunks and a lower section for the kids. It did not take me long to feel old since I was downstairs with the kiddies, but I did my best to put my cool on and stood next to a large fan hoping it would blow the noise away once the concert started.

The kids pretending not to know me.

The first 30 minutes of the show were taken up with various strange looking dudes walking on stage and fiddling with turntables and cables. Most of the AV crew looked like they had just escaped from the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Eventually they connected all the right cords and the speakers began pumping out chest crushing bass thumping sounds that probably killed whales in the Puget Sound.

The first act of the night was Brothers From Another and here is where I admit my ignorance: I don’t really know when the group started playing. The DJ was onstage playing records and trying to get the crowd to “put their hands in the air.” He would prance around for a little bit and then grab the mic and give some instructions like he was an aerobics instructor in a bad outfit. I could not get past his hat. It was a blue camouflage canvas hat shaped like the one Gilligan wore on his island. It is the type of hat that I cannot take seriously. Maybe if you live in a retirement home in Arizona you can wear a hat like that, but if you are between the ages of 8-65 you should not wear a hat like this unless it is a joke. Anyway, Gilligan danced around for about two songs and just as I was about to decide he was Brothers From Another (which would be a great name for a solo act) two other guys jumped onstage and started rapping.

How old did I feel at this point? Pretty old. The two kids rapping were probably born last week and everyone else in the crowd was younger than them. They did their best to rhyme  and put on a show, but I am more of a traditionalist when it comes to poetry. I’d take Keats over Vanilla Ice any day. I am certain that the finer points in meter, scansion, and slant rhyme would be lost on the Brothers, but I will admit I was entertained. At one point one of the brothers had a cousin come onstage to rap a charming tune, “You ain’t gonna drink my drank for free,” or something like that. Now, whether this cousin was in fact a biological cousin or not could not be determined, but he did bring the median age of people on stage into double digits.

Brothers From Another: Short brother, Tall Brother, and Gilligan.

The Brothers finished their set and I thought they did just fine for an opening act. One of the sad things about being an opening act in a smaller club is that when your part of the show is over there is no place to go. So for the rest of the night I saw Gilligan, short brother, and tall brother wandering around like the Israelites looking for the promised land.

Between acts I watched the man with the worst job in the world: the security guy in charge of keeping the alcohol upstairs and the minors downstairs. He had to watch a door, watch the stairs, and check every person passing by for ID. His job only got harder as the night went on. What’s worse than a self-centered 22 year-old girl in a mini-skirt? How about a self-centered 22 year-old girl in a mini-skirt who has had three umbrella drinks.

The second act was set up and ready to roll by about 10PM. These days 10PM is when I set my book down on my bedside table and go nighty-night, but for some reason I wasn’t really tired yet. Maybe it was the espresso, maybe it was because my brain was being concussed by sound waves. Act number two is still a mystery to me. There was one guy named Prometheus (I hope this is his real name and not a stage name), one guy whose name is still unknown, and then there was DJ InfraRed. The name of the group? I don’t know. After the concert my daughter tried to explain the situation to me, but it was like listening to my mom explain how I was related to some person that lives in Florida.

One of the rappers is from the group Blue Scholars and the other two guys were from other groups, so it was either a rap super group or three guys doing rap karaoke.

Rap Super Group?

These guys were good. Now I don’t know what the hell they were saying, but they had great energy, got the crowd going, and put on a show worthy of my attention post 10PM. There was one moment that confused me. Prometheus said he was going to be taking it on the road to Bremerton. Now if you are in Seattle why would you aspire to go to Bremerton? For those of you outside the Northwest I will try to make a comparison. Let’s say you are in New York City doing a rap concert and then for some reason you say, “I’m going be taking this on the road to Rochester.” Maybe I missed something, but heading to Bremerton isn’t really a move in the right direction career-wise, unless you want to get a job in the ship yard. I imagine those jobs pay well and have better hours than rap star.

The rap trio then asked for requests from the crowd, I almost always request Blue Velvet or Just a Gigolo when called upon in situations like this, but I figured DJ InfraRed probably left those albums at home, so I left it up the youngsters in the crowd to shout out requests. One young lady standing near me started yelling, “Rasheeda Jones, Rasheeda Jones…” like she was Biz Markie‘s sister. She kind of looked like Biz Markie too, except in a skirt. Anyway, the group then busted into Rasheeda Jones. Biz Markie’s sister took full credit for the song and would not shut up about it. Act two came to an end and the +21 year olds headed upstairs to get oiled up for the final act of the night: The Physics.

Between sets one of the security guys went to stand in front of the big fan near me and I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but the dude was not bathed in sweet-smelling nectar. No he smelled like hot dogs. If I smelled like hot dogs I would not stand in front of a fan, unless I was trying to entice people into a life of cannibalism. There are two ways to go when smelling like a hot dog: 1. put on a lot of Old Spice, 2. embrace your inner hot dog and rub a cut onion all over your body.

The final act took the stage around 11:15, and when I say took the stage I mean they filled the stage. The stage was not huge but I estimate there are 12,000 people in The Physics. Okay, maybe not 12,000. The number of Physics falls somewhere between MC Hammer‘s stage act and Public Enemy’s (not counting people dressed in military outfits.) To be more exact: two vocalists, two rappers, one DJ, one guy playing a keyboard, and one guy playing a guitar.

Physics and a few fans fill the stage. Annoying texting girl is hiding there somewhere.

The Physics were good. I have even listened to their album Tomorrow People and liked it. The show was going along just fine until they had members of the audience join them onstage to dance around. I kept wondering if the stage could hold all that funkiness. It did, but at the end of the song, when everyone was supposed to head back to the floor, one girl stood on the stage texting while everyone else followed the rules. She just kept texting away as the guitarist tried his best to shoo her away, but she would have none of it. She then interrupted the lead rapper to take a picture. I am not a violent person, but I found myself wishing someone would attack this self-centered moron or at least take her phone and throw it into the crowd where it could be stomped on repeatedly.

The show did go on but we left before it was over. We had to catch the 12:45 ferry back home, so we did not see the end of the show. My children reported a Macklemore sighting, so I assume he hopped on stage with The Physics at some point in the evening, but I cannot report this as fact. I can say that Capitol Hill is still busy at 12:30 in the morning and I did enjoy my first rap concert.

Heading back home on the ferry. The Emerald City is just as lovely at night.
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