Considering the fact that Motörhead usually sell out the Showbox every time they roll through Seattle, it was pretty odd to walk into El Corazon last Thursday and see the place a little more than half full for Lemmy Kilmister's side project, the Head Cat. Comprised of the iconic frontman, Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom, and guitarist Danny B. Harvey (who also plays in Slim's post–Stray Cats outfit, 13 Cats), the Head Cat play scuzzed-up, tricked-out versions of their favorite early rock 'n' roll and rockabilly anthems, including songs by Elvis, Eddie Cochran, Johnny Cash, and Chuck Berry. Armed with only those basic facts, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when I walked into the showroom, which started to fill up a bit more just as Lemmy walked out onstage.
It's a rare moment when you look around the crowd at a show (particularly in notoriously apathetic Seattle) and see nearly everyone beaming with genuine surprise, periodically turning to their companions to either burst out dancing or simply shake their heads in appreciative wonder. I mean, really—who ever thought they'd have the pleasure of watching Lemmy earnestly croon a Buddy Holly song on a small stage, let along generate a spontaneous swirl of swing dancing in a crowd of punks and rockers? I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that the musicianship was exceptional, particularly Slim's high-energy, stand-up drumming stance and the technical precision and stylish moves of Harvey, but it was the fact that every cover they chose sounded freshly invigorated that made the evening so special. The highlight for me was their robust rendition of Eddie Cochran's "Something Else," while the crowd was obviously most pleased when they pulled out "Rock This Town" toward the end. If they had to do a Stray Cats cover, I'd much rather have heard Lemmy belting out "Sexy and 17" (and I told the band as much backstage afterward), but overall I'd say that the nearly two-hour set was well above and beyond what any of us could have hoped for.
Naturally, the backstage afterparty was a debauched delight, with the bands' dressing room generously stocked with Jack Daniels and a colorful assortment of appreciative fans, including Go Like Hell frontwoman Alexi Void and Dusty 45s leader Billy Joe, whose band had opened the show. The Head Cat were in high spirits as well, clearly euphoric from the visceral pleasure of playing the songs that made them pick up instruments in the first place. "These are really our favorite songs of all time," enthused Slim while Lemmy briskly toweled off his sweat-soaked tangle of black hair. "It's just the way rock 'n' roll is meant to sound," Lemmy interjected, tossing the towel aside to reach for a beer. Amen to that. The Head Cat hope to come back later this year—don't sleep on it next time, kids.
Speaking of missing out on good music, that's the very issue the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association will be addressing this Thursday, April 19, at midnight, when an impressive cross section of bars and music venues (including the Crocodile, Neumo's, and the War Room) will symbolically turn off the music and stop serving liquor for five minutes to emphasize what might happen if our nightclubs were regulated out of existence. "The onslaught of restrictive regulations the mayor's office and Olympia are trying to pass was the reason behind forming the SNMA," explains Showbox owner Jeff Steichen. "We need to call attention to that." Whether that brief interruption will make a measurable long-term impact remains to be seen, but myself and fellow SW music writers Aja Pecknold and Brian Barr will be out in the clubs that night to watch the event unfold, so look for a full report in next week's column.
Lastly, I have to recommend checking out Chrisopher Blue's show at the Sunset Tavern on Wednesday, April 18. Now in California, the former Seattleite, who was jailed briefly in Kansas last winter on marijuana-possession charges, currently lives in what he describes as "a geodesic dome in the forest out in Mendocino, off the grid," but he returns briefly this week to celebrate the release of his excellent new CD, Room Tones. Mix equal parts of Syd Barrett, Mark Lanegan, and William Burroughs, and you'll get a whiff of what to expect from Mr. Blue.