By Andy Bookwalter
The guy who designed the Ballard Blocks “retail and commerce center” in one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods wanted to draw a big rectangle with a Trader Joe’s crammed inside it but Edith Macefield didn’t want to move, and NO ONE wins a game of real estate chicken with an 80 year old woman. So Edith Macefield passed up a cool million for her long-time Seattle residence and the house stayed. (Although, the spite walls that surrounded it on three sides probably didn’t extend her life any.)
Not that I’m bitter. Without Edith Macefield’s independent spirit there would be no Macefield Music Festival and I wouldn’t have seen the Sonics on a beautiful fall evening in the Hattie’s Hat parking lot. Hell, I didn’t even know Hattie’s had a parking lot.
Here are my highlights from the two-day festival (which shares Edith’s independent spirit through it’s diverse mix of local talent and keen use of local clubs and businesses) in more or less chronological order.
Full disclosure: I’ve known Boss Martians’ front man Evan Foster since high school, maybe even junior high. (OK, I’ve known of Evan since then. We weren’t close.) How a guy from Issaquah in the 80’s ends up touring the world playing surf and garage rock I have no idea, but apparently somewhere in there Evan got pretty cool.
The portion of the Boss Martians’ set I caught on Friday night leaned heavily towards the reverb-soaked surf guitar sound they’ve made their own over the last 20 years or so. They were joined towards the end of their set by Freddie Dennis, formerly of the Kingsmen and currently the bassist for the the Sonics, for “Rockin’ The Joint.”
The Sonics! The Freakin’ Sonics! Holy Crap, the Freakin’ Sonics!
Three things Andy loves: local history, specifically NW music history; punk rock, and the roots of punk; and a happy story. The Sonics combine all three in a way that just plain makes me smile.
First, the history. The Sonics scared the hell out of the squares in the early 60’s and, unlike a lot of early rock and roll that supposedly sent the adults running for cover, these Tacoma, Washington residents’ sound still feels dangerous 50 years later. (Seriously, listen to “The Witch” real loud and think of a world without Mudhoney, the Cramps or the Dead Boys.)
After about 40 years of speculation, half-hearted reunion attempts and a terrible lounge act called “Jim Brady and the Sonics,” most of the original band reunited in 2007 and have been happily padding their retirement accounts and flying all over the world collecting the accolades they’ve always deserved. Original guys Gerry Roslie, Larry Parypa and Rob Lind have been joined by the previously mentioned former Kingsman Freddie Dennis, as well as Dusty Watson, who has played with Boss Martians, Agent Orange, Dick Dale’s Del Tones and Lita Ford (!)
Along with roaring through the classics (“Strychnine”, “The Witch”, “Psycho”, “Have Love Will Travel”) they played a bunch of songs from their soon-to-be-released new album. A touchy moment, to be sure; if the Sonics legacy shouldn’t be tampered with, is it blasphemy when they do it themselves? Fear not, the new stuff works. The formula is simple enough that as long as you don’t add a bunch of crap (again: see Jim Brady and the Sonics) you’ll be fine.
Right after Tacos! finished their first song at the newly redone Sunset Tavern I heard something I can’t remember hearing in a long time: about a second of stunned silence before the clapping and hooting started.
It was kind of a stunning performance. Lupe Flores assaults the drums like they’re going to kill her if she doesn’t beat them to death first. DO NOT ANGER LUPE FLORES. Don Stewart fills out the sound with a Gibson Explorer and allegedly songs about tacos, although I’m skeptical about that part since none of the song titles on their bandcamp page seem to be about tacos. No matter. The wall of awesomeness almost unwillingly drove me out the front door of the bar.
The first time I saw this Seattle band was last year at the Skylark Café’s annual Halloween tribute night, Come As You Aren’t. Gibraltar chose Lou Reed, and I assume set themselves to learning some Lou Reed songs. About four days before the show – a lighthearted tribute to a bunch of bands’ favorite bands – LOU REED DIED. Jeez, what a minefield that could have been. The world without Lou Reed wasn’t looking all that great, but Aaron Starkey put on the eye shadow and the lipstick and Gibraltar absolutely owned it. I don’t remember who won the coveted “golden cowbell,” but Gibraltar showed up and played some damn fine music.
At Conor Byrne Pub last Saturday they didn’t have any emotional time bombs to defuse (I don’t think so, anyway), but they played a fantastic set of power pop anyway. I like just about any band that doesn’t hold anything back, and Gibraltar consistently rides a wave of noise and energy that sounds like the whole thing would come crashing down if they pushed any harder.
If Gibraltar is here to help us get over Lou Reed, Stag exists to channel Big Star and Shoes. This is a great, great live band, with roots in such institutions as Alcohol Funnycar (guitarist Ben London), That Petrol Emotion (lead singer Steve Mack), Red Jacket Mine (drummer Lincoln Barr) and Nordstrom department stores (bassist Pete Nordstrom/Everett).
Stag played a too-short set (too short because I got there late) of tight harmonies and guitar driven power pop. Plus at the end they gave out CD’s! (Or maybe I stole one? I swear there was no one to take my money and Tacos! was about to start.)
With so much packed in to two days I also managed to also catch good sets from Young Evils, Chicken Slacks, Boat, The Posies and NighTraiN and was bummed I didn’t get to see these bands, even though I planned to: Billy Dwayne and the Creepers, the Derelicts and Full Toilet.