The Metro Gnome

Like any cynic worth his salt, the Gnome goes into most shows expecting the worst. Your craggy correspondent would've bet dozens of dollars that when Buffalo Tom's "alt rock is still alive" reunion tour stopped at the Crocodile last week, musical crimes would be committed. At the very least, the aging Massachusetts trio, whose history stretches so far back that they were once on SST(!), would pepper their leaden set with between-song banter about the cruel ways of the music biz. Wrongo, boyo! Bill Janovitz played guitar like a 21-year-old zombie with a fire in his belly; by the end of the two-hour performance, his shirt was as soaked as a chimp in a bathtub. This, mind you, after an earlier acoustic in-store at Sonic Boom, where the boys chatted with fans and signed posters, CDs, and body parts. After they played all the "hits," Buffalo Tom offered up a nicely buzzing cover of The Who's "The Seeker," then sent the loyalists home with a fond farewell.

Not wanting to push the luck (or go anywhere near the storm troopers who surrounded Belltown) last Thursday, the Gnome considered burrowing in for the night with a Nirvana biography and a bottle of Shiraz. But curiosity led your soured scribe to the Croc anew, to test the theory that Creeper Lagoon and Sunset Valley's brief moment as West-Coast indie-rock gods had expired. First up were Fear of Little Men, a group of average-sized men from Seattle who played math-influenced rock and sang a funny song about driving on Aurora. Not a bad start to the eve. Then came Sunset Valley, stripped back down to a trio after years bobbing between a quartet and quintet. They played with renewed focus, and frontman Herman Jolly has justly reemerged as the focal point; he's a witty songwriter who looks askance at the world and offers detached commentary about monsters, lovers, and California. After briefly flirting with major labels, Sunset Valley may land on Seattle label Barsuk, with a new album rumored for early next year. (Barsuk, by the way, has an ace new compilation on the shelves, Treats, with excellent songs by Death Cab for Cutie, Little Champions, and a hidden-before-the-first-track gem by Jessamine.) Oh, yeah, then Creeper Lagoon came along and totally rocked the house, although several grumpy Guses could be overheard faulting singer Ian Sefchick for a glasses-and-mop-top look that was suspiciously Ken Stringfellow-like. At any rate, Creeper's set included some things old, some things new, one thing borrowed (a reverent, rocked-out cover of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?"), and nothing blew! Yes, the Bay Area boys have regained their momentum and individuality after briefly scaring your Gnomeness with a stint as Smashing Pumpkins wanna-bes at South by Southwest way back in March. So long ago, so far away. Sigh.

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