A Journal Of The Dark Arts
MAGNETIC RECONNECTION (a film by Kyle Armstrong)
ASHLEY ERIKKSON (solo lounge set)
Due to a series of complications, one of the most arduous public transportation commutes in history, and financial restrictions, LADY H. and i were only able to see one of the days of the third Anacortes Unknown Music Festival. This did not curb our enthusiasm one iota, and in an way, we were able to thoroughly ingest the music that we did see, not to mention the actual town and the surrounding locale, as well.
CALVIN JOHNSON‘S huge reedy baritone voice filled the x-church like a zeppelin as we arrived to a fairly packed house on Saturday afternoon, mostly sitting politely on the floor. It was like a house show warped to Northern Washington and put in the late July warmth and sunshine. Indie rockers always look so amusing in the sunlight. We are used to the night time. Still, it seemed as if everyone were enjoying themselves, in hats and shades; it was like we were some big extended family on the most eccentric family vacation of all time. Due to our good fortune, we had seen a number of these bands and solo musicians in the proceeding weeks, at tiny venues and house shows around Portland, so by the time we had arrived in Anacortes, we were smiling and waving friendly at a number of people.
I had seen the Hive Dwellers a number of times, 2 years ago, when i first arrived in the PNW. I was always impressed and amused by Calvin Johnson’s persona, an amalgam of Bruce Lee, Daniel Johnston, David Byrne, and James Brown, but their music in and by itself had never really struck in my craw. They work best as a live phenomena, largely due to their eschewing of amplification and gadgetry; Calvin sings sans microphone, while Gabriel Will‘s bass might as well be unplugged, and Evan Hashi keeps the tribal thump subdued with towels over his toms. Its a perfect illustration of what a different beast live music, vs. the recorded environment; acoustics bounce all over, sound coming from every direction, heavenly harmonics ricocheting through Eustachian canals to create phantom tonalities between cerebral hemispheres. The Hive Dwellers filled The Unknown’s vaulted ceilings to the rafters, circumventing the inevitable gremlins that come from trying to amplify an acoustic band through a PA. When it works, and it was working this Saturday, believe me, the listener is reminded of the glory of hearing warm-bodied wooden acoustic instruments dancing a tango in mid-air; its like a campfire sing-a-long taken to the stage. It doesn’t hurt that Calvin is a legendary frontman, he gyrates like Ian Curtis, if he were to have grown up in rustbelt Michigan instead of Manchester.
Here’s a quote, from The Hive Dweller’s K Records page, that wraps it up succinctly:
What does it all mean? The album contains the life force behind K and of what Calvin believes rock’n’roll sounds like: simply stitched beat-centric guitar, hollowed-out drums and muscley vocals. Through the Dub Narcotic musical underground his deep hypnotic singing voice drives lyrics like “the beating of my foolish tell-tale heart” straight to the old schooler heart in all of us, and his fervor for a more primitive, 60’s garage sound is unapologetically dance-driven: Calvin wants you to dance, and he wants to dance with you. Remember that throwback sentiment “it sent me”– as in, this music has such idiosyncratic joy I find myself rejuvenated, even delivered, after hearing it? Remember when you weren’t afraid to dance like a puppet, wave your arms or bob your head because no one cared—it was all about the music, about getting to it, not getting it? Remember that perfect summer at the perfect age with those perfect friends? Hewn from Wilderness captures those feelings of wistful indulgence; it’s warm yet wild, sparse and fresh, and real Northwest rock’n’roll.
This was probably the best possible scenario to experience The Hive Dwellers, crowded in amongst their friends and peers. No hecklers or assholes to break the spell, everybody was into it, and it set the mood brilliantly for the rest of the day. They closed with ‘Get In’, which is a #1 platinum hit in an alternate universe where the geeks have inherited the Earth. In this world, the pencil-necked pimply geek gets the girl of his dreams, and rides off to a ComicCon honeymoon. We are now avowed Hive Dweller fans, will be purchasing their records (which can all be heard at that link above), and will make sure to check them out, whenever they come within 100 miles. We advise you to do the same.
Portland’s Genders have been doing very well for themselves, since their inception. Made up of members of Forest Park and Youth, both popular in their own time but had gone up in flames, they’ve had critical attention and love since the very start. Luckily, they had all the chops to make the most of it. In a number of different ways, Genders are the penultimate Portland band, gender-neutral indie pop with guitar sturm-und-drang, propulsive drumming (Catherine Paul is a total fucking badass), stripped-down and ultra-clean. You can see/hear echoes of Typhoon and Radiation City, two of Portland’s best-known exports, and it makes you wonder if there’s something in the water here, that makes people start paisley clad guy/girl combos (i even play in a guy/girl duo. not much paisley going on, however).
In a generation that grew up inundated with post-rock’s crescendo rock (Godspeed You Black Emperor, Explosions In The Sky, Mogwai), we have all been dropped in the deep end, forced to figure out how to make interesting, psychedelic emotional music, while dodging cliches and formulas and succumbing to post-rock’s bloated proggish tendencies. That’s why its refreshing to hear the twin-guitar attack, sparkling clean, which is as much Jagger/Richards or Lloyd/Verlaine as it is Moore/Ranaldo or Braithwaite/Burns.
In short, these lads and lasses totally slayed, and we were off to a great start, 2/2 awesome bands.
If you haven’t seen or heard ’em yet, Genders have a few more PDX shows before the summer calls it quits, and will be opening for indie giants Built To Spill on their upcoming national tour in the fall. This is an exciting time for an exciting band, so check ’em up and show ’em love, when it matters most.
We ducked out to grab some smokes and feed our bods, and unfortunately only caught about 15 seconds of O Paon‘s set, but she is amazing, and worthy of yr attention.
As a little lagniappe to this inadvertent tragedy, Lady H. and i staggered down into The Croation Club’s social club atmosphere to check out Ashley Erikkson‘s lounge set. We had seen her the week before, at the Record Room in Portland, but this intimate scenario was pretty much the ultimate situation to check out her Fender Rhodes driven light-rock. She’s best known for penning a song for Adventure Time’s closing credits, The Island Song, but there was no sight of Finn or Jake or Princess Buttercup, this evening. Instead, it was Jim Croce, Elton John, John Denver. This quiet passing moment, sitting at long plastic folding tables, seemed to me to be the heart and soul of Anacortes Unknown: some were chatting amiably, sipping tea or coffee out of stainless steel mugs (there was no alcohol of any kind during the festival) while others paid rapt attention. It climaxed with an unexpected singalong of Elton John’s Daniel, with Calvin Johnson and a few others scattered throughout the crowd. This is the true treasure of a festival like this – it breaks down the walls between audience and performer, and as such, is firmly in line with the punk rock ethos, while appearing very very different, on the surface. Twee disco and pagan love songs meet hardcore three chords in the line for the Honey Bucket. I wouldn’t be surprised if some who attended the festival this year will be back as performers, in the future.
I was all jazzed up and feeling great, despite having missed O Paon, and was in the perfect condition to receive Wyrd Vision‘s weird visions. This time around, Colin Bergh played by himself, accompanying his magickal, mysterious, and vaguely sinister sea shanties with snakey middle-eastern guitar – glorious Mazzacane miniatures mingled with Jandekian surreality and Jansch-ian minstrelry. He adorned these mutant traditionals with a patina of loops and delay, creating a truly EXPERIMENTAL FOLK MUSIC that left me dry-mouthed and salivating, simultaneously. He also accomplished the nearly miraculous task of making music that seemed truly ceremonial, playing up the ritualistic nature of live performance, without resorting to the maypole cliches nearly universal to most practitioners of modern Wicca. This was TRUE MAGICK, as in making shit happen, as in affecting the air around you, transporting the listener with hypnotic tales of moldering guitars and dark waters. This was my favorite set of the weekend, despite for a few moments of PA distortion, especially considering i was unfamiliar with his work. I am constantly on the lookout for new pagan muzak to feast my ears. I’m predicting Half-Eaten Guitar will be in heavy rotation in the onset of autumn.
And last but not least, a film called Magnetic Reconnection, by Kyle Armstrong. This was H.’s highlight of the weekend, being the more visually oriented of the two of us, with its theme of impermanence, the vast empty spaces of Manitoba, and man’s hubris being close to her heart. It was a visual feast, one of the loveliest films i’ve seen in a minute, and it was great to see it on the big screen. The film was narrated by Will Oldham, aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, with a musique concrete/sound art score by Jim O’ Rourke. The film will show a few more times before the end of the summer, so check that link above and check it out, if it comes into yr environment.
We were satiated, inspiration tanks full, so we headed out in search of Little Debbies and Red Bull, nearly getting in a fistfight with some motherfucker while asking for directions to someplace to play pool. Thankfully, this braindead hophead was very much the exception, as everyone else in Anacortes was extremely helpful and friendly, loving to talk about their town and share the sights with appreciative newcomers. We will definitely be going back!!!
This was definitely one of the most distinctive festival experiences i’ve had in my short but weird life, and there have been LOTS. First off, it was one of the first times i was not entirely manic about seeing every second of music. So much of the music that comes out of Anacortes, and WA in general, is about NATURE, about taking things in, looking around, and it seems like the pinnacle of hypocrisy to rush around like a coke-addled New Yorker to see a bunch of super-chill acoustic music about trees and lagoons. And even if i were to have done that, i don’t think i could have written about the proceedings with any accuracy or integrity. The situation demand that i assess the music on its level, on its own terms, which resulted in getting to Northern Washington by the seat of our pants, with no idea of what would happen. Getting lost, getting found, and finding human decency and community along the way. Finding the origin of art, of music and poetry and inspiration, amidst the early morning fog, and late afternoon cry of screech owls.
I feel like we really got to EXPERIENCE Anacortes, this time around, to know its people a little bit, to investigate its history. SHIPWRECK DAYS was going on, on Saturday, which is a town wide rummage sale and antiquer’s dream, and we had the most epic deli lunch in history at the Gere A Deli, which fed us both for 2 days for under 30 bucks. So thank you very much to all the lovely denizens of Anacortes, Wa. We can’t wait to see you again, and stay longer.