by Timmy Held
I needed to go to a show. It had been too long and I was really jonesing for some live music. But it couldn’t be just any band or artist. It had to be one I loved, or at least respected highly. “Who should I go see? Is there anyone good coming to town!?” And as if the Gods of Awesome Band Booking heard my pleas, I bore witness to a Facebook post by one of my favorite Seattle bands, The Purrs. They announced that they would be opening up for the jazz-influenced indie rock behemoths, The Sea and Cake! This was my show! I bought tickets as soon as my paycheck cleared.
The Purrs started the night off with their energized, spaced-out fuzz pop providing a multi-album spanning selection of some of their most upbeat tunes. The recent addition of Liz Herrin to rhythm guitar and back-up vocals has added a new dimension to the already well-defined sound of these NW psych-rockers. This was especially apparent when front man Jima introduced each newly written tune as such. This is where Herrin’s backing vocal contribution shined the brightest. While adding a more pronounced pop element to the recent songs, she also increases the melodic fabric of the sound blanket The Purrs blast from stage. However, it is lead guitarist Jason Milne who raises the thread count of this sheet from comfy cotton to smooth, shiny silk.
Milne’s relationship with the guitar seems to be closer to that of a painter and his brush than a rocker and his axe. The ambient atmosphere that he weaves within bouncing tempo with his Fender Jaguar is uncanny. After this performance, he has officially become my favorite guitarist in the NW music scene.
With an energetic performance and a well-thought-out set list, The Purrs stole the show. If you have yet to catch them live, I highly recommend you do so. Look out for their first single, Rotting off the Vine, available December 4th on clear 7’ vinyl, from their upcoming album The Boy With The Astronaut Eyes.
The second performance of the night was Matthew Friedberger (one half of The Fiery Furnaces). Alone on stage with an electric piano he played for about 20-30 seconds at a time, a synth which barely got more use than the piano and a looping machine, he embarked on what I would call performance art rather than live music. With an erratic backing track that switched tempo and style of music every 30 seconds to a minute, Friedberger told fragmented stories with an over-emphasized and forced air of aloofness. He lost the crowd rather quickly and it became apparent that we either didn’t get it or it was just not the right place or time for his artistic endeavors. I would like to think it’s a little bit of both. So, maybe I’m too dense to soak up the genius that is Matthew Friedberger, but I must admit that I did not enjoy his set.
Luckily, The Sea and Cake saved the day. The indie legends from Chicago took to the stage without pretense or rock and roll ego. They so elegantly embody the philosophy of “let the music speak for itself.” I was taken aback by their appearance, especially that of singer/rhythm guitarist Sam Prekop. He looked like he could be one of my uncles – he even dressed like them! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not overly superficial and my uncles are cool as hell, but he does not look like he would possess the soft singing voice that is, for me, the cornerstone of the band’s appeal.
Regrettably, I am not completely versed on the entire 10 album, 4 EP catalogue that The Sea and Cake have released over the last 18 years, so I did not recognize a number of the songs in the set. This turned out to be a non-issue due to my arguably factual belief that they have no bad songs. The musicianship endowed by each member of the band is also an undeniable fact.
Drummer John McEntire (also of Tortoise) defines the sonic pallet of each song by adding an element of groove that is undeniably technical, yet easily digestible. His beats are what separate The Sea and Cake from the majority of indie-rock bands, where straight backbeats with minimal fills drive chord progressions on adequately, but not exuberantly.
Lead guitarist Archer Prewitt, much like the afore mentioned Milne, creates dreamy environments for the rhythm section and vocals to bounce around in. Using an Ebow on many of the songs, his guitar took on the voice of some kind of futuristic viola.
The bass lines produced by bassist Eric Claridge are another key element in the batter that makes up The Sea and Cake. However, Claridge was not present, and his spot was being filled by a tall bald man who clearly was the puppet-master of his obedient instrument. I feel bad that I’m referring to him as “The Tall Bald Man,” but when Prekop introduced and thanked him for filling in, I didn’t understand what he said. In fact, the only way I could tell that was what he was saying was seeing Prekop pointing across the stage at the guy with a bass waving at the crowd.
As I stated, many of the songs in the set I heard for the first time at the show. However, I was very pleased that they played Jacking the Ball from their 1994 self-titled debut, and Harps, my favorite track off of their most recent release, Runner.
All in all, it was a fine evening. And although I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I am happy to have experienced Friedberger’s confusing performance. I was especially delighted to see a great NW band opening for such a seminal American Indie band. And finally, I got to get out to that show that bones were crying for!