Roots music this week in Seattle
First, a word about the Tractor Tavern, which turned 15 this weekend with three shows in a row headlined by the Maldives. For some reason, I wound up missing all three shows, but the notability of the Tractor’s decade-and-a-half run has not been lost on me. Almost every memorable night of music I’ve experienced over the course of my six years in Seattle has happened in that room. I’ve partied hard to Rebirth Brass Band, sat in utter silence taking in the subtleties of performances from Sometymes Why and Toshi Reagon (two of my favorite evenings ever at the Tractor). I’ve made a number of friends there and discovered artists I never would have had the chance to see in any other venue in this town.
I’ve watched the local roots music scene grow into the force it’s become between those walls: The Maldives, Sera Cahoone, Moondoggies, Jack Wilson & the Wifestealers, Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers, Whisky Swillers, Betsy Olson, North Twin, Star Anna & the Laughing Dogs, the Starlings, Westerly… I stumbled onto each of these bands for the first time at the Tractor Tavern. Brandi Carlile played an unforgettably explosive “secret” set there last summer, when I finally got sold on the power she and the boys churn up.
Then there’s the slew of national touring bands who wouldn’t have made sense in decidedly more hipster-geared rooms like Neumo’s or the Croc. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band threw that place down well into the wee hours a couple years ago. Justin Townes Earle arrived on my radar there, as did Eilen Jewell and Kaiser Cartel. I caught Jay Farrar in a solo set there once, and Tim O’Brien some sunny afternoon. And those are just a handful of highlights at the top of my head, from the past couple of years. The impact the Tractor Tavern has had on Seattle’s music scene is undeniable, and I look forward to the music I’ll discover there in the coming years. Kudos to those guys, those boots hanging from the ceiling, and every band who’s graced that stage. Here’s to 15 more years!
Two of the reasons I didn’t make it to the Maldives’ Tractor celebration shows included some of those bands listed above. Thursday night, when the Maldives were joined by North Twin, I headed instead to Neumo’s to catch Betsy Olson. (You’ll get to know her a little more in an upcoming ND podcast – her debut album, featuring Sera Cahoone on drums and bassist Jonas Haskins, drops in October.)
Osaka Explosion opened up. On MySpace, they claim to sound like “a little bit of Radiohead, some Wilco, maybe a little Jeff Buckley here and there.” I’d say that’s pretty spot-on. Lead vocalist Ian (can’t find his last name anywhere) had an impressive set of pipes and the instrumentation all around was tight. Telepathic Liberation Army was next – not really my thing. But that’s fine, because Olson and Cahoone’s synergy is strong, and it was worth the wait.
Olson plays the raw and dirty rock blues, falling somewhere along the lines of Hendrix and Zeppelin (her cover of Hendrix’s “Red House” is filthy and fierce, and she closed the show with it this night). Live, it’s just her on guitar and Cahoone on drums, which is all those two really need. I don’t know of anyone else making this kind of music here in Seattle right now, and certainly no woman. It’s only a shame more people weren’t there to witness. I’m looking forward to that record release – Olson mentioned they’ll be celebrating with a show at the Tractor, of course.
Saturday night (Maldives with Shim and Thee Emergency at the Tractor), I headed to the Triple Door for Star Anna & the Laughing Dogs.
I wrote a feature for Sound magazine back in January highlighting six women from the local roots scene. It ran on the cover under the headline “The Next Big Thing.” Star was one of those gals (along with Laura Gibson, Shelley Short, Sera Cahoone, Brandi Carlile, and Zoe Muth), and to say she’s living up to that assertion is close to an understatement. She and her band, the Laughing Dogs, have become one of the most reliable fixtures in the Northwest music scene over the past year or so. They pack the Tractor whenever they roll in, and this was their first night at the Triple Door – a venue bassist Frank Johnson referred to as another step up on the food chain.
Contrasting the Tractor, the Triple Door is a sit-down supper club where you can order a chocolate souffle and a bottle of port while watching Star Anna sing about serial killers. I was curious how the band’s energy would go over in such a reserved space, but these guys are pros. They broke through that wall right out of the gate, opening with “Sleep My Darling” from their second full-length, which dropped in April, The Only Thing That Matters.
They pulled out a number of notable new tunes. Best among them was a slow-build introspective rock tune called “Wait.” Another highligh was her cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Joy,” which she unleashed for the first time at the No Depression Festival last month. That was part of an all-star band performance pulled together by multi-instrumentalist Jeff Fielder to highlight some of the best artists from our local roots music scene. I’ll leave you with some video from that: