Tag: Concert Review

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.

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.


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