Maktub @ The Showbox - 9/17/99
Mogwai @ The Breakroom - 9/14/99
MTV Music Awards - 9/09/99
Ray Brown Trio @ Starbucks Coffee House - 9/23/99
Rustic Overtones @ Stone Coast Brewing Company - 9/04/99
September 17, 1999
[have you read hope's maktub interview in the july issue of earpollution? check it out. --ed.]
The concern was that for a band whose sound was for the most part geared for an intimate space, say like the Sit and Spin or the 700 Club, how would that transpire in a larger venue like the Showbox. The band is Maktub and as the band grows, so does their capacity to fill a room and do a great job creating that energy. It's no wonder that every time someone is introduced to this band that they are usually well-received. New fans are sprouting everywhere; like some panacea for the blues, it's what people need...Tonight was an interesting night. The long-awaited Seattle gig from Maktub since their show over two months ago. Oh it doesn't surprise me that this place is packed tonight. And my concern was that their intimate silky sound couldn't carry; I was mistaken. Goes to show that a group who perfects their musicianship and develops a great rapport within the local scene does pay off. Tonight, the joint was wall-to-wall--though a good mix of folks, the consensus was predominately suburban but the vibe was good.
With a triple bill consisting of Nikol Kollars, Kulture Shock and Maktub, a good time was bound to be had by all undoubtedly. Unfortunately, I missed Kollars who was formerly Strange Voices' chanteuse and can usually be seen regularly at Jambalaya each Friday night at the 700 Club. It was the debut with her new band. I'm sure it was fine with Nikol's sweet pipes along with John Wicks, Elizabeth Pupo-Walker, Kevin Hudson and Steve Scalfati--how can one go wrong? Then there's Kulture Shock, the Seattle-based Balkan rock band (with Brad Houser from Critters Buggin' on bass). Fun, eastern European band, kinda on the klezmer tip but they proved that Seattlites are craving any type of culture, especially one that allows folks to let loose and do Tsamikos. That's all we really need and lots of beer.
By the time Maktub hit the stage, the crowd was geared to hear our very own. With a glow, the band approached the stage and once singer Reggie Watts in a crimson shirt with a much trimmed down afro and a more appointed goatee appeared, the audience loudly greeted the charismatic frontman. Starting off appropriately with "Perfection," the audience grooved and lip-synched along. "It's an honor to be here with all y'all," Watts addressed the crowd, also thanking the opening acts. He's sincere and like the rest of the band, is pretty much a reason for the band's appeal.
Synergy is what these guys have. Watts' vocal prowess with its leanings to Donny Hathaway/Al Green/Phillipe Wynne proved intense as he carried his weight throughout the two hour set. His vocals with the oh-so-delicious keys by Alex Veley and that tight groove that always seems to be in-the-pocket created by bassist Kevin Goldman and drummer Davis Martin, in Zen terms, it's satori. It's that new brand of soul that everyone seems to be craving. The KCMU fave track, the intimate slow jam "Love Me Like Before" went over well with the large crowd. Switching from mike to phone receiver, Watts broke out into the early Maktub material with "Dichotomy" with the crowd singing along with him: "I don't need you anymore!" The high point of the evening was to see the usual nonplussed Seattle crowd hoppin' to "Just Can't Make It." For a band without a guitar player, Maktub's sound is geared for success.
photo by craig young
Alright, first things first: Good booking tastes aside, The Breakroom
fucking bites! An oversold show with a line stretching around the
block, no possibility of getting anywhere within shouting distance of
the bar (unless you're Spiderman), and no ventilation. You ever drink
a cup of coffee black as molasses that leaves a most foul coating
inside your mouth? That's what my body felt like exiting The
Breakroom after the Mogwai show. Secondly: Seattle crowds. You would
think that Mogwai--masters of subtle dynamics--would be the perfect
match for these people, whose routine at shows is to do nothing but
stand and stare at the band onstage. Not the case. The cacophony from
those packed around the bar during Ganger's set was at times louder
than the music onstage.
All that aside, when Mogwai took the stage the multitude of annoyances were immediately quieted by the sheer intensity of their music and presence. The first tour, my first opportunity to see them. I'd always wondered how they'd come across in a live setting. Their albums are deceptive enough that at first you don't realize the need to play them with the volume completely wrapped around to maximum, thinking instead that the band's prowess comes from the quiet intimacy they reveal at first glance. Upon turning up the volume one finds deep canyons of sound that the band nestles their somber music in. The way songs cunningly shift from a hushed immediacy to cannonball pomposity can only be realized in this way. My curiosity for these Scottish lads was further sparked by how they had impressed Earpollution's Steve "He Who Knows Heavy" Weatherholt, who had caught Mogwai at the Roskilde Festival in the summer of '98.
Mogwai did not disappoint. In fact, their live show will leave you wanting more from their recorded works, because in this setting the band's sound truly becomes three dimensional. With enough sub-bass to one-up the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Taiwan, Mogwai pull you in like a storm: songs beginning with the slow billowing of winds, horizon darkening, drops of water falling sporadically, a crack of thunder over the horizon, and then before you can find the safe confines shelter, the band's devilish whirlwind of sound lifts you off your feet and sets your senses reeling. This is not something easily accomplished, something as simple as quiet-loud-quiet. Ganger were proof of that. The music shined, but their attack and delivery lacked the conviction and mastery necessary to make it work, further proof of the well-honed precision of Mogwai. Standouts included...the whole damn show, really! However, the slow march of Dominic Aitchison's bass on "Christmas Steps" left a lasting impression that is still echoing inside my skull.
My gripes regarding the Breakroom notwithstanding, I would have regretted more if I had not the determination to stick around for Mogwai. At times better known for their sneer and attitude (yes, they did come with their "Blur: Are Shite" t-shirts), the band proved with little trouble why they are so deserving of our attention.
MTV Music Awards
John Norris talking to Britney Spears outside the Metropolitan Opera House. Now there's a study in earnest journalism talking with earnest vocal performance. John, breathlessly, says to Britney, "There are so many secrets and surprises in tonight's show."
I, in such an eager attempt to win your love, want to say, "There are so many moments of honest entertainment in the following review." But, seeing how I'm passing off a viewing (several nights later) of a taped broadcast (which, in itself, was also taped) as a live review, I know that you've already discerned me for the cheap media bitch that I am, so there is little chance of my convincing you that the MTV Music Awards were anything other than the death-knell of musical expression that they were.
I've been counting signs of the coming Apocalypse and when I get to 19, I'm leaving town. Here is number 6: A full choir sequing from "O Fortuna" (it's actually from Carmina Burana, kids, and not the default music used on any movie trailer staring Tom, or Keanu, or Mel or used as a marketing tool for some forgotten project called Souls of the Living) to Kid Rock's "Bawitdaba." I put that lengthy parenthetical in there not to mangle my sentence beyond belief, but because I am physically unable to put "O Fortuna" within twenty five words of...you know...that other song. That would imply an equality that will never be met. Well, until the coming of the Apocalypse, at which point the chorus from "O Fortuna" will be blaring out of Kid Rock's car speakers as he runs his tires back and forth across your legs. And you'll still be wondering how it happened.
Chris Rock passed on hosting last year's awards ceremony on the grounds that there wasn't enough good music to talk about. What he was really talking about was good material to work with. One of the more entertaining portions of the broadcast was watching Chris Rock flay anyone he could get his hands on. The only person who showed any life in return was Ricky Martin who, after getting a severe lashing about the need to move on from "la vida loca," won the Best Dance Video for "Livin' La Vida Loca" and proceeded to waggle the award at Rock and say, "Nyah, nyah, nyah." And then he had the humility to actually bring up his choreographer, Tina Landon, and publicly thank her for her contribution. Give the guy credit for knowing who is propping him up.
Y'all can log on to MTV and read who won what. I'm not going to bore you with the count by numbers by which some of the awards fell. One thing you will not see on the MTV site is the stunned silence that greeted the award of Best Direction to the folks responsible for Fatboy Slim's "Praise You." The broadcast director went for reaction shots at the announcement and, when he realized that he didn't have anyone who wasn't sitting there with his/her mouth completely agape, went to a tight shot of the stage and stayed there. Fatboy Slim also won the category of Breakthru Video. In a summer that sees The Blair Witch Project doing $130 million plus, breakthru is obviously synonymous with using a Fry's bought Camcorder and a bunch of yobs pulled off the street. If you've not had your fill of "breakthru" there's a couple of channels running down at the Lusty Lady on 2nd Avenue that will sooth that fixation.
And the live performances? Ah yes, "live." As much as I don't understand the phenomenon of Kid Rock, I (and the rest of the eP staff watching with me) have to credit Kid Rock with the best live performance of the evening. Mixing his material with Run DMC songs, he put forth a creative use of guest stars (Run DMC and Tyler and Perry from Aerosmith) that was actually entertaining. Musically, it was like listening to a piece of melted cheese cooling on the lower rung of your toaster oven, but he brought some much needed energy to the stage.
There's a five-way tie for the Black Hole of A Musical Performance Award. It was a toss up which sucked more energy out of the room: the Nine Inch Nails, Jay-Z, Backstreet Boys, or the 'N Sync and Britney Spears performances. I'm getting a little grief from my eP compatriots for not slagging the Backstreet Boys' performance more but that would be like kicking the crippled kid after you've stolen his crutches and knocked him down the stairs. Trent and Co. went for the title track of his new album, "Fragile," and...never mind. By the time you read this, "Fragile" will have been out for a week and a half and you will have had a chance to form your own opinions as to the color and texture of that...
Rap Definition of a Costume Change: Taking off your coat. Jay-Z brought his whole posse to the show just to get them all up on stage so that they could stand behind him and wave their hands in the air. I can catch that at any street corner in Seattle, watching people try to catch the attention of Metro bus drivers. Remind me again why you bother putting on a live show if your act is no better than a backyard get-together of you and your boyz?
Definitions of Presence: David Bowie's arrival. Followed by his voice. Jenn about collapsed on the couch next to me. Runner up: Johnny Depp. He shows up, says the name of the live act he is introducing, and then disappears again. All the while looking like he's more than ready to step into Bowie's shoes when the Glam God decides to pull a deus otiosus.
Best Way to Cause a Riot at Home: Not fast-forwarding through the Ricky Martin ballad. I about got killed.
Best Slap in the Face: Will Smith on winning the award for Best Male Video. "Nobody got killed in my video ["Miami"], there was no foul language, and I'm still winning."
Best Call to Arms: Adam Horowitz during the acceptance speech for the Beastie Boys win for Best Hip-Hop Video (after the irony cleared). Putting the onus on the artists and the promoters to prevent the rape and abuse of women and girls which happened at Woodstock '99 from happening again. Amen.
Most Overlooked Celebrity: Neil Armstrong. If he hadn't bothered to walk on the moon, none of those silver Moonman awards would exist. It would have been nice if someone bothered to mention that they were holding a tribute to a figure with real historical import.
Rhythmless Nation Award: Britney Spears. For the obvious knee-flapping, elbow-flailing reasons.
As the fact that these were the last awards to be given out in this century kept getting drummed into our heads, I couldn't help but think that maybe it was time that these were the last awards period. Give us a fresh start in 2000, MTV. Let us turn off the sets and find our own music. Let the kids find their own heroes and models and objects of desire. Let music be found by those who want it. The rest won't miss it. The rest only watch for nostalgia's sake anyway.
Hey gang, this is the best popular music had to offer last year. It is time to stop letting them get your attention and tell you what you should listen to. It is time to take your ears in your own hands. Neil Armstrong blazed his own trail and now he's a symbol of what corporate America thinks you should listen to. Let's take Neil back as our own. Go forth, be brave listeners, and let next year's award show play to empty houses.
[With stellar assistance from Fly Boy Jeff Ashley, My Man Cecil B, and Stevie Ramone's better half, Lovely Lawyer Lady Jenn.]
Ray Brown Trio
Starbucks Coffee House
September 23, 1999
After an evening of the Ray Brown Trio, I turned to Hope Lopez and
asked if she wanted to do this review. She gave me an "are you out of
your mind?" glance and summed up in her delightfully succinct and
understated way, "It was a treat." I, on the other hand, subsist on a
diet of overstated, hyperbolic dialogue and can only hope of getting
some sleep after I detail how extreme a Scooby snack such a night as
Ray Brown (for those who know, you can skip this sentence altogether; for the rest of us--including myself--who are ignorant cusses to the world of jazz music, here's the twenty-five words you need to know) name drops when talking about the songs which he played and he does it not because he's seeking our adulation, but because these people--these other jazz luminaries--are friends, fellow musicians whom he has known for over fifty years. There is an indelible chill which steals over you as he talks about the past, as he gives a sense of history to these songs; a chill of anticipation which makes you stop breathing as you wait for that first phrase after the count off. And the anticipation never overshadows the reality as the trio effortlessly puts such a snapping, crackling pop into their music that the modest request at the beginning of the evening for "enthusiastic participation" is met with a paw-numbing, jaw-dropping response.
Ray and the latest incarnation of the trio, Karriem Riggins on drums and Geoff Keezer on piano, were tucked away at a non-descript Starbucks location in order to do a live recording for Telarc (to be released next spring) utilizing new technology which would attempt to replicate the human listening environment. When you pop this disc in your player next spring, what you hear will be an almost complete replication of what was played that night for the intimate group. The second of two nights of recording, the two sets moved from bossa nova bop to straight-up big band arrangements to mournful ballads. Ray's hands across the finger board of his bass were the supple ministrations of years of contact--an extension of the rhythms and melodies spilling from his lips and heart. You come to understand the phrase "tickling the ivories" when you hear Geoff make the piano laugh and weep and soar. Karriem had a fluid elasticity over the kit, such sound and rhythm rising from his quiet form.
After steaming through a number of old musical friends and taking some time to highlight the virtuosity of his younger compatriots, Ray looked out to the audience and said that their last piece was going to be a jam, a little something whipped up on the spot--the "Starbucks Blues" as he called it. And then, our heads still reeling from the displays of Geoff and Karriem, he proceeded to demonstrate that 70 years isn't enough to slow him down.
When they played trombonist J. J. Johnston's "Lament," I watched the crowd. The ripple was a wave which rolled out from the stage and touched everyone. Brows tightened, faces relaxed, eyes closed, tiny smiles crept into the corners of mouths. No one escaped. In a single moment, you are witness to the changes which are wrought by the passage of Ray's music. A treat? Yes. An epiphany of musical expression? Most definitely.
Stone Coast Brewing Company
September 4, 1999
It's Saturday night and my (Jenn's) Brother, Tim, is taking us out
for a local treat at Stone Coast. We are here checking out one of the
opposite corners of the country. Portland, Maine is quite a cool
place. It is in a beautiful environment, has hip restaurants, brew
pubs and coffee shops and has "wicked" good lobsta'! The casual homey
feel of this beautiful town makes me think that Seattle must have
been quite similar about 30 years ago (aside from the architecture,
statue of Longfellow, and the notable absence of totem poles). Steve
is recovering from the fact that yesterday we missed The Hellacopters
in Boston, MA. And we both are still recovering from the numerous
mosquito bites welting up on our bodies. Rule number one in
Maine--never go on a bike ride through the woods without bathing in
bug repellant. A few brews at the Stone Coast, and I think we are all
forgetting our bites and feeling quite good.
The Stone Coast is a brewery that caters to all. Downstairs it harbors a nice old-style wood bar, is clean and serves dinner. I had been there before in a drunken stupor a few years ago on the eve of Tim and Cynthia's wedding having a conversation in German with my other Brother, Chris. We were hammered. But tonight we are upstairs where it is smoky, and they have several pool tables and games, a more abused basic bar and a band area. Wafting through the air is the ever-present smell of shitty popcorn, churned out by the bucket-load from a carnival-type machine. It is free, and after a few beers tastes pretty damn good!
We are here to see the Rustic Overtones, who are a local favorite. The warmup band is the Leaf Jumpers from Hartford, Connecticut, specializing in "home-grown groove-rock." They jam quite well and create a very danceable groove that sounds like it has influences of Thin Lizzy with Phish, the Eagles, and the Cars. I would say "groove-rock" definitely fits the bill, even though they ended with a little shit-kicker. These Leaf Jumpers are a little green, but they seem like personable guys, and the bass player is really cool.
The Rustic Overtones are on next. We continue to sip more fine beer and I am in a good space and in a happily tipsy state. We have lost Steve in the crowd. The RO's opened up with a great cover of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer." They have a very tight 3-piece horn section comprising alto and tenor sax and a trombone. They also have the requisite bass, guitar, drums, and a rockin' keyboard player who really rounds out the band. I kept trying to place them but really couldn't--definitely strong Rhythm & Bluesy, with some elements of Ska, Eighties keyboards, and some Nineties grind and crunch--perhaps a bit of the Ohio Players? Huey Lewis? Rancid? The Crazy 8's? The lead singer, Dave Gutter (a.k.a Keanu Reeves' delinquent brother), is very energetic and charismatic and really gets the home crowd going--a definite local favorite with the college crowd. As Steve wrote--college radio friendly, "a sweet night out with your girl." The crowd was dancing and singing to the tunes (many of which were off their last CD, Rooms by the Hour). My bro Tim and I were dancing, too--the RO's just sort of get your feet movin'. They closed with cover of Huey Lewis and the News' "New Drug." In my book, resurrecting any Huey Lewis tune is risky at best, but the RO's exhumed Huey's best song written and played a great cover of it--far better than old Huey could ever have. Live, the Rustic Overtones have great energy--in fact, as with many bands, much of their live energy is unfortunately not captured on their CD. These guys are definitely worth checking out live, and we hope to see them out West sometime soon.
-Jennifer Johnson / -Steve Weatherholt