review by Noah Sanders
After nearly four months of pretty consistent weekend festivals (Bumbershoot, Block Party, Decibel, etc.), I’ve reached the spot I’m always at this time of year: completely and totally burnt out. I’m done with lines and port-a-potties and overpriced alcohol and short sets and poor sound and so on and so on and so on. With that said, I couldn’t have been more excited to venture down in to the mean streets of Ballard last weekend for Seattle Weekly‘s annual REVERBfest, a celebration of the absolutely fantastic local music scene we have here in the Emerald City.
You see, REVERBfest doesn’t face nearly the same amount of crippling problems as the other big fests in our city. Due to the size of the acts, and I’m not saying this in a negative way, ticket prices can be kept low, the various venues are bars and assorted meeting halls thus food and beer is kept manageable and bathrooms abundant, and, best of all, the Seattle music scene is truly a loving and supporting one. The Seattle Weekly draws together a fairly diverse, if not rock heavy collection of bands, and entering the fest I could argue that I’d actually heard the music of only a handful. That’s not to say the buzz off many of these up-and-comers hadn’t hit me, but I just hadn’t had the time to tune in to what they were putting out.
Thus, with a pencil-scrawled scrap of pastry bag as my schedule, I set out to see just what I might’ve been missing in terms of this big, beautiful city’s always shifting musical identity. Before I get on to the bands, I’d like to mention that it was a healthy dose of music I absorbed in a short period of time on Saturday, and there was a lot of bands I wanted to see, so I wasn’t always able to catch full sets. I’ll denote each act with the amount of their sets I was able to see and keep my thoughts concise as well.
Hazelwood Motel (full set)
I got down to a windblown Ballard Avenue pretty much at the very start of the festival so I could catch Hazelwood Motel, a trio, for sake of full disclosure, that friend of mine manages. Honestly, I was a bit worried that I’d be peppering our after-set conversation with empty hyperbole (“Oh my god, that’s totally the next Radiohead!”), as the only thing I knew about the band was that Mark Pickerel’s sister Megan, played keys and sang in it. To my happy surprise I was one hundred percent impressed with this trio. This was typical, strong, soft indie rock, built around the high quality harmonization of Pickerel and lead-singer Ed Vierda. They moved quickly and strongly between slower more melodic pieces and a few nicely amped up louder joints, but no matter what, the two singer’s voices melded nicely with each other’s and with the amazing keyboard sound Pickerel was jimmying out of her keys. My only worry about this threesome was that Pickerel and Vierda’s voices were not nearly as strong solo, and whenever Vierda ventured off on his own, I found myself waiting eagerly for Pickerel to get back in to the game.
Nonetheless, it was a strong start to the festival.
Arbitron (three songs)
I pretty much ran to see Husbands, Love Your Wives as I thought I was late, but I turned out to be nearly an hour early and just in time to catch the last throw noise explosions from pedal-heavy duo Arbitron. This was loud, facial skin shakingly loud, noise-rock, but the bouncy bass managed to create a pretty clear line of harmony that the lead singer was able to fiddle with, turn and twist his many layers of sonic distortion around. If anything, these guys were one hundred percent into it, as the lead singer’s guitar was spattered with blood, and I heard Jamie of Husbands, Love Your Wives point at a stain on the ground ask, “Is that blood?” I’m probably not going to run out to the store to pick up Arbitron’s assumed album, but I was certainly entertained for the brief time I saw them.
Husbands, Love Your Wives (five songs)
This was the biggest disappointment of the fest for me. I had heard really strong things about Jamie Anne Spiess from an assortment of people, and I was excited to hear not only what she sounded like but what she sounded like in a live setting. It isn’t that Spiess is untalented, as certainly she’s not; it’s more that in a live setting I was, well, bored. She plays very pretty guitar and has a very nice voice, but her songs, solo or with full-band accompaniment, all sounded pretty much the same. I wanted some get up and go (and perhaps this was left over from Arbitrons blasting set), but all I got was semi-somber confessionals. Not bad, but not what I was expecting...
The Lonely Forest (two-thirds of a set)
Good lord, I was flattened by how much The Lonely Forest blew me away. These are some young kids (I’m guessing an average age of 19), but they managed to end up sounding like a sort of math-rock version of Weezer (an observation that does not hold up upon extended listens of their studio albums). Lead singer John Van Deusen was an absolute explosion of energy and even without the prompting of the ridiculous Verizon screen, I found myself bobbing my head and pogoing like a fourteen year old. I expect BIG things from these guys. On another note, my cohort at this point in the show fervently wanted me to know that Van Deusen sounded, at times, like John Roderick from The Long Winters. She seemed quite adamant, so I thought I’d pass along the sentiment.
Michael Vermillion (four songs)
I’m a huge fan of The Tractor as a venue, but there’s a certain side to their booking, you might call it a tendency, that I’m less inclined towards -- bluntly, they love more country-style bands. I had a bit of time to kill before Black Whales went on, so I poked my head in to see just what Michael Vermillion sounded like, and sure, the band was tight and the lead singer’s sort of warbly Johnny Cash sound was nice, but, alas, their country shtick just ain’t my thang. But, in all honesty, it sounded nice and I’m sure that if this is your bag, you’d be feeling it more than I.
Black Whales (five songs)
Before I’d even set foot in the Federation of Eagles for my second time on Saturday, I figured that Black Whales had two things going for them: one, they had a connection to Tall Birds, a band I’d heard only great things about; and two, their name kicks ass. I don’t know what it is, but bands with the word “black” or “whale” in the title always get a little more love from this corner. I’m strange; don’t try to understand me. Sadly, I couldn’t really get in to Black Whales. They didn’t come across as having a sound that could’ve been easily discerned from any other local indy-band chugging along these days. I waited through a handful of tracks to see if something might change, but alas, it did not.
See Me River (full set)
I had plans to check out a variety of bands during this time-slot but was almost forced by a small group of better-knowing folk to head on over to The Tractor for See Me River. Kerry Zettel, formerly of Das Llamas, is an opposing figure on a stage -- a wild-haired giant of a man with a bass voice straight out of, and I apologize for the comparison, the Crash Test Dummies realm of existence. Zettel, eyes burning ahead, with his excellent, though oddly seated, bandmates tore through a set of quick, country-laced acoustic rock. Between these guys and The Lonely Forest, you could’ve already marked my REVERBfest 2008 experience as a success and then I saw The Curious Mystery.
The Curious Mystery (full set)
This was the best band I saw at REVERBfest and one of the better musical experiences I’ve had in a while. This foursome was recently signed by K Records (look for a record in March) and you can certainly see why. They played slow, building psych rock buoyed by the absolutely brilliant drumming of the absolutely intoxicated Faustine B. Hudson. She was all over the drums, the stage, the tables, banging gongs, and generally just blowing my sort of beer-sodded mind. At one point, I caught her eye and she launched a drum stick directly in to my chest. Color me smitten. Seriously though, harmonium plus autoharp plus banjo plus distortion soaked guitar wailing plus one of the better drummers I’ve ever seen is certainly equal to my favorite moment of REVERBfest. I cannot wait to check out their studio album.
And this was pretty much my night. I meekly shuffled on the edge of the packed crowd for Grayskul and was far more impressed than I thought I was going to be, but my feet hurt, the crowd was feeling it waaaay more than I was, and I wanted to save some energy for The Moondoggies... yet, by the time they went on I’d was drinking in an unspecified location with the reconciliation that I’d be seeing these rock ‘n’ roll beasts on a few days later. In the end, somehow, I managed to catch the last five songs of what seemed to be a monster of a set and was just as impressed by their classic, The Band-style jamming. If you don’t already have a ticket for Wednesday’s show at Neumo’s (opening for The Dutchess and The Duke) GET ON IT. These guys are amazing.
All in all, I was pleased as a plum to have the opportunity to cover such a wonderful spread of bands. Sure, I didn’t like everything I saw, but what we have in Seattle in terms of our musical scene is really something special, and getting a nice broad spectrum all in the same place is always pretty amazing.