Archive for July, 2012

(Yep, just stalling for time here until I find something more substantive to write about…)

-The Tom Price Desert Classic


-Green River

-The Baseball Project


-Wellwater Conspiracy

-Built to Spill (Yeah, I know Doug’s from Idaho, but I’m counting them)

-The Squirrels

-The Fags

-The Spooges

-The Young Fresh Fellows

-Empire Vista

-Unnamed Leighton Beezer collective

-Love Battery


-The Fastbacks

-Thee Sgt. Major III

-Robert Roth

-Coffin Break


-Capping Day

-Down With People

-Walkabouts/Beezer jam session

-The Cops

-The GUM


-The Guardians

A little while back,  I picked up the official CD of the Sub Pop 20th Anniversary show at, where else, Doylestown PA’s Siren Records.  The festival was held on July 12 and 13, 2008 at Marymoor Park in Redmond, Washington.  I showed up the second afternoon to see the Green River reunion, as I’ve mentioned earlier in this blog.  So, it was pretty cool to finally listen to a representation of the bands as I drove to work yesterday (but why no No Age?).

So, with that, here are my fave cuts:

1) Green River, “Leech.” Just hearing Mark Arm’s “Willie Dixon of grunge” comment makes this a worthwhile listen.  I was in the crowd when Mark made that statement, and I’m thinking about 10% of the audience got the joke, and I was one of them.  This song is absolutely 100% pure grunge.  How do I know? Give it a listen and see.

2) Beachwood Sparks, “You Take the Gold.” Country? No way, couldn’t be.  Sounds great, though.

3) Blitzen Trapper, “Furr.” Wait, country again? Folk?  Are you nuts? Yeah, and it again sounds great.

4) Flight of the Conchords, “Carol Brown.” These guys are fucking funny.  I saw them on some TV show before I even knew about their association with Sub Pop.

5) Iron and Wine, “Woman King.”  I like this dude.  Has a nice acoustic guitar riff going here.

6) Seaweed, “Baggage.” Grunge lite, I know, but what a great fucking song. (Update: Every time I listen to this song, it seems to automatically segue into “Polly” in my head. Then, in my unabashed brilliance, I figured out why…the main riff of “Baggage” has the same chord progression as the verse to “Polly.”)

7) Kinski, “The Wives of Artie Shaw.”  Wonderful instrumental that rocks.

8) Grand Archives, “Dig That Crazy Grave.”  This song’s story-telling, folky feel reminds me a little of the Walkabouts.

(Green River…I figured I’d pick a shot where Bruce isn’t cut off…from left: Bruce Fairweather (Love Battery); Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam); Mark Arm (Mudhoney); Alex Shumway (Spluii Numa); Not pictured: Stone Gossard (PJ); Steve Turner (Mudhoney.)

This fall, as part of my honors seminar based around my book (called Seattle Grunge Rock) at Delaware Valley College, we will be spending some time on the following non-obvious Northwest artists:

  • The Young Fresh Fellows
  • The U-Men
  • Amy Denio
  • Jack Endino
  • Red Dress
  • The Walkabouts
  • The Fastbacks
  • The Squirrels
  • Crypt Kicker 5

We will of course cover the usual suspects, but I thought these folks deserved some special consideration.  That’s all for now, and I don’t mean that in a Phil Collins kind of way.

The Walkabouts’ association with the then grunge-oriented Sub Pop label initially made sense.  In 1988, the Sub Pop 200 compilation offered a wonderful cross-section of late ’80s Northwest music.  In addition to their flagship bands Mudhoney, TAD, and Nirvana (and Soundgarden, which at that point had moved beyond Sub Pop), the comp provided the acoustic “Dead is Dead” from Terry Lee Hale, and a surfy-rocker from Olympia’s Beat Happening.  The Walkabouts contributed a Celtic/folk piece called “Got No Chains.”

By the early ’90s, however, as Seattle and grunge began to take off in the United States and internationally, the Walkabouts’ association with Sub Pop became problematic.  “I remember, like, [a] pretty full club, which was pretty exciting…but suddenly you see the guys with the backwards baseball caps,” Chris recalls, “and the flannel shirts in the front with their arms crossed.  And, you know, we start some song—some traditional folk song or something.  And, you know, three or four songs later they’re no longer there.  And, possibly, there’s about thirty other people that have left also.  It was pretty brutal at times.  But then we’d play [cities like] Chicago…[and] it would be great.  Great audience.  Local press really supported us.  [We] got great reviews and people came out and accepted [our music] on its own merits.”

Ultimately for this great band, the explosion of grunge in 1992 and 1993 worked to its benefit.  Since the Walkabouts were never limited by style, the band could continue to explore almost unlimited musical avenues unencumbered by the weight of industry expectation.  “The surprising thing,” says Chris, “was when we got to Europe—certainly continental Europe seemed to also take us…on our own merits.  Like, ‘these guys are from Seattle, but they’re different and, well, that’s just okay.  Because what they’re doing is also cool in its own right.’”

In some ways, the Walkabouts have always been Chris’ band, but he has refused to take over.  In fact, the open exchange of ideas continues to be encouraged.  “Chris is never anyone that comes in and says, ‘This is how it’s going to be,’” says Carla.  “He never had to be that person.  He never wanted to be that person.  He trusts everyone that they’ve put some time and thought into it.”

The Walkabouts’ “curse of diversity” has also proven to be their greatest blessing—one that continues to keep the band fresh and vital after all these years.  Since they made their “last album” (See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens) in 1987, the Walkabouts have released 14 records, plus three as “Chris and Carla.”  Last year, the band put out the epic Travels in the Dustland on the European label Glitterhouse.  Next week, the Walkabouts will venture to Europe for a month-long tour, including opening for their idol Patti Smith in Bonn, Germany on July 9.

Ultimately, this band represents the power, soul, and sheer joy that music can provide to us all…unfettered by genre or commercial manipulation.  “I think…what kind of got people’s attention,” says Carla, “was the idea that we took folk songs and fucked ’em up a bit.”

As Seattle’s underground music scene began to take flight in the latter ’80s, the Walkabouts rose with it, playing frequent gigs, even self-releasing a cassette called 22 Disasters in 1985.  By 1987, however, the whole notion of playing music for its own end seemed tired.  So the band decided to record a full length album before calling it a career.  That became See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens, released on Conrad Uno’s Popllama label in 1988.  “We simply handed Conrad Uno a cassette—I think it was a cassette of the mixes—we just decided to document the songs we had been doing that first three years and then get out of the business.  And then he came back at us and said, ‘You know, with a little bit of re-arranging, I believe you’ve made an album.’  And we’re like, ‘Really?’”

That first record did not yet define the Walkabouts’ collective sound, though, as the band continued to find its voice.  “When we started,” says Chris, “I think we were really envious of these bands that could only play one way.  Because, in a way, it was cool, because they had a sound.  They went on stage.  They played thirty minutes, and you were enthralled.  You were like, ‘Wow!  That really sounded like something.’  We’d play thirty minutes, and it would be like a sampler record.”

“I think I know what [Chris] means,” Carla adds.  “Like Mudhoney just gets up there and they can just march straightforward.  And we’re kinda like, ‘Okay, now.  We’re gonna leap over here and do this song that’ll confuse you.  And now we’re gonna leap over here and try to pull this off.’  But I guess that’s just the only way that we kept it interesting for ourselves.”

Fortunately, the Walkabouts decided to stick it out, and by the turn of the decade the chocolate/peanut butter combination began to coalesce.  To use Chris’ words, the band began to “sound like something.”  The fusion of folk, punk rock, Americana, and whatever else becomes evident with the release of the band’s next two records: Cataract and Rag and Bone, released by Sub Pop in 1989 and 1990.  Take a listen to “Hell’s Soup Kitchen” and “Whereabouts Unknown” from Cataract and “The Anvil Song” and “Medicine Hat” from Rag and Bone, to get an idea. (See link to “Medicine Hat” below.)

When you listen to these records, something else becomes apparent that differentiates this band from its contemporary peers.  While late ’80s Seattle featured unbridled creativity, lyrical sensibilities, song craft, and varied instrumentation were often not heavily emphasized.  Exceptions did exist: Capping Day, the Posies, and the Young Fresh Fellows come to mind, at least in terms of songwriting prowess and emphasis on lyrics.  The Walkabouts, though, took all of that and added more to the palette.  In addition to the typical guitar, bass, drums, and occasional keyboard, you’ll find violin, cello, trombone, harmonica, and mountain dulcimer on these albums.  “We had such expansive breadth of what we were listening to,” says Carla, “I mean from, probably, third grade on….We grew up with ELO, you know…for us to hear cellos and violins with rock—it didn’t seem [like] anything new.”