Deep in my archive, here are set of pictures (with crazy tweaks then, and added refinements now) I took at a live show with San Francisco’s Brilliant Colors.
I’ve always had a bit of thing for the Danelectro post-WW II-late-1940s-lo-fi guitars with their lipstick-tube pickups and hollow Masonite bodies, sold in those ancient prosperous boom years by Sears and Montgomery Ward. Catalog shopping ushering in the first furtive dreams of garage rock. When paired with pedals and boxes, the Daneletcro sound can shave ice. In the hands of LA’s Prism Tats, the sound created its own reality of dirty crash pop. The Tats kicked off the evening for the Noise for the Needy final live series.
Desire and obsession, the two driving forces deep in the heart of the fan, and the heart of the record collector. Together, these forces can bend light. These are unstoppable forces in nature, shaping lives and destinies. And the record business needs these forces more than ever, needs us, which is why I can say things like this about myself. You need me. I’m the ideal fan! I obsess, I want, and my wanting is how this whole fucking thing stared back in the day, the endless cycle of falling in love with new bands that leads to vinyl records, which leads to reckless spending, which leads to insanely large record collections, which leads to ticket sales to shows, which leads to wanton abandon. Forget gigantic arena shows. Those are done, or will be soon. Tickets to the Super Bowl each year don’t fund the entire football obsession in America. Nor do those ridiculous mega shows where 50,000 people sit in plastic seats and watch their concerts on jumbo TV screens, all for just $250 a seat. Fuck that! The life blood of the music industry today is the road, the infinity of small venues, and the intimacy of places like the Tractor Tavern in Ballard. This whole thing is about much more than selling booze. But you know that, don’t you?
In these small, teeming, ancient meeting places bands must scale themselves, down. They must get close to us, their fans, and feel our love directly. The last time I saw The Helio Sequence was at The Neptune, in Seattle. It’s a far bigger venue than the Tractor. But at the Tractor there’s no hired meat to keep us back, keep us in our places. Helio is just two amazing dudes on stage, Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel. On the Neptune stage they did their thing with the elbow room of the Great Plains. At the Tractor they had a fraction of the stage space, but they had us. And new songs from a recently completed new record. And yet, there was more magic. The adoring crowd pressed in close, then got closer, reaching out for the band, wanting to touch them, to touch their sound. Desire, the root of all suffering, and yet, the source of all sweet, sweet longing. As their song says, it might be heavy on your heart, but it feels so good. All we need to do is just bend our will, bend the light, for one night only. The best music is intimate because it gets inside you, becomes part of you. We were built for desire. We were built for music. We are made for each other.
Holy Fuck! Whose punk love children are these people? From whose musical loins did they spring forth? What part of this great land produces such Alt-R promise? Oh! They’re from here, the Pacific Northwest? Well, why then are we not bowing down before the might of their guitars and their tsunami stage presence? I have been asleep. Asleep I tell you! But now I am awake. Wide awake! You, reading this, you need to wake up, too! The Tractorites didn’t want Ravenna Woods to leave the building. The genre-bending Helio Sequence was on deck, the Sub Pop headliner, and the crowd was still buying RW drinks as they stowed their gear and cleared the stage. Expensive drinks! Love was in the air. Real, lasting love, the kind that only guitars played until they blaze can spontaneously generate in the hearts of true believers. It was the long moment, the evangelical tent-show conversion, the first kiss, the burning man burning it all up on his last night in the cool desert air knowing it meant becoming ash by morning, but choosing the flames anyway. I’m not making any of this up. Look at these pictures! I’m a professional! Go on up to Bandcamp, listen, and know what “we” now know. Go, now, and be amazed.
Boots! I practically live at the Tractor doing my deep-field research into the coolest emerging bands in the Pacific Northwest, and I never noticed that there are boots hanging from the ceiling of the joint. Not until I got so involved with my angles of view of this amazing band, Black Nite Crash. These people are seriously cool to photograph (and listen to) when they’re doing that thing they do.
Liam Finn, carving out his own post-modern epoch, in song, wrapped up his current tour at the mighty Tractor Tavern in Ballard, Washington. (Ballard is like the fun younger brother of Seattle who likes to stay up late, and who always needs a designated driver to get home.) The show had everything, including wardrobe changes and a theremin-like thing that Finn insisted wasn’t a theremin. Finn is touring on his stylish new LP from Yep Roc Records, called “The Nihilist,” a lavish double LP in a gatefold sleeve that you must buy before it goes out of print forever. Yummy. Next up, Finn, who hails from New Zealand, will take on the UK and the EU. Finn’s nihilism is much more that of Kierkegaard than Heidegger, plus you can dance to Finn. Every rebellion runs smoother when dancing is involved. I’m just saying.
Joshua James playing live at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle, Washington.