Seattle 2016: The Cats Cometh, Day 1

Posted: October 8, 2016 in My Seattle-Related Concert Experiences

It’s been almost a year since I posted anything to this blog, and that means you readers will have one of two reactions: 1) Wow! We’ve been waiting a year for this! Why have you kept us alone in the dark for so long! or 2) (crickets.)

I arrived in Seattle late Thursday evening, October 6. Went to sleep. Exciting, I know. So, let’s start with…

Friday, October 7

I’ve stayed at a few places during my now 15 trips to Seattle…the University Inn in the U-District, the Belltown Inn in (duh) Belltown, Rob Morgan’s couch in Ballard, and on this trip, the 11th Avenue Inn on Capitol Hill. The Inn is a great place to stay…you’re in the middle of a vibrant neighborhood, the cost is reasonable, and it comes with breakfast and free parking. The new Light Rail line has a station two blocks away, which connects you to other neighborhoods as well as the airport.

I usually start with some musical-related interactions, but today I want to begin with a conversation I had with the breakfast chef. He’s in his 30s, I’m guessing. Anyway, we got to talking and it turns out he’s from Texas, but has lived in New York, Germany, and Prague. While in the Czech Republic, he bought a motorcycle and used it to explore the local countryside, as well as Slovakia and Hungary. Later, he moved to Seattle where he now paints and cooks. Moral of the story: talk to people. They’re fascinating.

Ok, enough with the background stuff, let’s get to the music.

I met my friends Leighton Beezer and Five at a vegan cafe called the Wayward in Wallingford. Not my idea, of course. I come from the “eat a fucking burger” school of cuisine, but the Wayward’s food was quite tasty (I think I originally typed “nasty,” but it was good…really) and I enjoyed it. I wanted to interview the pair about their improvisational approach to music-making. Since the Wayward was a bit noisy, we reconvened at Five’s house a few blocks away.

Five has a cat. Everyone in Seattle has a cat. And I’m highly allergic. See the problem here?

So we did our interview on Five’s porch. Before I get on that, a little context is in order.

Leighton was in a grunge era band called the Thrown Ups (that piece of information is now in my wife’s head…one of the useless bits of knowledge I have imparted to her. Once she picked up the home phone and yelled down to me, “Honey. It’s Leighton Beezer from the Thrown Ups.”) The Thrown Ups became the quintessential “fuck band,” in that, other than Leighton himself, the other members looked at it as a side project. The players, at different times, included Mark Arm and Steve Turner from Mudhoney, and Scott Schickler of Swallow. The Thrown Ups were an improvisational punk band. That is, no songs, no rehearsals. Whatever happened on stage happened. That included heaving oysters at the audience at the Gorilla Gardens and covering themselves in cola-infused mud during a show at the Central Tavern.

But enough about high art. The Thrown Ups represented the essence of all things grunge as it existed in the pre-Nevermind ’80s: get on stage and go for it. To paraphrase Leighton, ‘Don’t worry about whether you’re playing the chorus or the verse. If you forget what you’re doing, jump into the audience. A show that ends up as a train wreck will probably be a better show anyway.’ That freedom, camaraderie, and musical spontaniety exemplified grunge in its pure form. Heavy music was certainly the prequisite, but as Jack Endino once told me, it was more about getting the feeling out than playing the song note for note perfect. The Thrown Ups represented all of that.

I met Leighton for the first time in 2007, at a bar in Belltown called the…damn, I forget, wait, I think it was called the Rendezvous. Anyway, we had a beer before his performance that evening. After we finished, Leighton received a dumbfounded expression from the hostess when he inquired, “Do you know who’s playing tonight, because it might be me.”

Half an hour later, with a patch together crew of players including the aforementioned Five, Leighton’s band took the stage. They gave us 45 minutes of…well, I’m a writer and I can’t really put it into words. They played and it was great. Ok? The musicians fed off each other in a way only artists can, at times featuring cascading crescendoes of noise, and at other times lowering the volume to create some beautiful sonic textures (that sounds like I know what I’m talking about, doesn’t it?)

The next time I saw Leighton was in my hometown of Philadelphia. He played a bar called the…I forget that one…small place, which isn’t there anymore. On South Street, maybe? A small dive bar. Leighton’s band, called Empire Vista played songs that evening. Wow, with vocals and everything! After I wrote a review of that gig, Leighton emailed me: “You thought they were songs?”

For over 30 years, Leighton has focused on developing the concept of a band that won’t rehearse and eschews arranged material. I became fascinated with that concept and decided to interview him and Five about it.

I will post the actual interview shortly, but suffice it to say the conversation opened my eyes a bit. I’ve been playing guitar myself for a long time, badly, but have seriously worked hard at it the last two years, and I’ve become good enough to play a few songs at open mic nights. My teacher Thomas is awesome and has helped me discover talents I never knew I had. Thomas has taught me technique and theory in addition to songs, which he allows me the freedom to change as I see fit.

Five is the anti-Thomas. Five’s approach to teaching guitar is as follows: Grab the instrument, randomly twist the tuning pegs, and then begin playing. Don’t worry if it sounds like crap, it may or not be as such…but the important thing to grasp is, does it sound good to you? Or perhaps better put, does it feel good to you? So playing guitar becomes much more of a spiritual experience than let’s say a mechanical one. I told Five I’d try that approach when I get home.

After that experience, I drove up to Edmonds to catch the ferry over to Kitsap, on Bainbridge Island. Guitarist Derek Burns was throwing a birthday party for Paul Burback, of Before Cars and Paundy, at his house in Hanville. Hanville is apparently Bainbridgian for, “houses in the middle of nowhere.” It’s about a half hour drive from Kitsap, and beautiful does not begin to describe the setting. It feels like you’re sitting out in the woods on an island, probably because you are in the woods on an island.

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(About to depart Edmonds for Kitsap on the ferry.)

I arrived early, and Derek offered up some salmon salad he made from his own catch. One of the reasons I love coming here is to explore the pronounced cultural differences between us Easterners and those who call the Northwest home. One of Derek’s friends asked me if I was a fisherman. (Yeah, right. My uncle once took me fishing for flukes off the coast of Point Pleasant, New Jersey. I think we anchored about three quarters of a mile off the shoreline.) These guys were talking about venturing out of the Columbia River and into the Pacific Ocean, sometimes anchoring hundreds of miles from land to fish for tuna. They talked about how fear of the ocean is a healthy thing, it helps keep one alive in a sometimes brutal, unforgivingly massive body of water. I looked at them with an expression that is best described as a combination of admiration and ‘good luck with that.’

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(The bustling traffic behind Derek’s house.)

I think what strikes me about these folks is how utterly at ease they are. They are so comfortable with who and where they are…it’s a refreshing change from the city attitude people possess in places like Seattle and Philly. Absolutely no pretense.

Soon, Derek, Paul, and Before Cars/Paundy mate Andy Miller began to jam. (Couple of tidbits…Paundy is the combination of “Paul” and “Andy,” something I didn’t know about until last night. Also, Derek apparently possesses one of Kurt Cobain’s distortion boxes in his living room. I don’t think Derek gives a shit about its late famous owner other than he likes the sound of it.) They rocked out, of course, but in a sort of jazzy, groovy way at times, sometimes more bluesy. No vocals…someone apparently neglected to bring a PA.

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(Jam session. From left: Derek, food, Andy, Paul.)

After a while, I became infused with the essence of Derek’s cat. And I began sneezing uncontrollably. And I had to go outside on the porch, where I remained for the rest of the evening. (To riff off a Gallagher bit: “Good thing I have allergies!”) I hung out there until I got too cold, and let the combination of cat reaction and beer dissipate so I could head back to Seattle.

Saturday (today) would be a much quieter day, beginning with a breakfast with Jack Endino and his girlfriend and sometimes bandmate, Mia Katherine Boyle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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