by Ben Funkhouser
photos by James Bailey
I spent some time at the Vera stage before the weekend got warmed up, just to enjoy an otter pop and feel the sun on my back. I chatted with some of the Audacity dudes, who turned out to be pretty nice guys. Their bass player told me all about their home town of Orange County, a fun but desolate place, where touring bands either played small house parties or moved on to L.A. I had high hopes for this band, I knew they were touring with legendary Los Angeles punks Mika Miko, and they did not disappoint. They took the awkward, sunny 4PM stage to a well sized but unprepared crowd. They tuned cacophonously for a few minutes and blasted into their garage-y styled punk music. Traditional dumb punk was what it seemed like at first, covered in distortion. While fun to watch, Audacity did not seem particularly memorable. But I stand corrected. Every few songs, a flash of pop genius would pull itself out of the noisy cluster of guitars and screaming. This band is about to write the best songs of their entire time as a band, I can feel it. The songs were simple, yeah, but they were able to convey the feeling that they needed to, making Audacity a far better band then I had originally pegged them as
This no-wave-y duo has been playing shows around the Seattle area for as long as I have been going to them, but I’ve never seen a better set than the one they played on Friday of the Capitol Hill Block Party. Their treble-y no wave sound is cushioned by samba and funk, as well as world rhythms, often played out on a simple drum machine, with the two members playing guitar and bass. Through the excellent sound set up, and the skilled work of the Vera Project’s Jeffrey McNulty, Flexions funk driven bass tones came through, in ways that their usual house shows didn’t allow. I got a feel for the complex and arty tones being repeated on the bass, and improvised and changed on the guitar. Flexions seem to be one of the only truly original bands in the city, the only influence I can directly decipher is hearing Devin Welch’s guitar playing, which is similar to the work in his old band, Shoplifting. It’s bleak in a post-punky kind of sense, but full in a way that is complemented by the fluid but simple bass lines played by Robin Stein. They recently released on the Journal of Popular Noise, which is quite a feat considering how picky that label seems to be. I felt that at block party, Flexions played so well, that I could soak in the no wave sensibilities of their sound, but also get down and dance to the funk bits of it.
Bow + Arrow:
I have been seeing Bow + Arrow for a long time. They started off as a two piece, jamming out quick changing but long-winded mathy emo songs. Amazing to see, and for the two years or so that they existed, Bow + Arrow were a common sight at Seattle house shows. They seemed to play every weekend. I went as many times as I could, I loved the power that I felt in Benji Rouse’s steady drumming, the ADHD math rock guitar styling of Lucas Thilman and the fluid and complicated bass lines that Jon Carr would play. Bow + Arrow seemed to evolve past where they could exist as the band that they were, and broke up. When I worked as the booking intern at Vera, and we were discussing who should play the Vera stage at Block Party, we decided to see if we could get Bow + Arrow back together to do it. I called Lucas, and we figured it out after a week or so. I was super excited, having not seen them for a good 6 months. The week before the show, Lucas told me to expect something different; two drummers and completely re-worked and new songs. Something more heavy and psychedelic, like an percussion oriented Gang Gang Dance. They took the stage and had some funny banter, like “this is our last show ever unless it’s really really fun, maybe.” Having two drummers definitely can mess things up, they can get off time, or screw each other up. This did not happen. Garrett Moore and Benji Rouse stayed perfectly on beat with each other, each covering the other for a fill or catching a missed beat (which rarely happened,) the two were amazing; it was super powerful and way well orchestrated. Instead of leading the songs, guitarist Lucas Thilman added reverb, and provided a rhythmic guitar base, for Jon Carr to cover with bass notes. It seemed almost as if the songs were being lead by the bass, with the guitar swooping behind it, or in and out of it. The bass playing was amazing though, I have to add, Carr was extraordinary. He played some complicated stuff, with an awesome fluidity and comfort. It’s a shame that Block Party was their last show ever. I’m sad that other kids who got into them after they broke up in January never got a real chance to see them. RIP one of Seattle’s best bands.
Built to Spill:
I saw BTS at the UW a few months ago; to my great pleasure, they played a nice mix of newer and older songs. These dudes have to be in their 40s or 50s, and they’re playing perfectly. They jammed their way through around fifty minutes of performance, each song going on longer than usual; the three guitars wove in and out of each other, loud and present but none over doing the others. The set drifted along quickly. I stood behind some older indie rock fans who seemed to be regular folks; they were talking about seeing Sonic Youth and Sebadoh back in the day. It made me wonder as to whether that’s what kids in the community will be like when they get older. Built to Spill played beautifully, there’s not much to tell!
The Jesus Lizard:
I never in a million years thought that I would get to see the Jesus Lizard. I thought that they were dead and gone, never to come back. So I settled with listening to them at my computer often. I really love the album, Goat, it really shows the abrasive and aggressive style of the band without becoming ugly. When I heard that they were playing Block Party, I freaked out and ran out to buy my ticket. I counted down the days until they played, getting more and more excited. When it came time for them to play, they didn’t disappoint. Singer David Yow was drunk, but he was walking, which is pretty good for him, from what I’ve heard. They dove into their set like a lemming dives off of a cliff. These guys are old, but they still seemed dangerous, the music was as chaotic as it was when the young noise rockers started in Chicago, over two decades ago. They definitely had the old guy precision that many bands of their age seem to get. The songs were played with a little more care than they used to be, the guitars are tuned carefully and everything is set up before hand. David Yow, however, was all over the place. He jumped with little warning into the crowd and managed to keep singing at the right times while he surfed for often entire songs. They blasted through their set with a fiery intensity that brought together noise rock and metal and punk fans of several generations. The pit was total chaos, and amazingly fun. The guitarist used minor key picking parts while a distorted bass lead the charge for Yow to scream his lungs out over. If you didn’t get to see this band, you seriously missed out!