Even if my sad little camera's flash wasn't failing me last night during the Obits semi-secret show, I doubt I would have got a decent>"/>
Even if my sad little camera's flash wasn't failing me last night during the Obits semi-secret show, I doubt I would have got a decent shot unless I had been feeling unnaturally aggressive (or had been in possession of a periscope). Unlike their mysteriously under-attended show at the Funhouse last July (seriously people, where were you then? Oh yeah, you were all at Marymoore Park for some anniversary party), there was a nearly full house in a soon-to-be-closed club located in a twighlight zone just west of Pioneer Square and downtown.
Sub Pop began a successful courtship with the Obits last summer and I Blame You, their debut for the label, drops on March 24, so it was no surprise that the entire SP crew seemed to be in effect, from Big Cheese Poneman ("The Obits are in town for a marketing meeting with their proud and psyched label," he said, beaming broadly) to Sir Mark Arm. I missed openers Coconut Coolouts, Talbot Talgora and Unnatural Helpers because I was having too much fun watching Helms Alee kick Akimbo's collective asses at Re-Bar's wildly entertaining "Grudge Rock" (a Family Feud-inspired good time hosted by Bloodhag's Jake Stratton), but luckily I walked through the door just in time for the start of the Obits' set.
Former Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes vocalist Rick Froberg has a voice so distinct and magnetic, I bet I would wake up in the middle of the night if he happened to be whistling "Row Your Boat" two blocks down the street from me. Now that he fronts the Obits, I find myself both grateful that he's continuing to make art he finds satisfying, and twitchily nostalgic for his other projects (I wasn't alone; when a random bit of feedback echoed the opening strains of the Hot Snakes' "Salton City", necks strained forward and anticipatory whoops went around the room like lightning. Sorry kids, false alarm).
It's somewhat dangerous territory when an artist previously revered for breakneck speeds and whiplash-inducing time changes dials things back, but it's both unkind and impractical to request a holding pattern from any artist worth their salt. The Obits are both more restrained and measurably looser than Froberg's Clinton-era acts. He explained it this way to me when I interviewed him last July:
"We wanted to do something less constrained," says Froberg. "It's not as loud as Hot Snakes or Drive Like Jehu was, but we are trying to make the music aggressive and meaningful to us. We also have a really great bass player [Greg Simpson]. He's easily the best musician in the band. He's not really a punk rocker. He plays bass in a style that is kind of like Paul McCartney." Froberg also cites a growing appreciation for African rock bands and the uniquely inspiring Ethiopiques series of CDs that cover a wide range of more obscure, non-European bands and genres. "They take a regular rock form, try to play it in that vein, and it doesn't work out because they are [non-traditional players]. I think that's great."
Their 40-minute set was clearly a crowd-pleasure, with the band ripping through several new songs and the material from their self-released 7-inch, "One Cross Apiece" b/w "Put It in Writing". The sub-par sound and limited sightlines left me a bit frustrated, but that's o.k.--it was a one-off warehouse party and that's to be expected. Besides, The Obits will return to Seattle on Saturday, May 16 at Neumo's, with highly-deserving openers the Lights in the coveted opening slot.
In the interim, here's a most excellent interview with Froberg and his former Snakes/Jehu bandmate, Jon Reis: