This week we celebrate the 15th year of one of Seattle’s favorite hometown labels: Barsuk Records! Since its birth in 1998, Barsuk has helped create a platform for dozens of great bands, from the Pacific Northwest and otherwise, to get off the ground and put forth incredible music. Even in the decade and a half of growth, one thing that Barsuk has never lost is its family-style sentiment, and to celebrate its birthday, Barsuk planned out an incredible weekend of music, getting the whole gang back together for a hodgepodge of new and old Barsuk goodness.
Closing out this weekend’s fun was a party at the Sunset. After Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter played through Reckless Burning over at Tractor Travern, the crowds ventured down Ballard Ave to an equally loved location for a closing ceremony unlike any other. It’s not often that we get to see Ra Ra Riot in this intimate of a setting (this year they played Key Arena for Bumbershoot), and taking their warm indie pop tunes back to their live roots, both new and old fans got to resonate with them from just a few feet away. With an opening set from synth pop Barsuk veteran Aqueduct, Barsuk’s 15th birthday party festivities closed out with a joyous bang.
Words can’t really explain how fun it was to welcome Aqueduct to the stage. We haven’t seen a full release from them since Or Give Me Death in 2007. “I know I’ve been kind a mystery for a couple years”, David Terry smiled, “but shit. It’s a new year, and there’s a new record in the oven.” Aqueduct’s synth-pop numbers will charm your pants off. Whether Terry is singing about rocking along with Guns ‘n’ Roses on the radio or quoting along to the Princess Bride, the guy makes incredibly catchy pop music. Aqueduct tunes new and old both sounded great, and the party people present were definitely getting it on. Terry kept the vibe going for a solid 45 minute set and exited with an ear to ear grin. We can’t wait to see what he’s cooking up next.
If anyone’s going to close out the Barsuk 15 weekend festivities with a party, it’s got to be Ra Ra Riot. Wes Miles and his band gave us one of the catchier pop records of the year with January’s Beta Love, taking their typical chamber pop sound in a synthesized direction. But the shift hasn’t forced a sacrifice of any of Ra Ra Riot’s famous live prowess. I mean, for starters, they squeezed six people up on that tiny Sunset Tavern stage, and when they weren’t stepping on each other’s toes, they were all rocking out in unison to three albums worth of pop magic. Beta Love had the young people off the ground, while Rhumb Line and The Orchard material had the older crowd nodding along and jamming out too. From front to back, the Sunset was all smiles. It didn’t matter that Ra Ra had just gotten off the plane from Japan and admittedly still seemed a bit jet lagged. Everyone was having a great time holding on to these last few great moments of a fantastic weekend.
Perhaps the best picture of Barsuk 15 weekend was seen in Ra Ra Riot’s encore. “Instead of just going off stage and getting back on again, we’re just going to stay up here”, Miles laughed. It’s not like he was showing a single person in this crowd their first concert ever. We all know the routine and appreciate it, but we can also sense when it’s just time to play the last couple and then party together. To end the night, and thus, Barsuk 15 in general, Ra Ra pulled out The Orchard cut “Boy”. The song was a hit single pretty much everywhere you looked back in 2010, and even now, it’s a wonderfully fresh orch pop cut that hails among the group’s best material. But it wasn’t just the song that mattered. Looking around the room, you could see some really special things. Over in the corner, there’s Eric Elbogen of Say Hi dancing alongside Barsuk founder Josh Rosenfeld and other members of the Barsuk team. In the back, there’s Alex Schaaf of Yellow Ostrich bobbing along. Pretty much everywhere you look, there is Barsuk love for other Barsuk acts going in every direction through the room. “I was a cold, cold boy, hey when I said to you that I’ll go back” Miles sings along as the band rocks out. Sure, none of us are going back at this point, but if Barsuk is any good omen, growing from boyhood into maturity can be a beautiful experience, and we can’t wait to see what Barsuk brings us in the next 15 years. Thanks Barsuk for a wonderful weekend and a wonderful 15 years.
Ra Ra Riot: