Hyped-up LA songwriter Eleni Mandell kicked off an otherwise local affair at the Croc last Friday, and she quickly revealed the source of the buzz: clumsily strummed, amplifier-challenging guitars.
Eleni's debut, Wishbone, is like a blast of warm, smoggy air, shot through with creeped-out Tom Waits rhythms. But our heroine left her producer and her band back in SoCal, and she challenged the inner ear (and the trusty Croc sound guy) with a bizarro technique that recalled Lili Taylor strummin' "Joe Lies" in Say Anything. Former hard-rock maestro Josh White (of Man Ray and Medicate, um, fame) sounded positively slick in comparison. The tattooed hunk hasn't gone Duncan Shiek, but he now leads a four-piece band with an acoustic strapped 'round his neck. White and his boys stole the show: The Gnome bets they'll be signed by the end of summer (assuming there'll be one).
By the time Saltine took the stage, the crowd was as thin and fatigued as lead guy Ken Stringfellow himself. Seems the lanky former Posie is using his break from touring duties with R.E.M. to record a female twin duo called Fly and Kite, as well as barraging Seattle stages with his own music. By Friday, Ken sounded as frazzled as a Stranger copy editor at deadline.
Which brings The Gnome to The Big Question: What draws limey music journos to Seattle? Is it the weather? Is it the proximity to Bellingham? Do they even realize they're on the West Coast, or do they think that New York looks a lot different from the pictures they've seen?
Whatever the reason, they just won't go away. Case in point: Dave Thompson, who recently belched out a book called Better to Burn Out: The Cult of Death in Rock 'n' Roll. Thompson's also the author of the oh-so-compelling Go Phish and Never Fade Away: The Kurt Cobain Story (he's milking that Neil Young lyric from the suicide note for all it's worth). According to his publishing company, Dave believes that a musician should be remembered by his music, not his demise—an odd credo for a guy who just wrote a survey of rockers' deaths.
I had Better to Burn Out crooked in my gnarled armpit for a few days, trying to make sense of its clunky, hammy prose. Then I discovered how well the pages burn on my campstove, and I haven't looked back.
The Gnome's working on his own Kurt book, by the way, called Kurt Cobain: Exploiting His Memory and the Grief of His Fans for Every Last Dollar I Can Put in My Pocket. You betcha!