Live Reviews: Orgone, Black Mountain, MGMT, Yeasayer & Howlin’ Rain

This week, we have two reviews, both from Seattle and both featuring bands who also performed in KEXP’s studio. Be sure to check the 14-day Streaming Archive while there’s still time or check back at our page of Live Performances to stream them in the not too distant future.

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Killion It: Gettin’ Funky in Fremont — Orgone, Nectar Lounge 1/29/08

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review by Ben Guerechit
photos by Lydia Goolia

Nectar Lounge in Fremont was going off on Tuesday night. California funksters Orgone had Seattle shakin’ their groove thangs all over the dance floor thanks to a little love from KEXP, where they performed an in-studio earlier that day, and some stellar booking from Colin Johnson.

Nectar’s balcony provided a key vantage point to witness the first of the night’s double shot of funk and soul: local act Kissing Potion. The female dominated group fronted by vocalist Joy Davenport, who introduced the set by saying, “We hope you get your groove on,” did in fact groove up atmosphere and prep the emerging crowd as it rolled in.

Minus a hiccup or two when diving into a few songs, the ladies (and two lads) seemed a perfect opener for Orgone. Fiery horns, a head-bobbing rhythm section and some fancy Hendrix imitations from guest guitarist Jabrille Williams kept the crowd occupied, covering “Sex Machine,” Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright,” and a KP original, “Get On The Bus.” Davenport had the crowd chanting “Shit, Goddamn, Get off your ass and jam!” on the last Kissing Potion number of the night, setting the stage for Orgone.

A skinny unnamed DJ, who amusingly resembled Todd Louiso (Dick from High Fidelity) [editor’s note: that’s DJ TJ Gorton] kept the crowd, and himself for that matter, boogieing while instruments were swapped on stage, leaving the audience just time enough to step to the bar for another fine concoction from the tenders at Nectar.

Stepping to the stage for the first of two enormous sets were Sergio Rios (guitar), Dan Hastie (keys), Sean O’Shea (drums), Ethan Phillip (bass), and Stewart Killen (hand drums and all things percussion), who warmed up the masses with a Starsky and Hutch flavored tune. The dance floor started to heat up as Nectar personnel rolled up the large garage door to let in some refreshing cool air to the joint while cheers echoed in the streets.

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Rios and Hastie sounded like an unlikely but killer combo of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimmy Smith for the second song of the set, and Rios’ wood grain telecaster transitioned the band right into the next song. Meanwhile, fro’d out Devin Williams (trumpet) and cowboy Darren Cardoza (trombone) snuck to the back of the stage. The ensuing precision of their horns and a fascinating solo from Williams further hyped the crowd.

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“Sophisticated Honky” and its Texas flavored guitar sound was a ripping number, prompting me to move down to the dance floor for a closer look. Killen was sporting a hat and sound reminiscent of percussion legend Idris Muhamad from the cover of 1974’s Power of Soul.

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Soon enough Triple F, or the Fabulous Fanny Franklin, joined the band for some classy yet edgy renditions of “Who Knows Who,” “Said and Done,” and “Do Your Thing” from acclaimed 2007 release Killion Floor.

By this time there wasn’t a soul in the place who didn’t have at least a few appendages writhing and twisting to the music. Orgone’s muddy interpretation of the classic “Funky Nassau” opened up for Killen to lay it all out on the congas with tremendous ferocity. He was really going for it and the crowd was eating it up.

Ending a serious set of rhythm and blues Franklin said “Another one off the new album, then we’re gonna take a pause for the cause,” before jumping into “It’s What You Do.”

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Between sets, several attendees wiggling around in front of the stage held good ol’ KEXP as the primer of their new found love for Orgone. “These guys are amazing. First heard them on KEXP a while back,” said one booty shaker named John. On stage, Franklin also thanked the station for help with promotion at the close of the eve. However, seeing DJ Michele, Larry Metro and blogmaster Jim Beckmann amongst the turnout was a simple sign of the stimulation Orgone has set off for many KEXP staffers and volunteers.

The second set was a blur of soloing, sweating and a boat full of the funky funky blues — such a blur in fact, that “A WOT” is the only song this writer can remember from the four song closer. Franklin was sounding like a traditional Mississippi blues queen, while the band held a solid groove that ripped and romped everyone till just after quarter passed midnight. It was night to remember and should be counted among the best shows this town has seen this year so far.

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A Blast from the (New) Past — Black Mountain, Yeasayer, MGMT & Howlin’ Rain Neumo’s 1/31/08

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review by Eric Mahollitz
photos by Hilary Harris
(Yeasayer by Shannon Sauter)

Anyone with an itch for classic and psychedelic rock, in all its historic and modern guises, had it scratched Thursday night at Neumos. The four-band bill — something normally containing a hybrid of local and national acts — consisted instead of bands that all currently have big buzz at their backs. As was expected, the event attracted a sold-out audience that arrived early in order to rock all night. And from the 20-somethings to the 50-somethings, rock out they did.

Unfortunately for opening bands on such nights, the sets run pretty short. This was the case for Oakland’s Howlin’ Rain, a band I nearly missed entirely after waiting to get inside the venue. Fronted by Ethan Miller (guitar/vocals), also of Comets On Fire, Howlin’ Rain provided a couple of fire starters full of groovy organ and raw guitar work that smacked of Creedence Clearwater Revival and reminded me of early Black Crowes. The crowd had only begun to pack in as their set finished, but they accomplished in a few songs what some bands need multiple encores to translate. Look out for their new one, Magnificent Fiend, out 3/4.

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While Howlin’ Rain modernized their take on classic psychedelic rock with noise ala Miller’s Comets On Fire project, following their set the evening went in a more modern, more experimental direction. As the band’s handled the setting up and taking down of all their own equipment in rapid succession, the audience filled the main floor and balcony to get a glimpse of MGMT, the young band responsible for all the Sony reps in attendance. Instead of getting right into it with a known crowd pleaser, Andrew Vanwyngarden and company opened their set with the b-side Metanoia, the same song they chose to begin their performance in the KEXP studio earlier that day. Regardless, the floorboards rattled, the bass player’s strap caved under the fury and the audience made their appreciation of the largely unknown track heard. And a good way to follow up a b-side is with a beloved track like Handshake, performed with prolonged choruses, reverberating vocals and a spacey jam freakout that caused all but the band to go berserk. After delivering album standouts Time to Pretend and Weekend Wars with acute precision, Vanwyngarden issued the band’s first non-musical address to the crowd — in a few hours he would turn 25. No better way to celebrate youth and success than with a little disco. Ambiance provided by the drummer’s whistling and some slight guitar droning burst into the bread and butter of the MGMT set, a dazzling rendition of Electric Feel. A couple more songs capped off what I can only imagine will have a few hundred more listeners spreading the word about MGMT.

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Blog darlings, Yeasayer, the night’s big draw, took to the stage for the second time in the last two months, appearing most recently at the KEXP Yule Benefit in December. If their previous performance at the Showbox to some seemed a bit lackluster or uninspired for a band of Yeasayer’s caliber, this one proved them worthy of the hype. Immediately apparent was the band’s stage presence. Frontman Chris Keating, when not tweaking the keyboards, spasmed around the stage while delivering his lyrics with conviction and an unforced emotion rarely found among singers. Guitarist Anand Wilder appeared masked under a large hoodie, likewise twiddling knobs between surf- and Middle Eastern-guitar riffs. Luke Fasano, whose drumming factors prominently in their album mix, was spot on. Programmed beats got the grooves going and primed the audience just before the band broke into one of their many well known tracks. The pinnacle of the performance came during 2080, a track that has practically been abused by radio and remixing. Slow burning interludes maintained tension as head nodders turned to their neighbors, marveling at what they witnessed. Keating remarked that Yeasayer is always happy to come back to Seattle, except when they call us New Age (referring to some recent local reference). Almost to spite the label, their next song highlighted Dark Side of the Moon psychedelia and minimalism before playing a club-ier version of Sunrise with tons of layered vocal repetition, another one of their many strengths. It was a performance strong enough to overcome any misgivings following the December show and welcome anticipation for their swift return.

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Black Mountain took mere seconds to prove a great bookend to the evening, sharing the same affinities as Howlin’ Rain for a purer rock ‘n’ roll, but transformed by the heavy prominence of Amber Webber’s vocals in Black Mountain’s new material. Her other-worldly warble easily conjured visions of Grace Slick’s early days with The Great Society and Jefferson Airplane, while her modesty allowed her to dissolve into the whole band. Black Mountain’s set dynamics, exercised with clarity and control, held the somewhat dwindling (post-Yeasayer) audience in check. Unlike the full-on sonic assaults of the previous bands, Black Mountain allowed listeners to come up for air only to rouse them once again with boisterous organ jams and drumming that pulsed from the back of the stage to the other end of the room. In an era when it often takes a reunion tour to create such a sound, it’s promising to see torch bearers with such gusto. Those who remained to the very end were duly rewarded with a lengthy set typical of Black Mountain, a set spanning their catalog and palette.

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