Graham Lee
Watch a slideshow of Deck the Hall Ball featuring the Black Keys, Cake , and others.
Deck the Hall Ball, Featuring Broken Bells,


Deck the Hall Ball Is Hit With Teens of All Ages, Last Night at the WaMu Theater

Graham Lee
Watch a slideshow of Deck the Hall Ball featuring the Black Keys, Cake, and others.
Deck the Hall Ball, Featuring Broken Bells, The Black Keys, and Others

Wednesday, Dec. 8

WaMu Theater

It doesn't matter who's on the bill, what year it is, or the name of the venue: When a person steps through the door of the End's Deck the Hall Ball, they enter 10th grade. There's something about the show's format of pairing the new (Black Keys, Broken Bells) with the old (Cake, and a never-ending barrage of Sublime cuts between sets) that transforms people.

Few who are immune to the show's powers: Grown men and women lock lips publicly and profusely as if out of sight of mom and dad for the first time, and steal hits off pipes and drags off cigarette. There's a lot of snickering, more necking, inspiring grins in the front row, and plenty of wide-eyed first timers.

There a few kids who are too cool for school, but they are few, and instantly marginalized. The kings of this schoolyard are the modern-rock loving, top-40 aware kids who belong to a scene that's too big to be hip, and is therefore crowded by people less interested in being seen as they are discovering what the whole concert thing is all about, and are so enthralled with at least one band on the bill that they're willing to shell out close to $75 to spend the better part of six hours in the cave that is Qwest Field's WaMu Theater.

More so than your average festival or tour, End shows like Deck the Hall Ball are cultural events that introduce young rock listeners on the concert experience; an experience that is as much - if not more - about the things that happen off stage, as on.

Here's a quick look at what this year's class was treated to:

Graham Lee
The Black Keys
Cake: No, they didn't go "The Distance," but frontman John McCrea hit his vibraslap every 45 seconds. (A vibraslap is that percussion instrument that's in almost every Cake song and sounds kind of like a rattle). Today, almost every Cake song sounds like a trumpet, vibraslap, and short-tempered funk bass tossed into a blender. It was no surprise that the band's finest performance of the night came on "Sick Of You," a track off the band's forthcoming LP, Showroom of Compassion, that played down both of the band's most overused accoutrements. Seriously, someone needs to take the man's vibraslap away.

The Presidents of the United States of America: Yes, this was the surprise act. The trio came on for a pair of acoustic Christmas numbers--"Mr. Heat Miser" and "Christmas Piglet"--and a power point presentation pimping their two-night stand at the Showbox at the Market on February 18 and 19.

Jimmy Eat World: It's easy to forget how much lead singer Jim Adkins looks and shakes like Death Cab's Ben Gibbard. The band's message for angsty teens went over like pixie sticks with the 10th graders in the audience.

The Black Keys: This industrial blues duo puts on an obscenely enthralling live show through the uncompromising union of musicianship and song craftsmanship. There is no compromise. Their minimal instrumentation - drummer Patrick Carney and guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerback were at times accompanied by a second guitarist and organist -- allows them to stay nimble enough to tack as they see fit in a brilliant, sweaty display that whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

Broken Bells: The ability to produce translucent, inoffensive pop music that is neither shallow nor contrived is a rare feat, but one that The Shins' James Mercer and producer Danger Mouse (who played drums through most of the set) accomplish when they put their heads together. And on stage last night, it became surprising clear how indebted the duo's harmonies and melodies are to those of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Unfortunately, this doesn't make for an engaging live show.

The stage has never been Mercer's strong suit. He goes through the motions, and his voice is clean. But there's little to latch onto that can't otherwise be reached through a pair of headphones. Musicians may actually be able to make money on the road, but it's not always the best place for everyone to make art.

Reporter's Notebook:

Overheard In the Crowd: "I don't know who that was," after the Presidents played their mini acoustic set.

Also Overheard In the Crowd: "Fuck you, Cake!" Probably because the band didn't play its biggest hit, "The Distance."

Personal Bias: My first rock show was Deck the Hall Ball 1996. The Presidents were there, too. My friend went crowd surfing, landed on a young lady, and left with a girlfriend. I left with a scrape on my right wrist that I picked so that it would scar over. The faint scar was there for a number of years.

BTW: Sorry, y'all: I got there late and missed Sleigh Bells and Temper Trap.

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