review and photos by Chona Kasinger
Every first Thursday of the month marks the EMP’s All Access Night, a free all ages event which typically highlights young and upcoming talent in the Puget Sound area. The Skychurch greeted the familiar faces in Makeup Monsters (fourth place victors in the 2009 EMP Soundoff underage bands competition) and friends The Nightgowns very warmly. Both hailing from Tacoma, the two groups appeared beyond comfortable performing outside home base.
In my many gallivants outside the Seattle music scene, I’ve noticed an uncanny kinship between the members of the Tacoma music scene. Everyone (quite literally) knows everyone and enthusiastically attend each other’s shows. In the eyes of an outsider, it’s heartening to see this kind of paternal interaction, especially given the competitive climate in which the music world breathes today. It’s clear that Tacoma is insulated from Seattle in a very special and romantic way (save the latitude separating the two cities) — the entire mentality is different, though it remains totally cohesive and relevant despite the radically comfortable setting of a smaller town.
Makeup Monsters hit the stage promptly at 5:30 and performed most (if not all) of the tracks off their eponymous CD released just last month. Clearly, the output of the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts, as dual guitarists and percussionists Isaac Solverson and Shayne Weeks frequently traded off instruments through the course of their set. While you’d be hard pressed to get your hands on one of their albums, their only release is a true gem nonetheless. You can hear a couple of their tracks on their MySpace page.
With Solverson leaving for university in New York in the fall, the future of Makeup Monsters is very much up in the air, though I’m a strong believer in what this duo can do. The night marked the last date on Makeup Monster’s show calendar for quite a while.
Not until pulling the KEXP card was I allowed to re-enter the Skychurch, which had apparently filled to capacity shortly before The Nightgowns hit the stage. The Nightgowns (formerly The Elephants) started things off with “Narwhal Aerobics,” the first track off of their latest release Sing Something. The introductory tribal blips, unforgettably mottled chorus and title that takes its name from the tusked whale makes this song an instant winner in my book. Following their first song was my personal favorite track off the new album, “Working For a Living,” which pairs musings on the menial nature of work life with a nauseatingly catchy synth line. Keyboardist Cody Jones works indelible pop magic while gingerly pecking at his keys on this one. In fact, when combined with the stoic and steady drumming of BJ Robertson, I think that The Nightgowns showcase the best use of synth I’ve heard in a very long time. Though seldom sparse, the keys are always magically placed smack where you want to hear them the most. This undeniable truth is no doubt one of the irresistible draws of this band.
“This is a real rock show, but there’s not a lot of bootie shaking,” a playful Trevor Dickson (a strong proponent of bootie shaking, clearly) announced midway through the group’s set. The frontman, looking very much like Tacoma’s answer to Angus Young, serenaded a lucky birthday boy before jumping into the rest of the set.
A lot of The Nightgown’s songs sound like gems from a time in music history long past. Sing Something is the first release from these boys under the new name, though I was thrilled to hear an array of songs from The Elephants’ back catalogue sprinkled in their set, including the bouncy “Oh Tina.” This band poses some truly epic moments, most notably on the song “Cosmic Clancy,” a track that hearkens back to New Order sensibilities and tops things with off cryptic vocals. Though occasionally undecipherable, Dickson’s lyrics are insightful and poetic — a truly charming aspect of this band’s aesthetic.
It’s a wonder to me that The Nightgowns haven’t blown up as much as they have. I highly recommend the new album and you can catch them at The Tractor Tavern on August 7 with Seattle pop darlings Boat.