Ball of Wax Volume 45 Release Show
Sept. 2, 2016 @ The Sunset
By Jon Rooney
In early September, far from the throngs at Bumbershoot, the Sunset Tavern hosted a show for two of Seattle’s most under-appreciated musical institutions: Levi Fuller’s Ball of Wax Quarterly and Sam Russell and the Harborrats.
This was the release show for Volume 45 of Ball of Wax Quarterly (that’s right – 11+ years of largely obscure, largely local music personally curated by Fuller), which features songs clocking in at 90-seconds or less. Russell and his Harborrats celebrated the tenth anniversary of their first album The Katie Sermon by performing it in its entirety with a host of guest musicians.
Unfortunately I missed the mysterious, online presence-less Luminous Craft and rising local singer songwriter Natalie Quist who started things off, but both contributed great little pieces to Volume 45 and I’ve seen Quist perform on other occasions so I can vouch for her fine song craft.
Veteran local songwriter and longtime Ball of Wax contributor Seth Howard led his melodic indie rock trio through a brief, satisfying set. With Howard explaining how his young son contributed to the song he wrote and recorded for Volume 45, this was affable, well-crafted dad rock of the highest order. The trio was in fine form, but the bearded bass player’s falsetto backing vocals proved to be their secret weapon.
Next Portland’s Terwillinger Curves brought their off-kilter, proggy psych sound to the Sunset stage. The band was a tad heavy and unconventional, sporting a floor full of effects pedals and a batch of songs marked by raucous absurdism. Their style was hard to pin down, evoking bands as varied as Lilys, Captain Beefheart, and the Damned. The bass player did double duty on a theremin – squeezing out sounds from this atomic age oddity of an instrument with both the headstock of his bass and his face. I’ve never seen anyone play a theremin with their face before, but necessity, invention and all.
Ball of Wax founder and main brain Levi Fuller took the stage next with his backing band, the Library, for a satisfying, rousing set of originals spanning his recent couple of releases. The Library’s heavy rumble transforms Fuller’s meditative folk material into a more ragged rock experience, which hit the right note at this point in the show.
Seattle’s hedonistic moralists the Foghorns closed out the Ball of Wax portion of the evening, blurring into the Sam Russell and the Harborrats set with Russell joining the band onstage for a few songs. The Foghorns extract the wisdom, bile, and self-loathing from the well-worn body of Americana music, leaving behind the bearded, campfire posturing and Wilco chord charts for lesser artists to tinker on. As far as bands building a body of both worthwhile songs and compelling live performances, they are without peers in this town (or many others).
By the time the Harborrats hit the stage, the room had swelled a bit with anxious revelers. The band had brought both past members and main Foghorn Bart Cameron on stage to start the set, creating a drunken reunion atmosphere. After a couple of intro songs to get thing going, the band launched into “Blue Eyeshadow,” the opening track on The Katie Sermon, and never looked back.
Russell is a real rarity in any music scene: a genuine, captivating performer who’s part preacher, part timeless rock and roller who always seems to generate genuine electricity on stage. He’s a performer in an anachronistic sense, like he somehow took pointers from Little Richard, Elvis Presley and pre-Born to Run Springsteen without picking up any mumbling, shoe-gazing habits from the bands seemingly everyone else decided to idolize. He’s a refreshing original in this town who’s, somehow, already a star – the rest of us just haven’t figured it out yet.
The release show for Ball of Wax 46 is Friday, Dec. 2 at Conor Byrne and features The Foghorns / Modern Relics / Robert Deeble / Amanda Winterhalter / Boring Ghost / Moon Baillie (Pampa).