There are certain hardworking bands that are destined to stay unjustly under the radar, only to find their fan base through pure word of mouth, not through radio, a blog, or a tastemaker-of-the-moment Web site. Sitting on my desk right now is a live DVD of the band New Model Army, a cerebral British post-punk outfit whose members have been working their faces off since 1980, and a perfect example of this phenomena. People love this band with an intensity typically reserved for followers of 9/11 conspiracy theories or collectors of rare comic books. Whenever they make one of their sporadic appearances in Seattle, I get a few impassioned messages from friends urging me not to miss their show. Even though I take these feverish recommendations to heart, I still haven't caught a NMA performance, a fact I regret every time I see those friends later, when they are invariably brimming with stories about how memorable the show was.
Well, do as I say, not as I do, please, and consider working Slim Cessna's Auto Club into your Fourth of July plans. The Denver-based gospel punks are one of the indie circuit's inexplicably best-kept secrets, and their live shows are electrifying and bewildering experiences. Conjuring a twisted ambience fit for a lost episode of Twin Peaks or Deadwood, dueling frontmen Slim and Munly taunt and seduce each other and the audience with their utterly unique take on Gothic Americana. Increasing the creepy-cool factor is the fact that the band's talented multi-instrumentalist, John Rumely, handcrafts many of the band's own instruments himself, including the ghostly banjos that provide much of the hard-rocking, country-tinged outfit's haunting vibe. What's more, this is far from simply a punk-minded medicine show—SCAC is a wickedly tight band of seasoned artists (hyperliterate Munly even has a playwriting award or two under his belt), and the musicianship is exceptionally well-rendered. In fact, just thinking about how freakishly good they are is tempting me to cancel my current plans to go see Willie Nelson and the Drive-By Truckers over at the Gorge and head down to El Corazon instead.
Speaking of which, heading anywhere near El Corazon is something I've previously avoided with as much deliberation as one sidesteps a hornet's nest. But I have to admit, the notoriously unfriendly and sporadically violent venue seems to be cleaning up its act. Its bad reputation was well-earned, but El Corazon cleaned house a little while ago, purging many of the security goons that made it such an unpleasant experience, and I think owner Dana Sims and his staff are truly striving to erase that previously ugly image. Now if only that pointlessly dour door guy would be kind enough to make eye contact with his customers—then I'd really have no reservations about recommending El Corazon shows.
It's a shame Last Chance Chili, the new Georgetown venue being booked by former Sunset agent Kwab Copeland, isn't open yet, because it would have been the perfect place for a Fourth of July appearance by Slim Cessna's Auto Club. I recently stopped by to see how construction was progressing and got a tour from veteran local musician Otis P. Otis, who is overseeing much of the work on the space. I can't emphasize enough how much potential this room has. The bar itself is a huge, old-world affair, and the hardwood-floored showroom is both warm and open, with good vantage points from nearly every angle—hell, you'll even be able to see the stage while you're standing outside in the adjacent yard. Plus, if all goes as planned, a flatbed truck will provide a second, outdoor-only stage for bands, and the industrial location means chances of noise complaints from neighbors are pretty damn low. Combine those factors, the gorgeous, vintage-styled furnishings by local designer Libby Knudson, a few charming knickknacks donated by the Sunset, and the consistently killer BBQ from Pig Iron next door, and you have the fixings for my next favorite venue. Otis says most of the construction should be done by the end of July, and Copeland already has some great stuff on tap for late August, including reunion shows from grunge-era greats like Blood Circus and Cat Butt.