Rare Surprises From a Handful of Old Punks

Mamma Casserole’s still cookin' at the Comet.

Although there's certainly something to be said for diversity in programming, it's also quite a coup when a booking agent can make his or her room the ideal spot for a specific, signature sound. Personally, shows at the Comet drive me slightly bananas. Sight lines are a challenge, the wait for drinks is positively intolerable at times, and whenever I go to wash my hands in the ladies' room, I wonder if it will even do me much good in the hygiene department, given that bathroom's omnipresent scuzz factor. It's a good thing the bar's part-time bouncer/professional scoundrel Jeff Leopard is so easy on the eyes, or I might never even make it through the door. Seriously, though, any of these negatives are beautifully counterbalanced by the fact that booking agent Michelle "Mamma Casserole" Smith lets her passion for and encyclopedic knowledge of all things garage and psychedelic color practically everything she books. Taste is subjective, certainly, but that little lady with the skyscraping laugh has an ear for quality that rarely fails her or her patrons. Case in point: this Friday's Magic Christian show. Fronted with uncanny flamboyance by former Flamin' Groovies leader Cyril Jordan, and driven by the surgically precise backbeats of legendary Blondie drummer Clem Burke, Magic Christian is the sort of pleasant surprise that rarely happens when veteran punks get together. It's fiercely catchy, shrewdly constructed garage glam that feels and sounds as authentic as the band's hip pedigree implies—but also somehow doesn't sound stalled in the past. If the New York Dolls show last week left you a little cold, this one might warm you up. A similar sense of zeal is clearly driving Mamma Casserole's neighbor to the west, King Cobra booking agent Jenny Bendel, who celebrated the grand opening of the club with a marathon four-day series of hard-rock, punk, and metal shows last week that left her exhausted and elated. This Saturday, March 8, the Cobra will host a farewell to Skin Yard and Gruntruck leader Ben McMillan, who passed away last month from complications due to diabetes. Described by his former Skin Yard bandmate Scott McCullum as "one of local music's longtime artistic jesters," McMillan's life will be celebrated via video footage of past tours, photos, and performances by Slippage and Kandi Coded (both featuring former Skin Yard and Gruntruck members, including Jack Endino), as well as his good friends and past tour buddies Coffin Break. The $10 suggested donation will help pay for McMillan's final resting place. Incidentally and unfortunately, Empty Records, the Northwest label responsible for releasing a number of Skin Yard releases (along with those of countless seminal and contemporary bands including Dead Moon, Gas Huffer, Scared of Chaka, the Supersuckers, and Mudhoney), has now closed its doors for good. "This was a labor of love," explains founder and owner Blake Wright. "It never made any money. I've had day jobs all these years to support it. Since Meghan [Smith], my pal and promo gal, retired about six years ago, I've been running it by myself. That made it a lot harder. Since I've been in Portland, I'm back in school at PSU, working full time, and raising a 6-year-old. With my time so constrained and dealing with all the issues that arise running a label, it was becoming a burden. So I figured it was time to move on with my life. Twenty-plus years is a long time." Wright plans to continue making the catalog available online via www.emptyrecords.com; after that, I'd expect all those old 7-inches to hit major collectible status. Finally, speaking of collectible music, there is some happy news to report in the aftermath of the Crocodile's closure (no, not about the group that bought it—they still aren't revealing their plans). Beloved sound wizard Jim Anderson is in the process of finalizing a deal with the University of Washington Music Library to permanently archive the countless live recordings he made from his soundboard over the years, with eventual hopes to make them available via streaming online archives. rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

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