Comment permalink

Review: Seattle Music Revival (part one)

When you're standing in a sparsely populated music venue watching a band kick a dozen different kinds of ass, you have to ask why the crowd isn't as thick as it should be. Was it a problem with the promotion? The billing? The time or the place? In the case of The Seattle Music Revival, it was a deadly combination of all four of those things. The real shame about it is that the show featured an impressive collection of very talented artists. If anyone had actually attended, it would have been a downright legendary festival. As it stands, The Seattle Music Revival will either be considered an earnest attempt at a powerful showcase that fell short, or the event that launched a handful of cult bands.

So, what exactly went wrong at The Seattle Music Revival? I'd say that the number one problem was a severe surplus of ambition. The event took place at three separate venues, only one of which had anything even resembling an adequate stage. Club Heaven was ostensibly the main stage and it was big enough to handle any of the bands performing at the Revival, which is not to say that every band that could have used the space got it. The gaunt 4-piece Aeolian was so spread out at Heaven that their backup guitars got more space than any one member of To The Sea, who played at Fuel.

The Seattle Music Revival should have been a one-stage showcase of the most talented local acts. There were certainly enough impressive performers to make such a formula work. The promotional materials probably led a lot of people to believe that it was going to be some low-rent tribute concert to Jimmy Hendrix and Nirvana, not the big premiere for a collection of modern Seattle-based talent like it really wanted to be.

Take Kissing Girls, for instance. They played two sets at the Revival, first opening at Club Heaven then filling an open slot at Merchant's Cafe later in the evening. If anyone deserved Heaven's large stage, it was them. This electrifying band is proof positive that Seattle is ready to move beyond standard hipster rock without abandoning rock as a genre. Kissing Girls play a mature, compelling variety of guitar rock augmented with a softening keyboard plink.

The group began as a duo consisting of keyboard/vocalist Susie and drummer Marian. The two intended to keep the band a ladies-only affair, but then they ran into guitarist Alex at The Jet's jam night. They completed the lineup with bassist Ben and have been making the rounds in Seattle's music scene for the past few months. According to Kissing Girl Susie, the local competition is fierce. "It's hard. There are a lot of good bands [in Seattle] right now, but it makes us more focused," she says. Kissing Girls have plans for a tour on the horizon and you can catch them popping around Puget Sound for more live shows throughout autumn.

The other rock highlight at The Seattle Music Revival was To The Sea, but as previously mentioned they weren't lucky enough to get the big stage at Club Heaven. Given enough space, To The Sea would be striking with its wall of guitars, but at Fuel they were bumping into each other and fighting the problematic sound system that plagued other acts throughout the night. Still, To The Sea gave a strong performance. Their sound mixes melancholy with sometimes sharp, sometimes soaring guitars. While a sports bar isn't the best place to float on a sea of rising tones, certain songs like "Fog" were still exhilarating. They also get extra points with me for being the only band of the night to get wildly loud.

One of the major components of The Seattle Music Revival that definitely should have been cut was its rubbernecking tribute element. The Heart cover band Heartless had its fun, but it was ultimately just a distraction from the very new, very exciting music being played elsewhere. The same can be said for Aeolian's first set. It consisted entirely of covers from famous Seattle-based rock bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Jimmy Hendrix (except that the Hendrix song they covered was actually Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower"). Watching Aeolian on the main stage was a surreal experience, like watching your stoner neighbor perform his favorite songs to an actual live audience. Later when they played at Fuel it was a much more satisfying set. They played their own original songs, which at their best are quasi-sexy psychedelic rock tracks with hints of real passion. Guitarist/vocalist Cory Hughes has his moments, especially when he's not goofing off. It was like watching Jeff Buckley's understudy drink too much before the show.

Hawaiian transplant rockers Grim Smiley also had a run at Fuel with a lot more energy than one would think possible at the venue. I wouldn't call Grim Smiley particularly innovative, but I don't think that's their point anyway. Some bands exist for the sole purpose of reliably rocking. Not everybody has to be a pioneer, especially when what you really want is a competent house band.

On the border between rock and, well, not-rock were two folky performers, Tai Shan and Perry Acker, both at Merchant's Cafe. Tai Shan's album work is much softer than what she played at the Revival. Her performance consisted of newer songs that channel a more jumpy sound than her earlier work. As for Perry Acker, the band plays what I like to call Microbrew Music. It's laid-back, comforting and decidedly local. While I couldn't quite shake the Dave Matthews Band comparisons early in their set, they brought out some more striking material toward the end. One might say they came dangerously close to bringing down the house.

I'll be back tomorrow with Part Two of The Seattle Music Revival coverage. We'll be taking a look at the surprisingly strong showing from Seattle's hip hop and electronic scenes, including the refreshingly fun club sound of Wunderbugg, pop R&B's next big thing in Vanessa Thompson, the wonderful theatrics of Ramona The Band and the top-shelf rhymes of E. Millz.