Finding a band with a sound and stage presence that matches the implications of their name isn’t easy. There are (too many) metal and emo bands who think they have accomplished this (sorry, Saves the Day, you simply didn’t), and from a practical standpoint, it’s the sort of thing that will almost always sound ridiculously contrived if a band actually aims for it.
In the case of Minneapolis-based punk trio The Blind Shake, drawing a direct line between their moniker and their music wasn’t on the agenda. According to guitarist Jim Blaha, it’s simply morbid wordplay on “The Blind Sheik,” the sociopathic fellow who first tried to blow up the World Trade Center. “We’re sort of running from that association, actually,” explains Blaha via phone on a break from his daytime coffee-pulling gig.
While an unfounded association with terrorism is something the caustic and angular post-punk act is understandably avoiding, what they don’t realize is how accurately that name reflects what they exude when they plug in. Through the interplay of their dueling baritone and straight guitars, Jim Blaha and his lookalike brother Mike create such an unnervingly taut and unpredictable tension that the anticipation of release (typically arrived at via a bright snare crash from dramatic drummer Dave Roper) leaves the listener with almost no choice but to close their eyes and rattle off of the next sonic cliff they choose to scale. Their chosen medium is bristling with energy that is somehow both unbridled and uptight, the same duality that propelled acts like Unwound, Drive Like Jehu, and Fugazi; Blaha freely admits the latter was a strong influence in the band’s infancy. “When we weren’t in a band and [were] just music fans, that’s definitely what we listened to,” he says. “‘Post-punk’…whatever you want to call it. I think we also had just a flat-out shared love of rock ‘n’ roll, whether it was garage rock or psychedelic stuff, I think that’s always kind of been there.”
Indeed, that “psychedelic stuff” also took them down a particularly adventurous path when they ended up collaborating with another, more high-profile Minneapolis musical peer, revered psychedelic surveyor Michael Yonkers. After a chance meeting a couple of years ago, Blaha invited Yonkers to The Blind Shake’s next gig. “We had a show that weekend and he actually came. And he really liked it,” says Blaha, still sounding incredulous. “About a year down the line, the booking agent for the [landmark Minneapolis venue] Turf Club was booking his birthday party and asked Yonkers if he’d be interested in doing a song with us. It went so well that he called back and asked the band to collaborate with him on a batch of new songs. We were just floored. He truly was at the time—and still is—my favorite songwriter.” The band just finished recording a split 12-inch with Yonkers, which is set for release on Learning Curve Records early next spring. “If nothing else happens [for the band], I’m pretty content with that happening,” says Blaha.
Well, I’m not content with that; The Blind Shake are definitely ready for their due, with or without famous collaborators. The previous time they came through town, they played a sparsely attended Saturday matinee show at the Sunset. Not since an early Sleater-Kinney show at a nearly empty Velvet Elvis had I felt so selfishly thrilled to see such an undeniably powerful band play to such a mysteriously minimal audience. For The Blind Shake’s sake, I hope I have to fight my way to the front this time: They deserve to have all ears tuned to them when they play the Sunset this Thursday night, October 30, with the Cops and Police Teeth.
If getting shut out of the Sonics’ sold-out, history-making show this Friday, October 31, has you bummed out, then a trek to the comfy confines of Skylark in West Seattle could very well cheer you up. Local label and Webzine NadaMucho are throwing their second annual “Come As You Aren’t” show, featuring musicians dressing up as and playing the songs of their idols. The prospect of We Wrote the Book on Connectors channeling the Beastie Boys in aesthetic and spirit or M. Bison taking on the Kinks, should convince you to head over, as should the refreshing reality that it’s entirely free.