For two cool, clear nights last weekend I wandered downtown Ballard, visiting storied music venues. On display were a number of Pacific Northwest artists performing at Freakout Records’ 2017 Freakout Festival.
This was the festival’s fifth year and, based on the talent, venue participation and audience response, you should expect it to be around for years to come.
Although there were a LOT of bands with the “it” factor performing, there were three that really stood out. Check out the NadaMucho reviews by Graham Isaac and Gemma Alexander for comprehensive coverage, but catch these three when you get the chance. They are all CRAZY good. It was only afterwards that I learned they were all from the Portland area. (It makes you wonder if Seattle needs Portland more than Portland needs Seattle?)
Blackwater Holy Light
When Blackwater Holy Light (BHL) kicked off the festival, the crowd at the Tractor Tavern immediately moved to the front of the stage. This four-piece, all-female band delivered an ultra-cool style of psych/stoner/doom rock that is haunting and menacing.
Delivering ethereal vocal harmonies supported by a consistently pulsating bass drum, BHL turned the Tractor into a cathedral hall of sound. If sludge pop is a genre, then this band’s on the poster.
It’s hard to tell if they’re new or just don’t give a rip, but you’ll find it a chore to track them down online. All I could find was an empty Soundcloud account. Hopefully that changes soon.
Bombay Beach played on the smaller (but equally popular) Conor Byrne stage. A three-piece that paired simplistic beats with layered genres, they delivered a mesmerizing performance that kept heads nodding throughout their set.
Bombay Beach has created a unique and engaging style, one that somehow contains fuzz/rock/surf/punk/pop/garage elements without diluting any one of them. Matt Zimmerman (vocals/bass), Chris Benson (drums) and Ryan Lynch (guitar) played wave after wave of ill-mannered and energetic songs. If you like bands that beat the crap out of music theory in dirty alleyways and sound good doing it, this one fits the bill.
Listen to Bombay Beach on BandCamp
Kelli Schaefer is an absolute trip. Let me just get that out of the way. Sporting a denim trench coach and backlined by some phenomenal musicians (Jeremiah Hayden on drums, Courtney Sheedy on bass, Elly Swope and Ryan Lynch on guitar), Kelli immediately sets you on edge with a controlled vocal style and two distinct personas on stage. Watching her perform is like watching a suspense movie that doesn’t climax. Your heart rate increases, breathing shortens and attention becomes wrapped in a straitjacket.
Much of this magnetism is due to Kelli’s imaginative hand movements and awkward body angles, but it’s her impressively dynamic vocal range that creates evangelists. It’s cruel and authoritarian one moment, charming and forgiving the next. She easily sings difficult melodies but also has the stamina to flawlessly extend notes.
Seeing Kelli Schaefer perform is an experience. I’ll gladly be bringing more friends along that next time she travels through Seattle.
Listen to Kelli Schaefer on BandCamp
The bottom line is that Freakout Records and their cohorts at Artist Home, Conor Byrne, Hattie’s Hat, KEXP, Killroom Records, the Sunset, Treefort Music Festival and the Tractor Tavern provided and excellent atmosphere to see emerging Seattle acts and discover new ones from throughout the Northwest. I’m looking forward to next year.