Sunday, July 21, 2013


After a promising first evening, I arrive - again in a timely manner, early birds, worms, all that - flush with anticipation. Last night was stacked with talent leaning toward the electronic side of things (and was bloody excellent, in case you missed it; see post here), tonight has more of a rock 'n' roll, bravura feel to it, with local phenom Matthew Heller, a couple of terrific bookings from our sister up north (that'd be Seattle, natch, and we're talking The Maldives and Rose Windows), Cambodian Space Project from, umm, yeah, that's right, and a not insignificant plum of a headliner, ex-Posie Ken Stringfellow. So, after short chats with organizer Sean Hocking, CSP's Julien, and Dawn and Christian from Das Fluff (one of Friday night's standout highlights), I'm all clubbed up, prepared to have my head spun round how ever many times the assembled performers find necessary and spot on eight o'clock the lights go dim, the stage fills up and off we go, seat belts optional.

Y'know that classic white soul-ish garage band you wanted to form in high school, the one that would write and sing with freakin gusto the kind of songs that should be on the radio, with actual middle eight guitar solos and a Winwood-esque piano? Well, Matthew Heller went right ahead and did it. Heller trades off between piano and guitar - another echo of the Traffic man - and like the era in which that band arose Matthew Heller and the Clever do indeed play the type of unfussed-over, blues-based, four on the floor rock 'n' roll  that one might have stumbled upon in a smoky, beery converted ice arena, say, in 1973, which before you ask is indeed a compliment. Depending on the song, we're thrown back to Detroit, boogeying in Memphis or tearing up the upholstery midway between New York City and Austin. In fact, Heller and his mates make a habit of tearing it up generally tonight, pulling out the stops and going to town. They rock the hell out just like you want them to and there's nothing ironic about it. They. Just. Rock. Very happy I got to see them live at last and I suggest you do yourselves a similar favor: Go see 'em.

Suitably, Seattle contenders for rookies of the year Rose Windows lead us further down the amber path with their psych folk Jeff Airplane take on the same period, though a bit more bruised up maybe. A tight fit on stage, two female singers, one moonlighting on flute, two guitarists, drummer bass and keys, we're treated again to the beauty of unadorned vintage-era rock and roll brilliantly played, suffused with the inspiration of its creation. Yes, there are echoes the raindrop organ of the Doors, there's that great society voice, there are those harmonies harkening back to the days when harmonies mattered and everyone used them - Laurel Canyon harmonies in other words - but until someone can convince me there's anything wrong with echoes like that, when synthesized into such a gorgeous modern whole as Rose Windows bring, I'm going to go ahead and enjoy it if you don't mind. Y'know how certain bands, people will say 'They've really got it'? Rose Windows really do have it. When lead singer Rabia Shaheen Qazi announces "This is our last song" it's far too early for anyone in the audience - which is fairly thick by this point - at least we're treated to the lengthy "Native Dreams" (off new album The Sun Dogs) Qazi belting it out, face-wrapping hair curtaining around, guitarist Chris Cheveyo unpeeling the most ringing, Quiksilver guitar break I've heard in, well, decades. Superb, a highlight, end of story.

Keeping with the Seattle connect and keeping with the timelessness theme plus sticking to the 7-up line-up, in this case three guitarists, bass, organ, drums, and the seated bewhiskered banjo player, Emerald City stalwarts - nay,institution - the Maldives arrive full of bar band fervor, kicking the holy shite out of the joint, injecting punk energy into every gesture and lick of what is essentially an Americana tip. "I'm not used to playing that fast" says lead singer/acoustic guitar slinger Jason Dodson, "it's a really short set so we're trying to pack them in real tight" and he couldn't be any righter. After  umpteen years together this lot is almost dangerously tight, not to mention joyous and unimpeachably rockworthy. Clearly a fan favorite as evidenced by audience-band banter, there's something invincibly comforting about the Maldives, which is perhaps down to the easy authority of their sound, the honest working man's work ethic sense of it met head-on by a fully up-to-date wariness. Too upfront to be cynical, the Maldives deliver instead a deeply effecting treasure of seriously good-time music and are another band I've been hearing all these good things about and finally get to see. What a great live band.

By guitarist Julien's description, singer Srey Thy was so entirely freaked out when she first heard herself singing through headphones in the studio, she fled the scene. There's a little sign of that tonight. Ms Thy has a presence, her arms flowering out beside her and though she's not yet, by appearances, 100% stage comfortable, she is without doubt confident in the power of her voice, a chill-raising instrument that fills the Mississippi like Cambodian crystal in a fish bowl. Glass clear, ranging from percussive to as lyrical as a waving reed, often in the same song, it's what carries Cambodian Space Project whether there's nine of them on stage or just two of them as there is tonight. Singing entirely in Khmer (though introducing songs in a practicing English accent), during a haunting version of  the Sonny Bono-composed "Bang Bang (I'm Afraid Of Love)" - though in truth any song Srey's voice touches has a biting hauntingness to it - the language barrier disappears, and if one wasn't entranced at that moment then one is simply not entranceable.

At some point I have to just hang up the notebook, let loose and enjoy so goodbye to the word for a bit. After the rousing la la la's of, um, "LaLaLa," Srey has become at one with her stage persona, commanding the mic while Julian and the stage-invited Ken Stringfellow and Maldives drummer extraordinaire Faustine Hudson bang an improvised shuffle groove around her that is quintessentially, well, Western while sounding frankly, fully trans-Pacific in scope and spirit. From here on out they rip out a good ol' rockin' racket that Dr Feelgood would be proud of.

Last song "Whiskey Cambodia" is a tough mauling drag tempo blues improv of sorts ("of sorts" because nothing Thy sings is going to sound like the blues blues) that scrapes the gutter while raising the rafters and I am in fact left feeling a little hungover, actually, but, y'know, in the very best way.

Which leads us to ken Stringfellow. Other than the Kingsmen and Nirvana, is there a more legendary Northwest band then the Posies? Great enough to be called upon when Alex Chilton needed a couple of musicians to fill in for those members of Big Star no longer available, it was the Posies he called upon. And it is instantly clear why. Stringfellow sits behind a Kurzweil and stunningly emotes the way only a musician of his stature can, possessing the stage, the audience, the room. But hell, he doubles down by inviting the Maldives back on stage as his backing band and we all collectively melt. This inevitably is a very winning proposition and, if I may be so bold, echoes the very invitation Mr Chilton made back in 1993. 

Lemme say this: there is a lot of joy on stage right now. Due to the pickup band nature of the arrangement, there's the spontaneity of improvisation colliding with the solidity of the at-least-marginally rehearsed, a very fine cross-hair in which to find ourselves. "All Night Long" is an utter monster of collaborative dynamism, Stringfellow more or less howling by the end, the band locked in to his every bandleader gesture. It's a thing of beauty.

As with the Posies, Stringfellow has an unerring ear for the seductive, unforced pop hook, and they leak out everywhere tonight. What an ideal way to put this year's Sometimes A Great Notion festival to bed. It's like you just know you're going to have a great dream, one soundtracked by the ad hoc collective on stage right now. I'll head out tonight a happy guy, but for now I gotta close this notebook and just..luxuriate in the pure pop now, and once again thank Sean Hocking for a sublime summer weekend. Til next year, then, if you have the chance, cheers, mate.

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