Thursday, Oct. 13
Hard Rock Cafe, Seattle
At what point does the cool kids' sincere/ironic cover band>"/>
Thursday, Oct. 13
Hard Rock Cafe, Seattle
At what point does the cool kids' sincere/ironic cover band definitively cross one of those lines or the other, and become either a total joke or an unabashed tribute act? How about when they go from playing grotty bars, basements, and house parties to doing corporate gigs at the Hard Rock Cafe? Seattle's "The Rolling Stones" were a trad-rock tribute band with underground punk cred, featuring members of such local punk/hardcore/etc bands past and present as the Blood Brothers, Chromatics, Shoplifting, Past Lives, Whalebones, Truckasauras, and Flexions. Since first reported on here, they've delivered their straight-up covers of classic Stones songs at less than a half-dozen shows before breaking up this summer upon singer Jordan Blillie and guitarist Devin Welch's relocations to L.A. and Portland respectively. Last night, they reunited, and it wasn't for a friend's birthday party or some charitable cause--it was for a K2 sponsored party to celebrate the ski company's new Rolling Stones-branded skis.
It was kind of perfect.
If "The Rolling Stones" Mark 1 embodied the band as raw rock 'n' roll delinquents--down to the copyright-flaunting audacity of simply calling your band "The Rolling Stones" (Blilie: "If me and my friends go out and play basketball, we're not trying to think of a corny new name for it . . . we don't call it 'hoop-a-loop")--then this reunited edition had become the Stones in their more modern form: a brand, and some of the world's most shrewd corporate leveragers. After all, we wouldn't be here if the real Rolling Stones weren't licensing their likeness to everything from Windows '90-something to skis, right?
Like perhaps many of the band members and their friends, last night was my first time to Seattle's Hard Rock Cafe. It's a lot more subdued than you might expect--sure, there's memorabilia and iconic photos (with Kurt Cobain and other locals featured prominently), but it's much less TGI Fridays gonzo clutter and more dark lacquered wood minimalism. In the show room on the second floor, a crowd milled about brandishing VIP laminates for free drinks and snacking on deep-fried ravioli that left my fingers too greasy (if not sticky) to type on my iphone. It was an awesome improbable mix of moochers, scenesters, corporate flacks, and band friends and family--"kids" I've been seeing at DIY shows for 15 years, as well as their parents--the sort of bizarre mix that only this kind of event brings out. Bassist Nat Sahlstrom greeted me like a hammy concierge: "You're here for the launch? You got a VIP? Good." Oasis was playing on the stereo, so they'd essentially gotten a Beatles cover band too.
An MC took the stage and started talking with the utmost of morning radio DJ voices. He encouraged folks to hit the open bar and to "be like Keith Richards and drink as much as you want tonight." (There was no cocaine or heroin at the bar.) He did a spiel about how two world-changing things happened in 1962 (three if you counted the World's Fair): 1. The Rolling Stones formed, "shook up the industry," and "taught everyone how to party"; 2. K2 was started on Vashon Island (did not know that) by brothers Bill and Don Kirschner out of a dog-cage-building business. The announcer brought up the graphic designer of the new skis--which featured the Stones' trademarked lips 'n' tongue--and noted that he "worked with Mick, he worked with Keith, these guys are super-easy to work with, and they love the K2 brand."
When he announced "The Rolling Stones," he hailed them as "maybe the best band in America right now" and then called the "the Seattle Stones" (he kept calling them that, or "Seattle's Stones," throughout.) So while it's punk rock and DaDaist and whatever else to get "the Rolling Stones" to play the roll-out party for a properly licensed Rolling Stones product, it's perhaps also somewhat murky legally.
The band came out in their leather jackets, Justin Deary cajoled the crowd to come closer, and they ripped into their spirit-and-letter-of-the-law perfect "Jumpin' Jack Flash." In the audience, I tell horn player Tony Moore my idea that this reunion is kind of conceptually perfect, a symbolic transition from Stones 1.0 to 2.0, and he flatly replies, "I thought we were just sell-outs." They did "Tumblin' Dice" and "Brown Sugar" and "Dead Flowers," Deary noting that this was the the first time they'd played such a big room, that they were used to small sweaty shows with everyone dancing all over each other and the cops outside.
When they broke for an intermission, anonymous trip-hop mush immediately came on the PA before the announcer retook the stage for a raffle punctuated by sexual innuendos (involving ski poles and protection gear) directed at his ticket-drawing female assistant, whose birthday it was and who the announcer seemed chivalrously determined to get laid. A guy named Craig Paulsen gets pulled three times in a row, yankee-swapping his original beanie up for a pair of poles. A security guard comes around to take the assistant's drink from her, since she's onstage. In the hallway to the bathrooms, "the Rolling Stones" were milling around, having dressed down to their sailor stripes for the second act. I joke that if this is their green room, there should at least be a hummus plate, and Blilie says "The funniest thing is that they wouldn't bring us our whiskey until they saw us eat a little something, 'get a little hummus in your belly.'" Drummer Tyler Swan and Welch both separately tell me they'd been trying to keep this gig low-profile.
They went on for their second set, and did "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Gimme Shelter" and, "for the ladies," "Beast of Burden." Sahlstrom mentioned that, unlike the real Stones or even the audience members emulating them, "we don't have those VIP passes so we don't get to drink as much as you guys." During "Gimme Shelter," Blilie was grinning ear-to-ear watching keyboardist/vocalist Chava Mirel as she howls the hook; later, he's leaning onto her and mussing her hair as they sing together. And this is the thing: punk cred or not, sincere or ironic, this is just a bunch of friends getting together to jam on some great classic songs, alleviated from the pressures of "making it" or whatever that might plague their "legit" bands, and it's fun. Grinning ear-to-ear fun. And just a ski's thin width away from the real thing.
Then Jet comes on the sound system, so basically another Stones cover band.