Checking out the Pleasureboaters, Obsessing Over Betty, and Remembering Howard Bulson

Punk rock forged by young hands is chaotic by definition. Questionable hygiene habits, undercooked, left-leaning politics, self-induced injuries, or an overall sense of aimless petulance—these things are to be expected of teens and twentysomethings who have just experienced the incomparable thrill of striking power chords and channeling feedback. Coming out of the gate in such a state may be the norm, but it's how those traits are utilized and refined that determines the level of quality and endurance a promising band ultimately has.

On the surface, local band the Pleasureboaters look like they are still at that newborn stage. Their live shows are frenzied, messy aff airs, replete with blown P.A. systems, death-defying stage acrobatics, and a notable number of lusty, loud female fans. Their performance last Wednesday at Mercury's Deep Cuts punk dance night was a major adrenaline rush for anyone who appreciates that sort of unbridled beauty. Watching frontman Ricky Claudon leap fearlessly from drummer Tim Cady's kit, only to land in a contorted back bend while continuing to shriek and shred, was both heart-stopping and heartwarming.

However, catching up with the band a few nights later on the back deck of the Fremont Dock, it's their intellectual maturity, intriguing history, and earnest ambition that dominate the picture. "During our formative years, we had a lot of classical music training," explains bassist Erik Baldwin, the group's de facto spokesperson and a soon-to-graduate creative writing major at Seattle Pacific University. "Tim's a choir boy, and Ricky and I are classical pianists. We used to have arguments about Chopin and Bach," he says, gesturing toward Claudon. "I had no patience for Bach," the singer-guitarist demures softly, with barely a sliver of a smile.

For such an unhinged frontman, and the trio's youngest member at 21, it's surprising how much the kid prefers to stay out of the picture offstage, often deferring to Baldwin's animated descriptions of their writing process (egalitarian, of course), their influences (Fugazi, Birthday Party, early Sonic Youth, no-wave in general), or their unexpected dedication to careful structure and editing. "When we first started writing songs, we just wanted to be contrary," says Baldwin. "But we are really, really deliberate about songwriting. It's like a word search—we're just looking for the best parts. We scrutinize over details that people would probably never notice because it's so loud and abrasive."

Indeed, this is what will make the band so exciting for any punk or hard-rock fan whose tastes lay somewhere between caustic, wall-of-noise experimentalism and smart, finely drawn songcraft. In other words, if you're a fan of Mclusky or Drive Like Jehu, you're going to want to watch these kids live up to their potential. They are just finishing recording with local engineer Austin Thomason, and their debut should drop sometime this summer with the help of Don't Stop Believin' Records. Your next opportunity to catch their kinetic live show will be at the Funhouse on June 9, as part of the Noise for the Needy benefit series.

Speaking of noise we need, we simply cannot get enough of Betty Davis around here. SW music editor Brian Barr wrote an eloquent, extensively researched cover story on the underground funk-soul superheroine for the paper a few weeks ago, and the impending reissue of her first two records by local label Light in the Attic Records is great cause for celebration. To that end, LITA and the good folks at El Chupacabra in Phinney Ridge are throwing a listening party at the bar next Tuesday, May 15. Label publicist Chris Estey, aka DJ Big Freak, will be in charge of the decks, and there will be plenty of LITA swag available, as well as a few Betty Davis records for attendees with the most outrageous, Betty-inspired outfits (go-go boots and afros are encouraged).

Finally, I'm very sad to report the passing of local legend Howard Bulson. The beloved piano player entertained a cross-generational Seattle audience over the last 40-plus years, from gin-swilling seniors at Sorry Charlie's to the younger musicians he inspired with his graceful, engaging playing style. "Howard was an amazing guy—the rare musician that could listen and follow," says Dudley Manlove Quartet vocalist and SW IT guru Paul Jensen. "Totally irreplaceable." Jensen is in the process of coordinating a tribute show and benefit for Bulson's surviving family members that will take place at the Triple Door on Wednesday, May 23.

rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

 
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