photos and review by Brian Cullen
I had a pretty killer Friday, October 23, 2009. This is probably news to you but I am once again unemployed! As a result I spent the greater part of my morning drinking coffee, listening to music, trolling ebay (anyone willing to donate an LCD monitor in support of the arts? How about a Hasselblad? Pushing my luck?) and Craigslist (this one for JOBS), all the while completely forgetting to eat solid food. So by the time I met my ridiculously lovely date for a drink or two — well, I sort of went tits–up on the alcohol. So without further ado, I give you:
NEVER LET A LACK OF TALENT GET YOU DOWN: DEAD MAN’S BONES PLAYS THE TRIPLE DOOR!
It’s the t-r-i-p-l-e DIZOOR, t-r-i-p-l-e DIZOOR, t-r-i-p-l-e DIZOOR…
So after the wine we made our way down the hill to Seattle’s famed The Triple Door for a show I’d been looking forward to for quite some time. I was a touch worried as I’d gotten a call the previous night notifying me of Ryan Gosling’s contraction of Swine Flu and subsequent cancellation of the band’s morning in-studio performance. Just kidding about Swine Flu (back off, TMZ) but he was supposedly feeling pretty sick which could in theory put a damper on the kind of spirited monster-rock extravaganza myself and the staff of Forever 21 were hoping for.
In case you missed my review last month — the Seattle show marked stop #8 of Zach Shields and Ryan Gosling’s “monster-ghost-love-story” for the masses in which each performance would feature a local talent show opener and band support from each city’s hometown children’s choir. By the time we’d found our seats (front row — thanks, Triple Door) I’d completely spaced the whole talent show thing and was in turn a bit surprised by the emergence of guitar-playing ghost MC — taking the stage to announce the evening’s participants. Now I’m not trying to sound like a jerk but the guy had a seriously thick, vaguely Latino ghost accent that made the mental notation of names somewhat challenging. The ghost was clearly talented — but not unlike the first few episodes of The Wire — I had no idea what the hell was being said until damn near close to the end the talent show. The pre-show entertainment was certainly terrifying — and not in the Halloweeny, spookadelic manner intended. There were only 3 acts (not 5-8 as advertised, but by the end I was okay with that); 2 of which had me flashing back to a traumatic outing with the parent’s to see Blue Man Group. What can I say, audience participation is not really my deal. Check that, not at all my deal. Neither is human-skat-jazz-poem-Tourettes-theatre. COME ON, SEATTLE, we could’ve done better than this. We produced Sir-Mix-a-Lot and Brandon Roy. Hell, we produced Kenny G and Doug Christie! As a side note: the first act, a young woman from the choir (ghost accent), sang, played piano — and was amazing. Stevie Wonder’s “Masquerade” never sounded so soulful. I was wishing for her return about 90 seconds into the second act. Shoulda batted cleanup, kid.
As Gosling and Shields made their way out onto the stage the sold out crowd let loose an odd mixture of screechy screamies and exuberant claps not heard since Blake Schwarzenbach’s heyday. One young lady even let Gosling know that she’d be drinking at Tavern Law after the show. He looked confused. To be expected, I suppose.
I have to admit I’ve sort of been wondering, since the release of their somewhat subdued studio album, how this would all pan out: for me the most stirring moments put forth thus far by Dead Man’s Bones have been in live moments (recounted via YouTube) of spontaneity — the vocal cracks, mistuned instruments, timing (unpredictably tentative and hyper) all mash together in a way that outshines an album of even the most hastily recorded/mixed songs.
Shields and Gosling clearly understand dynamic at play here. Accompanied by members of The Seattle Children’s Chorus the King County incarnation of Dead Man’s Bones at once harnessed the dark power of the unknown. As the band/kids choir (in costume w/ white-faced zombie make-up) made its way through their first several songs, it became clear to me that Shields and Gosling were subtlety shaking off complacency, switching instruments erratically, speaking to the crowd, directing the children, adjusting tempo, at times even surprising each other. Shields and Gosling rarely seemed to break eye-contact with one another. Clearly, these two were playing a sort of musical cat and mouse that kept the crowd and children guessing — this uneasiness fans the flames and makes inherently dramatic songs like “In the Room Where you Sleep” and “Lose Your Soul” thicker, richer and creepier live than they could ever hope to be on wax (no wax available BTW. WTF, Anti-?). Another high point was the hugely catchy synth-pop-stand-out of the album, “Pa-Pa-Power,” which saw singing, clapping and dancing in every corner of The Triple Door. “Dead Man’s Bones,” which honestly never grabbed me until now (theme songs always feel like filler), featured some of the most convincing crying I’ve ever heard — even Gosling was moved to compliment the kids mid-song. It’s amazing what a little impromptu theater can bring to a song.
I’ve got to be honest with you: this kind of thing — do-wop infused rock n roll theater — is not generally something I’d envision myself latching onto (I’ve been muttering the words “I’m not usually susceptible to shooby-do-wops” for weeks now), but by the time Dead Man’s Bones played their first encore song, “Name in Stone,” I was hypnotized by the perfect storm of organized chaos on the stage in front of me. The thing that really gets me about Dead Man’s Bones is the attitude. Never once did ANYONE on that stage stop smiling. It’s amazing to think about the potential brimming beneath the positive impact of each kid’s experience with Dead Man’s Bones. In their way, Gosling and Shields are doing for these children (12 local kids choirs) what was not done for them. They’re showing these kids what’s important: have fun first. Make music second. While the symbiotic nature of this relationship is clear, the band’s rejection of the mundane (see: playing the album on stage) and emphasis on the moment (random talent and structure) radiates above all else a sincere appreciation of those inexplicably pure feelings wrapped inside of music — the joyous discovery of something intensely beautiful, unique and fleeting.
I’m glad I got to be there.
check out more of Brian’s photos here.