Tonight’s entertainment in the palatial, opulent, and downright smart and swanky Triple Door quietly begins when local legend Artis the Spoonman unassumingly strolls onto the candlelit venue’s dark stage and squats on his haunches, barefoot, and arranges his spoons in a cloth carrying case in front of him. He starts to chat with the audience while casually picking out the right cutlery implement instruments in a way that’s so comfortable you almost feel you could easily be having a chinwag with him in his kitchen.
Clothed in pretty much the same garb he wore in the eponymously titled Soundgarden video, his gray sleeveless tee and white cut-off pants make him look like a roguish deckhand from a Gilbert and Sullivan play.
He then stands up suddenly and begins to play the spoons not only against his thigh but all over his body, even his face, with such intensity and speed that the sounds vary from a simple click-clack rhythm to a whirr and blur of percussive music.
There is clearly a lot of talent on display here, and those who have seen Artis play know that there’s no risk of irresponsible hyperbole in saying that what the guitar is to Jimi Hendrix, so the spoons are to the Spoonman. In his mastery of the humble utensil we hear everything from windchimes to firework cracks to the pop of ping pong balls in a microwave.
As Artis’s hands and limbs start to circulate wildly like Bruce Lee preparing for his final move, the performance reaches fever pitch and as a finale he then abruptly drops his spoons and gives a slightly cheeky half-bow half-curtsey to rapturous applause.
He thanks the crowd and then stays on stage providing backup spoons as the Jubilee band members come out one by one, dancing rain dances to the rhythm as the drums, bass, guitar, and cello begin to play in turn and build on each other.
Lead singer Curtis Romjue is the last to dance out onto the stage, gesturing to Artis and shouting into the mic “Put your hands together, we’ve got a Seattle icon here!” to which the audience is only too happy to oblige.
It’s a magnificent wall of noise, celebration, and spoons.
The Seattle six-piece are cloaked in a blue glow as they ease in to their first song ‘Moonlight Riders’.
Fresh from recently completing a West Coast tour, tonight is their homecoming show and Jubilee play with the easy professionalism and precision of a well-oiled band that has clearly run up its fair share of tour van mileage.
The band’s logo hangs as a stage backdrop and features a beautifully intricate hummingbird graphic from native Pacific Northwest artist Nathaniel P. Wilkerson of the Gitxsan tribe.
Jubilee’s songs are paced and poised with a folk-acoustic feel, to which the cello brings an extra warmth and elegance, and highlighted by frequent breakdowns of tribal-esque drumming and tambourines and stunning acapellas.
“This is all about enjoying the best of the human experience while trying to do something about the worst” says Curtis, explaining that Jubilee are not just your average band, they’re actually a non-profit band, formally registered as a 501(c)3 and the first to do so, who advocate the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking via their music and the stage.
“When he heard this my dad said he thought that all bands were non-profit”, he adds, to laughter from the audience.
Taking a break from playing songs in the middle of Jubilee’s set, Curtis delivers an impassioned speech describing the work that the band does for victims of modern slavery and why it’s so important. It’s a pretty brave move considering there’s really very little on this earth that you could talk about that’s more disturbing than this, especially in the middle of a show.
However his brief talk doesn’t drag. It’s sobering but informative and voiced in a likeable, relaxed way that’s not haranguing, preachy, or condescending. He does well to keep the mood relatively positive and upbeat and the band then play a short video on the subject on the screen behind them.
Curtis then begins to play the soft and comforting ‘Your Eyes’ alone onstage as a segue from the video back to Jubilee’s set as the rest of the band slowly rejoin him.
Guitarist Jonny Akamu then takes the spotlight as the band sit around the stage campfire-style to watch him play a solo instrumental. He picks and strums so fast you’d think you were watching time-lapse photography of his clockwork hands.
Jubilee then regroup to play the buoyant and poignant ‘Food and Oceans’, which is followed by ‘Ross Lake’, which I’m guessing is probably the first ode ever written to the North Cascade reservoir, and ‘Useless to Compete’.
Drummer Steven Wilbur then steps out from behind the kit to recite his poem ‘Old House’, which features joyously unrestrained gesticulation and the shouted line “a giant graham cracker!” that wins me over instantly.
Evidently Jubilee aren’t just about the guitar, bass, and drums; tonight’s show is multi-dimensional entertainment and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if at a later date the band incorporated time for live still-life canvas painting and pottery masterclasses into their show.
It’s Steven’s line in his poem “Dreaming is what I do when my eyes fall silent” that cues a bittersweet and introspective grand piano accompaniment from Grace Romjue, which leads into the band’s final track of the set ‘This Mourning Is Warm’.
With its “To see you well” refrain sung in harmony that recalls the dulcet tones of Fleet Foxes, the song’s drums begin to intensify in the background, gradually morphing into full-on foot-stomping raucous folk with guitarist Jonny and bass player Peter Ortblad ditching their axes and grabbing bass drums and beating them as they dance around the stage.
Thanks and goodbyes are said as Jubilee bid farewell for the evening, but only a nanosecond passes before the band are back on stage for their encore with Curtis barely having time to turn around offstage.
Not following any trends and confidently creating their own unique style, Jubilee are a powerful dual force of thoughtful, quality-crafted music and committed advocacy for social justice. Everything tonight is so purposed and meaningful. As the concert draws to a close, you feel that you are part of something bigger just by being here.
You can find out more about Jubilee and stream their latest album To See You Well in full at www.livejubilee.org
Indoor Voices/Outdoor Dance Moves
Blood on your Mouth/Fur in Your Teeth
Talk and video on fighting modern slavery
Food and Oceans
Useless to Compete
Old House (poem)
This Mourning is Warm
Were you at the Jubilee show? What did you think? What was your highlight? Did you leave wanting to increase the size of your kitchen’s spoon drawer? Or buy a second spoon drawer? Let KEXP know in the Comments section below!