The Short List: The Week’s Recommended Shows

Memphis Radio Kings ~ Wednesday, September 23A few years back, Memphis Radio Kings found itself at a crossroads. The choice: to be a Tweedy band or a Farrar band. MRK decided to veer off the dusty path it'd been following for about a decade, fleshing out its standard Americana sound with some instrumental and stylistic forays: at first just a bit of synth here, a pop-rock structure there, but with 2006's Four, the band managed to weave the two sides of its personality together pretty accommodatingly, pleasing old fans and winning new ones. With this year's Another Punch From a So-Called Friend, the band has stepped firmly off the back porch, largely distancing itself from its roots. The result is something of a mixed bag, sounding energetic and exciting when it works, awkward and forgettable when it doesn't. Even the missteps are exciting in their own way; it's great to see a band take some risks: When was the last time you saw a successful group, with a strong local and growing international fan base achieved through years of perfecting its approach to a very specific style of music, throw caution to the wind and decide to reinvent itself completely? Exactly. MRK, you've got us on board. Just lose the silly vocal effects. With Coles Whalen, Jenni Potts, Sarah Furry, Corner State. Studio Seven, 110 S. Horton St., 286-1312. 7 p.m. $7 adv./$8 DOS. All ages. NICHOLAS HALLPort O'Brien ~ Wednesday, September 23For a handy key to Port O'Brien's new album, threadbare, simply look at who recorded it: Papercuts' Jason Quever and Earlimart's Aaron Espinoza, which made for a somewhat melancholy, distinctly Californian album as drowsy and inward-looking as it is lush and spooky with reverb. Formed by Van Pierszalowski and Cambria Goodwin, the now-quartet has done yearly stints in Alaska, but is officially based in Oakland these days. Following 2007's breakout All We Could Do Was Sing, Port O'Brien was suddenly getting "new favorite band" props from M. Ward, touring Australia (where the song "I Woke Up Today" was used in a commercial), and landing on upstart indie label TBD, home of fellow reverb enthusiasts White Rabbits. It's a steep trajectory, maybe, but with its smoky guy/girl vocals and gradual infectiousness, every spin of threadbare makes the group's success seem more warranted. With Sea Wolf, Sara Lov. Sunset Tavern, 5433 Ballard Ave. N.W., 784-4880. 9 p.m. $12. DOUG WALLENHope Sandoval ~ Wednesday, September 23At one time or another, most of us have sat around mooning over someone while listening to Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You." It was so sweet. So touching. So...well, emotional! Mazzy Star hasn't released an album in more than a decade, but singer Hope Sandoval began recording with My Bloody Valentine alum Colm Ó Cíosóig as the Warm Inventions. 2001's Bavarian Fruit Bread continued Mazzy Star's dazed and dreamy style—tinkling bells, the occasional harmonica, and delicate song arrangements, including a magnificent cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." Sandoval's vocals are what pulled it all together, though; her famously slow, grave voice is genuinely beatific. The group's second album, Through the Devil Softly, comes out this month, and fans all across the Internet are already gushing over the lead single, "Blanchard," with its gentle guitars, nebulous backing vocals, and sensitive lyrics ("I'm merely standing on holes in the ground/If I fall, they'll never know where I'm found"). Sandoval's heavenly voice is still the star. You'll feel like an adolescent in love all over again. With Dirt Blue Gene. Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., 441-7416. 8 p.m. $20 adv./$23 DOS. E. THOMPSONGrand Archives ~ Thursday, September 24Keep in Mind Frankenstein opens with the elegiac tale of Topsy, a rampaging elephant electrocuted by Thomas Edison at the turn of the century. Amid plinking guitar and dirge-like strings, Mat Brooke softly and swooningly tells the tale in the voice of the ill-fated pachyderm, creating an unexpectedly poignant composition rife with the air of unavoidable doom and resignation. From that somber beginning, Grand Archives moves into the slightly more upbeat sound of "Witchy Park/Tomorrow Will (Take Care of Itself)," which opens with sun-hazed guitar chords before a lovely vocal harmony rushes in. Keeping things moving in a positive direction, "Silver Among the Gold" follows with an up-tempo beat and propulsive guitars. Multipart vocals are near-constant on this album, used to particularly lovely effect on "Siren Echo Valley (Part 1)," a nearly a cappella track with a haunting melody, a shadowy countermelody, and flavors of traditional folk structure shining through. Finger-picked guitar and harmonica brighten up "Left for All the Strays," likely the album's catchiest track. Grand Archives has created an album of blissful yet sedate folk-pop that hints at sunny melodies yet never comes fully out of the darkness, creating beautiful patterns of dappled light and living shadow. With the Most Serene Republic. Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., 441-7416. 8 p.m. $12. NICHOLAS HALLKid Koala ~ Thursday, September 24Other than Matt & Kim, the happiest, smilingest artist I think I've ever seen live is Kid Koala, aka Montreal-based turntable maestro (and graphic novelist) Eric San. While most DJs have that look of concentration or exude an aura of cool detachment, Kid Koala beamed from ear to ear last year as he masterfully worked the decks, dropped some wacky samples amid his dexterous scratching and experimental techniques, showed off some of his excellent illustrations on an easel, and got the crowd hyped for "The Hard Sell" set by DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist that followed. He's also opened for the likes of Radiohead and Björk, but for this outing he's the star attraction, though he's got some help: Joining the Kid in a presentation they call the Slew are the former bassist and drummer of Australian rock band Wolfmother. The trio plans to kick out some serious jams with live instruments and six turntables, which should make everyone in the room happy as hell. Nectar, 412 N. 36th St., 632-2020. 9 p.m. $10 adv. MICHAEL ALAN GOLDBERGGregory Paul ~ Thursday, September 24 and Saturday, September 26When singer/songwriter (and recent Seattle transplant) Gregory Paul first started putting out proper albums in the mid-'90s, he appeared to be on track toward finding his voice as a pop-rock tunesmith working in the bright, radio-geared idiom of the day. At the time, his love for experimental noises and textures was only evident via his primitive homemade cassette recordings, which date back to the late '80s. Slowly but surely, Paul kept fusing his experimental sensibilities and his hooks until they began to sound natural together, eventually arriving at a seamless, utterly unique blend that owes as much to modernist composers like Steve Reich and Brian Eno (and even My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields) as to the songwriting giants of folk and pop. In his more recent work, including his latest album, This Side of the Ground, Paul stirs heavy doses of traditional American roots music into the mix, though it would be wrong to confuse him with the hordes of rock musicians on the bus to Americana-ville. Paul's work cuts deeper than that—directly to the bottomless well of sorrow that permeates the land beneath our feet, perhaps just waiting for his soft wail to set it free. Thursday: Conor Byrne, 5140 Ballard Ave. N.W., 784-3640. 9 p.m. Saturday: Shadowland, 4458 California Ave. S.W., 420-3817. 10 p.m. Free. SABY REYES-KULKARNIGoldfinch ~ Friday, September 25Goldfinch's live performances have a perfect, tranquil quality. It's like watching a well-oiled machine of melancholy, where harmonized vocals play with themes of forgiveness and loss while floating above tinkling music. The Tacoma band is essentially just Grace Sullivan and Aaron Stevens, but when they play live, their keyboards and guitar, respectively, are backed by a drum set, cello, violin, and bass. That live music is a strong sonic earful, crescendoing as Sullivan and Stevens sing the chorus on "Go Easy on Me," an emotionally charged apology for running away. "Go Easy on Me" is also the only song that sounds just as good on the band's self-titled, self-released LP as it does live. The rest of the tracks sound flatter than they do live; Stevens' deep, low voice has a tendency to overpower both the instrumentals and Sullivan's singing. It's an unexpected reversal: Goldfinch's live performances have more power than the album. Maybe it's because seeing this band feels like being enveloped in emotions, and that's something stereo speakers or headphones just can't replicate. With These United States, Dewi Saint, Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps. High Dive, 513 N. 36th St., 632-0212. 9:30 p.m. $8 adv./$10 DOS. PAIGE RICHMONDMason Jennings ~ Friday, September 25Minneapolis-based Mason Jennings escaped into solitude with his electric guitar and emerged this year with Blood of Man, his second album on Jack Johnson's Brushfire label and his eighth so far. Although Johnson and Jennings are often considered to be nearly synonymous—both soft-singing, folky, acoustic, bearded men with roots in surf culture—Jennings' work has an acute lyricism and spiritual gravity that sets him apart from the all-too-digestible Johnson. Blood of Man is a reverb-tinged, intimate offering that meditates on those good old themes of death, God, and childhood, but with an eerie honesty that bears attention. With Crash Kings. Showbox at the Market, 1426 First Ave., 628-3151. 8 p.m. $18 adv./$20 DOS. All ages. HOLLIS WONG-WEARVisqueen ~ Friday, September 25Whether I run into her at a bar or see her onstage with Visqueen, Rachel Flotard always makes me feel good about myself and life overall. I believe she has this effect on everyone, and I don't know how she does it. In The Village Voice, Everett True called her a "big-hearted woman," which I think gets to the, um, heart of it. And Visqueen's new record, Message to Garcia, is the first of her albums to fully burst at its seams with that big-heartedness. The tools Visqueen employs on Garcia are familiar: pogo-stick pop rhythms (think Fastbacks), buzzing power chords (think Buzzcocks and Cheap Trick), and a full-throated, husky, soothingly feminine voice (think Joan Jett and Heart's Ann Wilson). But the reason Garcia shimmers with Flotard's offstage personality is likely because it's a tribute to her late father, George (Rachel lived with and cared for her dad as he battled prostate cancer). Fitting, then, that the album's being released on Flotard's own Local 638 label, named for the NYC steamfitter's union of which her father was a dues-paying member. Easy Street Records, 20 W. Mercer St., 691-3279. 7 p.m. Free. All ages. BRIAN J. BARRWooden Shjips at Escalator Fest ~ Saturday, September 26Wooden Shjips do one thing really well: make repetition sound amazing. This is easier said than done, of course, because one cannot simply play the same notes over and over and expect people to be engaged. Those notes have to throb and swell, like a heartbeat. On Dos, Wooden Shjips' second full-length, the band sticks to its proven formula: pulsating bass, swirling loops, and head-nod drums, all of which serve as a platform from which guitarist/vocalist Ripley Johnson launches himself into psychedelic bliss. The rhythm section creates a raw drone—like the Stooges jamming with Suicide—while Johnson drenches his Jim Morrison vocals in reverb and plays guitar like a man shooting a firecracker straight into a planetary nebula. With Eternal Tapestry, Prince Rama of Ayodhya, Cloaks, Midday Veil, Geist & the Sacred Ensemble, the Slaves, Story of Rats, oKo yOnO, Lord Jeff. Vera Project, 305 Harrison St., 374-8372. 5 p.m. $15. All ages. BRIAN J. BARRKailash Kher ~ Sunday, September 27Of the many vocalists who have staked out careers as successful Bollywood playback singers—the guys and gals who sing the songs the onscreen actors mouth along to—Kailash Kher stands as one of the most distinctive. His singing style is soulful and room-filling, but it also dwells in the upper registers, so it comes across as far more insistent and spiritual than do many of his male counterparts in the business. Deeply influenced by the mystical music of the Bauls and the Qawwali singing of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Kher's voice is as effective in historical period pieces like Mangal Pandey as in comedies like Chandni Chowk to China. Further setting himself apart from the playback-singer crowd, Kher fields a full-time band, Kalaisa, that has scored several hits in India. Although Kher has taken part in some of the big-ticket Bollywood superstar tours of the U.S., this show at the Crocodile is decidedly more grass-roots, with Kalaisa bringing an accessible blend of pop and traditional South Asian sounds. While Kher may belt out a few of his bigger Bollywood hits—if you shout a request for anything, make it "Show Me Your Jalwa," just for kicks—this is going to be a show that's light on spectacle and strong on substance. Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., 441-7416. 8 p.m. $25 adv./$30 DOS. JASON FERGUSONWashington Composers Orchestra ~ Sunday, September 27Not many big bands are known for pushing stylistic boundaries. More often, they're the county-fair band accustomed to performing atop a parade float—you know, 20 grey-haired guys in Hawaiian shirts playing Basie and Goodman hits that broke ground 70 years ago but which have scarcely made a tremble since. Bucking this trend is precisely why the Washington Composers Orchestra stands out. Led by avant-garde jazz musicians Wayne Horvitz, Robin Holcomb, and Tom Varner, WACO came into existence "as a regular performing ensemble for composers who wished to write for a jazz instrumentation without being confined to traditional jazz and big band styles." The dynamic collection of composers and performers is filled out by a number of other small-group leaders, including Mark Taylor, Thomas Marriott, and Steve Treseler. Strangely, this big band has chosen one of Seattle's smallest stages, at ToST, for their regular gigs. But the logistical nightmare of fitting everyone onstage makes for an even more exciting show. TosT, 513 N. 36th St., 547-0240. 8 p.m. Free. ERIK NEUMANNThe Blakes ~ Tuesday, September 29On the Blakes' upcoming record, a self-release called Souvenirs out Oct. 13, the Seattle trio's tweaked the jumpy rock-and-roll songs they're known for, slowing them down into sultry, messy songs that sway instead of bounce—like "Magic," which sounds like some forgotten Beatles B-side, or "Basket." Not that they've abandoned the frantic adrenaline-shot numbers that get the kids thrashing around like people possessed—there's plenty of that, and it's awesome—but the band's also ventured into much poppier territory with success. These guys know how to write a hook, but it's Garnet Keim's gravelly way of crooning sweet little nothings that makes the Blakes so easy to love. When he sings "Hey there, Juicy Fruit/Take off those diamond shoes" on "Charmed," it's obvious that the Blakes' grungy, grimy rock-and-roll sensuality is the real secret to their success. With the Purrs. Neumos, 925 Pike St., 709-9467. 8 p.m. $12 adv. SARA BRICKNERSondre Lerche ~ Tuesday, September 29While I wouldn't go comparing him to David Bowie just yet, Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche has style-hopped rather dramatically in a short career that's already produced six albums (including the Dan in Real Life soundtrack). Beatlesque chamber pop, New Wave, torch jazz, lounge, power pop, and classic Laurel Canyon soft rock have all been part of his repertoire, and it all comes together on his new and most appealing disc, Heartbeat Radio. Sharp, melodically and structurally sophisticated, and catchy as hell, Lerche's tunes are terrific, and he's a fine performer with a smooth, evocative voice and a sense of nuance that belies his 27 years. If creative, sterling, and entertaining pop craftsmanship is your thing, you'll want to be here tonight. With JBM. Triple Door, 216 Union St., 838-4333. 7:30 p.m. (all ages), 10:30 p.m. $17 adv./$19 DOS. MICHAEL ALAN GOLDBERG

 
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