Live Review: KEXP Yule Benefit with Strand of Oaks, Cymbals Eat Guitars, S and Cabana at Neumos 12/20/2014

Yule Benefit, KEXP Presents, Live Reviews
12/29/2014
Isaac Kaplan-Woolner
Cymbals Eat Guitars // all photos by Brittney Bollay

It used to be that every year about this time, KEXP would throw the Yule Benefit show, but it's been five years since our last one. This year, music fans were in for a treat as the show returned to Neumos to raise money for the station's new home, being built at the Seattle Center. The lineup included Strand of Oaks (who put out Morning Show DJ John Richards' album of the year, Heal), Cymbals Eat Guitars, and local acts S (a.k.a. Jenn Ghetto) and Cabana. It was a great night of music and good vibes, as the crowd celebrated their part in making KEXP's new home a reality.

The show kicked off with KEXP DJ Morgan introducing the new home campaign as a hopped up Santa jumped onstage to do a merry jig. The crowd was still a little sparse at 8:30PM, but a long line snaked its way down the block as people waited to pick up their tickets and make their way in. Cabana kicked off the music with a set of dreamy, droning rock that built up in tempo and intensity. This Seattle four-piece had some great grungy, sludgy breakdowns and songs tended to have several distinct parts to them. At times, extended instrumental jams took on almost surfy or garage rock sounds, bolstered by solos on the 12-string electric guitar. Cabana build on Seattle rock sounds that precede them, but take tunes in unexpected directions.  As their tight six song set drew to a close, the band thanked KEXP, which got a big cheer from the supportive crowd.

Up next, S took the stage wearing strange Slipknot style masks and headwear. It was strange, but certainly an effective way to draw in the crowd. The set began with he brooding, sad, haunting song "Wait", with the refrain, "everything will be all right today." It's a sentiment worth repeating, even if it is unclear if the singer herself believes in it. The band took off the scary masks after the first song and a few members donned the more seasonally traditional santa hats. S started as a bedroom side project for Jenn Ghetto, a founding member of Carissa's Wierd. Over the years, the project has grown in scope and size, and the live show now incorporates a full four piece band. The new material found on Cool Choices shows Ghetto's growth as a songwriter over the past 10+ years. There were beautifully sung harmonies and some vulnerable fragility in the songs, but this is also music with an edge, not something to be taken too lightly. The room was feeling much more full at this point, and people were bobbing along appreciatively to the devastating and well crafted pop songs. And it wasn't all down tempo bummer music. Songs like "Vampires" were danceable rock and even a bit feel good, despite lyrics like "I'm lonely, I'm low." This set combined sadness and joy to good effect.

DJ Cheryl Waters took the stage next to give shoutouts and thank the crowd for their donations. The audience listened intently as Waters announced, "One year from now we will be in our new home at the Seattle Center!" This elicited more excited applause. As Waters introduced the next band, Cymbals Eat Guitars, she said their new album, Lose, was one of her top picks of the year. The set kicked off slow and sludgy, with a hefty dose of revered guitar and an almost slinky soul-like feel. But it was also dark, brooding, and had an aggressive breakdown full of dissonant guitar noise. Cymbals Eat Guitars had several moments of fairly straightforward pop punk sounds, but they also took care to incorporate more interesting sounds into their mix as well. These New York indie rockers took their name from a Lou Reed quote describing the sound of the Velvet Underground, and there were moments of homage to that 60s garage rock sound as well. The singing was more decidedly punk-flavored and largely screamed live, less melodic than on the albums. They dedicated the track "Chambers" to Cheryl, which at times had an almost classic rock feel in its big sound. The group seemed loose and relaxed on stage, having a good time and working the crowd. Another highlight came late in the seven song set with the glam rock flavored "Jackson", another disaffected yet very effective song.

Next, DJ Kevin Cole took the stage to talk about the benefit, saying KEXP's new space will be, "the home for all of us, for music lovers here in Seattle." The crowd cheered and Santa raised his PBR tallboy in a toast. Finally, Strand of Oaks took the stage for an excellent final set of rock (and more of that finding good feelings in sad times sort of music). With a full four pice band, Timothy Showalter's songs took on the rolling feel slightly reminiscent of recent The War on Drugs work, but with more of an edge and harder vocals. Showalter vamped for the crowd as he ripped through some of his bigger guitar lines. He looked o be having a lot of fun as he leap around the stage. The room felt quite full now and the crowd seemed really in to the show, dancing and applauding enthusiastically. Show alter also came across as a very sweet and appreciative performer, saying, "We're just honored to be here tonight, let's celebrate this town and this great station!" One highlight was the song "Goshen 97" from Heal, which features satisfyingly swelling rock sounds. Some tunes had a bit of the crunch and power of The Stooges, laced with heavy classic rock sounds of Black Sabbath, and even perhaps a dash of Neil Young or Tom Petty thrown in for good measure. It is hard to capture Strand of Oaks sound accurately in words, but it was a high energy and very satisfying live set. The crowd called for more, so the band took the stage for an encore and ripped through a cover of The Replacements' "Alex Chilton", and ode to Big Star's founder. "I guarantee we're gonna fuck it up, but that's this rock n' roll shit," said Showalter before playing the song. But Strand of Oaks did it justice and it was a triumphant and high energy end to an excellent night.

Thanks to all who came out to support KEXP's New Home campaign. Learn more about KEXP's move to our new location here and give a gift of support here.

View more photos by Brittney Bollay here.

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