White Williams, Magic Bullets
The Blakes, Tribal Tats
The Echo, Jan. 27
How do people in Seattle do it? It's downright cold tonight, and raining so much that a good sized river flows along Sunset Boulevard. The Echo hasn't opened its doors yet, despite it being more than half an hour from the posted start time. A few dozen people stand against a wall getting wetter and wetter, while looking across the street at the warm glow and promise of yellow breakfasts from inside Happy Tom's diner. Eventually they let us file in, and a Stella or two later, we're inclined to forgive and forget.
We're here to see the electronica / pop / fusion of Joe Williams, who is White Williams in the studio. Tonight though, he's got a band, which is a good sign. Williams plays between a bass player (Tyler - who has a birthday and is 26) and a guitar player whose name I missed or was never mentioned. Williams ducks back and forth from the front of the stage, turning between a laptop on his right and a synthesizer on his left. But the guitar player - he's ace.
I"m pretty sure it's Williams who plays guitar on the album. But the guy on stage tonight does an excellent job adding to the cacophony the drum machines and effects while never losing the tune in the din.
It's the guitar after all which ropes you in on Williams' new album Smoke, at least as much as the beats or Williams' own strong baritone singing voice. Tonight, both are in good form, but the guitar carries the show. There's that T. Rex-borrowed riff on "In the Club," several spindly melodies appropriated from Fela Kuti, and the nice 80s feel of "New Violence." A song early in the set with Williams on melodica sounded like a slow-burning The The instrumental, and the influences can be picked from the air like slow-moving moths; Brian Eno's "Baby's on Fire", Girl Talk, Roxy Music and so on.
Williams probably suffered a bit by trying to follow the crazily energetic Magic Bullets from San Francisco. No stranger to Part Time Punks night, Magic Bullets have a live album out from a show they played at the Echo in July. Like Williams, the two guitarists in Magic Bullets favor those joyful little riffs of East African dance bands that are turning up wherever you look. But the six-piece group is much more pop to Williams' art-pop.
Six people crowded onto the stage didn't stop them from dancing throughout their set, especially singer Philip Benson. A cover of Orange Juice's "Rip It Up" fit in seamlessly with the rest of their set, giving a good idea of what Magic Bullets aspire to: Joyful, catchy, well-played pop songs, of which you can never have to many.
The Blakes, who've been touring with Magic Bullets (they speak very fondly of one another), seemed to be the odd band out. A Seattle three-piece with a much more guitar-driven rock sound, they suffered a bit from a muddy mix and a soggy crowd shaking off the weather.
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The Blakes' blues-y riffs may have a bit more in common with Australian where-are-they-nows Jet than with the Faces or the heavier side of the Kinks, or maybe it's just that living in Seattle makes you want to rock out. It's no slam against the Blakes: The songs are short and sharp with strong hooks and Garnet's got a nice scream-y vocal style that he keeps good control over.
Not a ton of people saw the first band, and it probably didn't make a huge impression on those that did, but Tribal Tats. are worth catching next time they play. This was their first show - ever - and they were naturally nervous. But they're channeling that early 80s, industrial England vibe surprisingly well, with dark, dubby, synth-lines and as much vocal echo as they can squeeze out of their equipment. And they're doing it by way of early Human League rather than Joy Division. That alone scores them points, and they'll only get more confident and better from here. Tribal Tats. (with period) are a good lesson on why you should always try to catch the earliest band.