It ain't always easy to keep up with the surge of rock shows going on in this town, and sometimes even the impeccable music journalists here at the Weekly fail to take notice when someone special's passing through. In this week's calendar, for instance, you'll find little mention of Mason Jennings' upcoming appearance at the Tractor Tavern (Friday the 13th—oooh, scary!). Fortunately for readers of the Gnome, your cutthroat correspondent obtained a copy of Jennings' self-released Birds Flying Away and so can recommend this virtually unknown Minnesotan. A sharp-witted songwriter with a pleasing, articulate voice, Jennings and his backing band possess an unusual musical curiosity; while his acoustic guitar and the soft backing might suggest folk-rock, the group traverse a host of styles, slithering into worldly rhythms and seesawing between melancholic ramblings and bright, sunny musings. They're opening for Willis (or whatever they're called), so if you like Joseph Arthur, or if you simply enjoy being among the first to discover an up-and-coming artist, get thee down to Ballard on Friday night. It's the Gnome's Lock of the Week!
By the way, let's set some ground rules for the Tractor, in light of another great show nearly ruined by overwhelming chatter. Last week's John Wesley Harding & the Radical Gentlemen gig was yet one more in a long line of swell performances in the intimate club that competed with a chorus of conversations from the crowd; past examples include Neko Case's local finale before moving to Chicago and the great Robbie Fulks' secret post-Bumbershoot set. The Gnome suggests that if you want to say more than a few words to your companion during a Tractor show, try moving to the back of the room near the entrance. If you can still hear yourself, go outside and talk, or head down the street to Hattie's.
It'd be nice to have a Tractor crowd as well behaved as the crew of 30 or so who packed the Belltown diner Two Bells last week for another visit by Robyn Hitchcock. In town for the Soft Boys reunion (which sold out the Croc a few nights later), Hitchcock and drummer Morris Windsor joined Young Fresh Fellows Scott McCaughey and Kurt Bloch for an impromptu, literally unplugged, late-night set. Wryly dubbing his makeshift band the "Young Fresh Boys," Hitchcock led the quartet through songs by both represented bands and covers of Dylan and Beatles classics, as well as more obscure fare. Sloppy as hell and interrupted by Hitchcock's beer runs to the bar, the jam held the audience's attention despite the lack of amplification. And with nary a "shhhh" to mar the evening. You betcha!