Reviews by Dusty Henry (DH), Gabe Pollak (GP)
With a name like Guantanamo Baywatch, you have a pretty good indication that what you’re about to experience is going to be wild. Having seen them before, I’m still always caught off guard by their manic, feverish, and undeniably fun live sets. Within an instant of starting, the band dove into a flurry of guitar distortion and menacing bass rumbles. The band sounds more vicious than ever, speedily diving from song to song and indulging in their gruesome sonic tactics. It was an apt way to end the fest, with the band quite literally freaking out on their instruments and the audience freaking out right back at them. (DH)
There’s always been an intensity to Portland songwriter Kelli Schaefer’s music -- you can feel it in her records, especially this year’s No Identity. But there’s a difference when you feel it live. Draped in an oversized denim jacket, she stood in front of her band, carrying her own with just her voice and not another instrument. Even when she put her hands in her pockets… it was the most badass way I’ve ever seen someone put their hands in the pockets. Schaefer sings like she’s on the edge, screaming at the cosmos and not waiting for it to echo back. Her music stares into the abyss, but she continues to come back unscathed and stronger than before. (DH)
JusMoni has one of the most hypnotic, rapturous voices in the city, making her a perfect fit for the psych-heavy Freakout Fest. In the back of Hattie’s Hat, Moni entranced spectators as she grooved to her own music. Stas THEE Boss, who seemed to be omnipresent at the fest, backed her up as a DJ -- solidifying my suspicions that they’re a deadly combo. It was one of the most soulful sets of the whole weekend, transporting everyone away from Ballard and this mortal plane to the spacious world that Moni’s music seems to exist. (DH)
Surf-punks Baywitch dazzled at the Sunset, showing off their remarkable take on the genre with seasick riffs that were sure to leave the masses woozy. Baywitch’s music understands the complexity of surf music. It’s not always fun in the sun. The ocean can be tumultuous and the band reflects that with every twang of guitar that splashes in the mix. Guitarist/vocalist Lila Burns fearlessly led the band through a rapid-fire set of some of the band’s ghoulish catalog, never letting up the drama but always infusing every line with the dark energy that makes their music so evocative. (DH)
You knew you’d made the right decision the moment you staggered through the door of Caffe Umbria on Saturday night. To your right, the angel-voiced Seattle singer-songwriter Tomo Nakayama strummed an acoustic guitar, singing a cover of Neil Young’s bittersweet “Harvest Moon.”
Looking for a seat, you walked past a child wearing an orange Nirvana t-shirt and spinning in circles, tornado-ing dangerously close to Nakayama’s mic stand, which was vined in LED holiday lights. As you sat down at a table in the corner, a waiter leaned over and placed a small, white candle on your table.
Altogether, you couldn’t have asked for a better setting to witness the music. Apart from the occasional clink of cup on saucer, it was quiet and therefore easy to appreciate every note of Nakayama’s tender songs, which call to mind the intimacy of early Iron & Wine. It would have been hard to hear Nakayama at the Sunset or Connor Byrne, you thought to yourself.
As the set went on, you noticed a cute scene.
Sitting in a leather chair in front of you, a flanneled father fed a baby in a giraffe onesie a bottle of milk. You look over the father’s shoulder as Nakayama sang the achingly beautiful “My LifeIs Better Because You Are In It,” from the new album, Pieces of the Sky. The innocence at the heart of Nakayama’s music was as impossible to miss as the baby’s too-cute animal outfit. You zoned out and thought about being a parent for a while.
A rising note brought you back. Nakayama closed his eyes, scrunched his face together, and suddenly struck the emotional peak of “Horses,” a song Nakayama wrote for Touchy Feely, a film he also acted in. “My lonely days are over,” Nakayama sang, his voice soaring. It was Robin Pecknold at his most impassioned. A little Frankie Lymon? You didn’t know Nakayama could sing that high.
Then, just as suddenly, Nakayama came back down, landing softly on the last verse. It contained another one of his trademark kind-hearted, life-affirming messages: “Love is love is love is / No matter who you’re thinking of / So you can open all those doors / That someone closed so long ago.”
The song ended and you looked through Caffe Umbria’s wide, storefront window, with trees standing naked in the cold. It had been dark for two hours. You were glad to be inside. (GP)
Porter Ray has had quite the victory lap off of his Sub Pop debut, Watercolor. Coming off one of his most self-assured releases yet, it doesn’t sound like the Seattle rapper has intentions of letting up. With every show Porter just continues to expand upon his own excellence, his Freakout Fest set being no exception. He held down the stage like a pro – if you closed your eyes it wasn’t hard to imagine him hyping up a crowd at Key Arena instead of the Tractor. His rhymes are hitting harder than ever, his confidence is undeniable, and charisma radiates off of him even when he’s not spitting on the mic. Bringing on guests like Stas THEE Boss cemented his love for the city and his dexterity to rap alongside some of the city’s best. A standout highlight though was when he brought out Tacoma rapper Bruce Leroy to play a set of new songs that they’ve been working on. Leroy’s low-voiced bombast alongside Porter’s fresh timbre is a pristine combination, especially over their selection of jazzy beats. The songs were so infectious they already had the crowd chanting along to the choruses. Pray that these tracks drop soon – they’re that good. Porter is never stopping and that’s something we can all be thankful for. (DH)
Pixies had little to say, but lots to play at the Paramount Theatre on Sunday, December 3. The alt-rock pioneers, who formed in Boston in 1986, blazed through a 33 song set in just over an hour and a half, speaking a grand total of two words to the crowd between songs. Fans didn’t seem to care abou…
On his latest album, Gotham Fortress, AJ Suede is filled with negative energy. It looms in the boom of his voice, in the foreboding rumbles of Wolftone's spacious beats (as well as cuts from SpaceGhostPurp and Brakebill). He cements the atmosphere of the record early on with the stand out track, we…
Reports from Kaitlin Frick (KF), Dusty Henry (DH), Gabe Pollak (GP)