Lackluster Turnout Aside, Duofest Was a Hoot at Slim's Friday Night

Hondo II, Dead Man, Johnny Seven All-Stars, the Hilltones

Slim's Last Chance

Friday, October 14

Four bands, all duos, each with their own distinct sound--if you were looking for a crash course on the two-piece circuit in Seattle's music scene right now, something like the diverse bill of artists at Slim's first ever "Duofest" would have been it.

The infamous Sodo roadhouse was far from capacity but still buzzed with a lighthearted, positive energy when my boyfriend and I arrived shortly after 9:30 p.m. Opening group the Hilltones, a couple of regular-looking guys in matching denim overalls, were just wrapping up their old-timey, string-fueled cover set of traditional folk and country songs like the Louvin Brothers' "The Christian Life," which they sang in tender, close harmony.

I needed a drink. We had just come from Urban Enoteca and had wine on the brain, though at a chili shack like Slim's, or any other hard-drinking juke joint, ordering wine is the social equivalent of raising your pinky while drinking a cup of tea--bad form. Three bands to go, I relayed my problem to Hondo II guitar man Charlie Beck, who suggested The Dude's drink of choice: a Caucasian. I took his advice and settled in for more tunes.

Rockabilly pair The Johnny Seven All-Stars rigged the stage with some clever do-it-yourself instrumentation--guitarist Jonathan Stuart operated a vintage suitcase outfitted as a bass drum, and upright bass thumper Kirsten Ballweg worked double time on a few cymbals. The two also play in local rockabilly band the Black Crabs, but this was their first outing as a two-piece and they nailed it, with a catalog of obscure rockabilly covers and a time-warpin' Def Leppard ballad--"Love Bites"--thrown in for good measure.

Delta blues duo Dead Man (with Slim's own Mike Lucas on slide guitar) followed by the indie dance rock of Hondo II (featuring members of the Memphis Radio Kings) rounded out the night. Their genres couldn't have been more different--Dead Man rocked a gritty, sludgy blues sound while Hondo II lightened it up with guitar-driven, synth-pop melodies--but both bands were in tune with Slim's come one, come all aesthetic: a sundry list of things (chili, beer, cocktails made with cream) and personalities (tattooed bikers, beatniks, urban cowboys) that aren't often linked together. This wasn't an evening to get it perfect: Some harmonies were off-pitch, a few notes were missed, but each band played with heart, and Duofest went down as an moment seized by a bunch of easy-going groups who just wanted to play.

The Scene: Rockabilly crowd, slicked-back hair, thick-rimmed glasses, late 30s/early 40s.

Overheard at the show: "This next song's about riding motorcycles, snorting cocaine, and banging beavers." Mike Lucas, Dead Man.

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