Rocket Queen: Dead Are Alive

Froberg forces his followers to look forward, and Re-bar hosts a fantastic Feud.

Sub Pop began a successful courtship of Brooklyn-based band the Obits in the midst of their 20th-anniversary festivities last summer. A deal was inked, and the band's debut, I Blame You, drops on March 24. It was no surprise, then, that nearly the entire SP crew was in the house for the band's semi-secret show last week at Fen's Party Palace, a soon-to-be-shuttered club just east of Pioneer Square. Label head Jonathan Poneman was beaming like a pleased papa. "The Obits are in town for a marketing meeting with their proud and psyched label," he said. The crowd was a sea of familiar faces, with members of Mudhoney, the Dutchess and the Duke, Kinski, and See Me River all jockeying for the best vantage point to watch Rick Froberg and company burn through a 40-minute set of new material. As the former vocalist for groundbreaking math-rock engineers Drive Like Jehu (and post-Jehu project Hot Snakes), Froberg has a voice so distinctive and magnetic, I bet I would wake up in the middle of the night if he happened to be humming "Row Your Boat" two blocks down the street. Now that he fronts the Obits, I find myself both grateful that he's continuing to make art he finds satisfying and twitchily nostalgic for his other projects. I wasn't alone: When a random bit of feedback echoed the opening strains of the Hot Snakes' "Salton City," necks strained forward and anticipatory whoops went around the room like lightning. Unfortunately for those fans, it was a random crackle coming from the amps, not a trip down memory lane. It's somewhat dangerous territory when an artist previously revered for whiplash-inducing time changes dials things back, but it's both unkind and impractical to request a holding pattern from a musician who sees no reason to cling to his creative past. The Obits are more streamlined in structure and measurably looser in execution than Froberg's Clinton-era acts, but their set was clearly a crowd-pleaser, with the band ripping through several new songs and the material from their self-released 7-inch, One Cross Apiece. The sub-par sound and limited sightlines left me less impressed than I was when they played the Funhouse last summer, but I think that has more to do with the limitations of the club's unfinished space than the strength of the Obits' playing. Luckily, the Obits will return to Seattle on Saturday, May 16, at Neumo's, with richly deserving local openers the Lights. The two bands have become such fast friends that they've already booked a West Coast tour together, and will hit the road around the time the new Lights record is finished this spring. Prior to the Obits show, I stopped by Re-bar to catch the latest edition of Grudge Rock, the Family Feud–inspired sparring match orchestrated with much glee by Blöödhag's literature-loving leader, Jake Stratton. Once a month, Stratton pits two local bands against each other in his own interpretation of the ribald game show. He keeps certain traditions (Richard Dawson's kissing-bandit antics, obnoxious bells and buzzers for correct and incorrect responses) and twists others, most notably by keeping all the questions focused on music in some form. The match I witnessed involved a friendly-but-fierce tussle between hard-rock colleagues Helms Alee and Akimbo, who battled it out over such appropriate topics as bands with logos memorable enough to draw on one's Trapper Keeper (AC/DC, Van Halen) and artists with colors in their name (Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult). At the end of the first round, the band with the most points gets to choose whether to play live or move immediately on to the next round. The leading members of Helms Alee opted to plug in, while Akimbo were left to drink PBRs and lick their wounds. The next match is set for Wednesday, March 4, with the petulant punks in Sean taking on their like-minded peers in Fortress of Victory. Finally, as someone who despises Valentine's Day so much that I find myself shouting obscenities at television ads for $80 Vermont teddy bears this time every year, I am comforted to know that there's a perfectly noisy and charming escape from all the hearts-and-flowers bullshit on Saturday, February 14 down at the Funhouse, when Portland's Hungry Ghost finally pays a visit to Seattle. Former Unwound drummer Sara Lund and guitarist Andrew Price (previously of the Irving Klaw Trio) dish up a giddy, economically constructed set of street-walking power punk shaded with just the right hue of blues. Together, Lund and Price are evocative of the White Stripes, but with enough creativity and technical prowess to make it easy to imagine them blowing ole Meg and Jack off the stage.

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