Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tribal: OTEP, Stolen Babies, New Year's Day, Lydia Can't Breathe, Witchburn, Stript - Studio Seven, Seattle, WA

There are concerts I'd like to go to, but I can't due to my schedule and the constant travelling involved. There are concerts that I attend by pure luck, just happening to be in the right place at the right time. There are even shows that I've bought tickets for, then had to bail on because of a last-minute gig. But the concert I went to last night was one I was prepared to move heaven and earth to attend. The primary points of focus for me were the headline and primary support acts, OTEP and Stolen Babies. I've known these bands for years, been Facebook friends with them for years, kept track of them and followed their ups and downs for years. And after making abso-fucking-lutely sure last month that Steppen Stonz wouldn't be working any time around last night, I had Joy purchase tickets for the show, and we made plans to make a day trip of it, though her health issues kept the energy level fairly low so she could make it through the night.

We left Port Angeles a little short of two in the afternoon and made it into downtown Seattle right around found a parking place in the International District to shop at two of our favorite stores, Daiso and Uwajimaya before heading south to Studio Seven, a pretty small venue on First Avenue about a half-mile south of Safeco Field. We got off to a pretty good start with the show, running into Stolen Babies' drummer Gil Sharone behind the venue just after we got out of my truck and I'd gotten Joy into her wheelchair. But things took a sour turn when we found out that the venue isn't as handicapped-accessible as Joy had been led to believe. She couldn't get her wheelchair into the handicapped stall in the ladies' room, and the upstairs bar was inaccessible to her - though to their credit, S7's staff did say to me that they'd carry her up to the bar if she asked. Though at the end of the day, I don't think that Joy would be very enthusiastic to attend another show there.

A funny thing came to mind as we waited for the show to start, sitting by the stage-left corner near the merch tables - this was the first show I'd been to in Seattle in ages. Twenty-four years, to be exact. The last show I'd seen in Seattle proper was Metallica's Snake Pit tour in 1989. The only other shows I'd seen in the state of Washington were the very first concert I'd ever attended (Deep Purple in Tacoma in 1986) and the first concert I'd gone to with Joy (Styx and Kansas at The Gorge Amphitheatre in Eastern Washington in 1996). Every other show I've gone to has been in the Reno-Tahoe area save for one Ozomatli show in Portland. I know more about the Reno-Tahoe scene than I do about the scene in the center of what's nominally my home town. Fortunately that was about to change as the lights dimmed and the first band took the stage.

That first band was Tacoma's Stript. Joy and I thought the music was good, but we both found the vocals didn't seem to fit, though I couldn't quite put a finger on exactly why. Perhaps it was the mix, or maybe that I was actually smart enough to wear earplugs to a concert for once - I'm getting too old to spend the next two days after a show listening to my ears ring - and I just wasn't hearing things right. But there was a surprise for us in store at their merch table, as a guy I didn't really recognize walked right up to Joy and gave her a hug. It turned out that this strange guy was an old friend of ours from not only Port Angeles, but from Reno as well, and he was a part of Stript's crew. Oh, and you'll be hearing more about them later on in this article.

The next band up was a total revelation for me. Seattle's Witchburn served up a heaping helping of sludgy Sabbath-y goodness that completely blew Joy and I away. And posting my positive comments about them on Facebook got me comments from a friend of mine in Reno who'd gotten up onstage and sang with them, as well as a pic of singer Jamie Nova with an old college buddy of mine. Their energy and professionalism was a palpable force, and I look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

With the local bands now done, it was time for the touring bands to hit the stage, and things began to get.... how shall I say it? Tim Burton-esque? First up was Central Florida's Lydia Can't Breathe. I couldn't quite make heads or tails of either their musical or sartorial style, though I caught a certain sort of vibe off of LCB singer Kyle Bolduc, sort of like a young Anthony Kiedis. The Tim Burton vibe grew stronger with the arrival of New Year's Day onstage. Very goth, horror-influenced stuff, yet also the most hooky music of the night. Of all the bands that took the stage last night, New Year's Day was the band that I'd describe as being the most radio-ready. And NYD drummer Russell Dixon is a fucking animal on his kit. I don't know if I've ever seen a drummer with such a chewed-up ride cymbal before. But then again, I can't really say he was riding it - he was hitting that cymbal like it owed him money.

Four bands in, and finally the band I was really there to see took the stage. It's kinda hard to describe how I feel about Stolen Babies. It's like the time you first discover a band that really gets you to understand the power of music, that really changes your point of view. I've said before that the first time I heard Stolen Babies, their music made me feel like I did the first time I heard Rush. Discovering a band like that, and following them as passionately as I have, you take a certain sort of vicarious ownership of things, as in 'I was into them before you were'. In so many words, I became one of the things I despise most - a hipster. But that's a pretty small cross to bear as far as I'm concerned.

They've hit what could only be called a rough patch as of late, lineup changes taking a toll on them. As of late they've been touring as a four-piece, but the sudden departure of their touring guitarist left them wondering aloud if they could handle touring as a sequenced three-piece. In retrospect, they needn't have worried. They crushed their roughly forty-five minute set, tearing through their set with a ferocity I didn't know they had. Gil played his drums like his ass was on fire, while twin brother Rani Sharone alternated between guitar and bass (he handles both in the studio as the band's primary songwriter) held down his side of the stage with furious aplomb. And singer/accordionist Dominique Persi was a far more jovial personality onstage than I'd seen the last time I'd been able to catch the band in action almost six years ago.

I should digress for a moment. That's right - six years between shows. How the fuck can I say I'm so much of a fan of a band when I haven't seen them live in six fucking years? Easy, live my life. I've had at least three shows of theirs grasped out of my hands at the last possible minute due to my own commitments. A show in Chico, CA got nixed due to car trouble. One show in Seattle, opening for mad Canuck Devin Townsend was 86'ed due to a gig in Reno (though I wasn't actually working that night), while a show two nights later in San Francisco was a no-go because I couldn't get anyone to go with me to help defray the costs of driving from Reno to San Francisco and back. Shit does happen, folks. But the catharsis of seeing your favorite band live solves all, if only for that one moment in time.

I was able to talk with all three of them after their set, and even got to introduce Joy to them. Well, another caveat here - she already knew Gil from his stint in The Dillinger Escape Plan, and we'd seen them in Reno back in 2008. She'd glommed all over DEP frontman Greg Puciato then, so much so that I damn near needed a crowbar to get her off of his well-honed bicep, and afterwards I gave him and DEP a good-natured ration of shit about it for probably six months or so. Rani admitted to me that they were both scared and excited about playing as a trio, though it had taken no small amount of experimenting to get things to where they wanted them. Which roughly translates to something like which instrument to play for which song, how much programming had to be done to cover the instruments not played live, and which songs were playable live and which weren't. Gil and Dominique echoed his opinions, and then informed me that they were looking to return to Seattle before next summer. I was also pleased to note that they actually remembered me, though that was mostly through regular comments to them via Facebook - 'putting faces to the names', as Rani put it. They seem determined to remain a trio for the time being, and I sincerely hope it works out for them. That way they don't have to divvy up the money so many ways. And I made sure to give them some money to divvy up in not-so-many ways by buying a t-shirt and CD-cover replica that they were more than happy to sign for me, plus getting stickers, buttons and a branded cigarette lighter for free - having a wife attend shows in a wheelchair can actually be an advantage in some ways, I guess.

And finally it was time for the headliner. I've always wanted to see Otep Shamaya tour with Stolen Babies (the Sharones  played bass and drums on her 2011 album Atavist), and her new band roared through a set of material from the length and breadth of her career. And what I found surprising about this show in particular was that some fans brought their kids to the show. S7 security let us watch Otep's set from the holding area just off stage right, where equipment from other bands would be stashed before being brought on to the stage. Among the other in the immediate vicinity of the holding area were members of Stript's entourage, a few of whom had brought their five-month-old daughter while the band's singer repeatedly crowdsurfed her way on to the stage. And another guy had brought his daughter to the show, an adorable blond moppet of maybe five or six years of age, and he'd perched on the corner of the stage, where she sat attentively and took in entirety of Otep's set. And Shamaya acknowledged the little girl, gave her a fist-bump before sprawling backwards ass-over-teakettle at the ferocity of the kid's fist-bump. Joy and I were loving her playing to the little girl, and I praised her father after the end of the set for raising his little girl right. We thought about hanging out after the show to visit with Otep and her guys back at the merch tables, but Joy wasn't feeling all that well so we made our way back to the truck to head home.

I pondered things for a while over breakfast at the Denny's in Fife. It had been a pretty fucking awesome show. I'd discovered a killer new band, run into an old friend in a manner that was completely unexpected. I'd been able to enjoy bands that I had the deepest respect for. And most importantly to me, I'd done all of the above with my wife at my side. I admit to feeling guilty when I go to a show in Reno when I'm gigging because Joy isn't there with me. And sometimes she lets me know that I should feel guilty, though other times she encourages me to get out of the trailer during those days and weeks off between gigs and go hit a show. But I cherish being with her, and introducing her to my interests and passions.

As much of a pain in the ass it can be at times, I look forward to taking her to see Stolen Babies again. And although Otep has announced that she'd be retiring from music after the touring cycle for her current album is over, I hope to take her to see to see Otep again in the near future. The passion of her music is inspiring. The passion of her fanbase is inspiring. The passion of my friends Gil, Rani and Dominique is inspiring. It makes me want to remain in the business even when all common sense tells me otherwise.