For a moment, I considered attending the Beacham's debut concert, G. Love & Special Sauce, to report on the revamped historical theater. But I didn't, because it was G. Love & Special Sauce. I figured Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (March 22) would be a better foot to start on. Both being vintage things buffed to a breathing shine, the Dap-Kings' classic soul steeze and this beautifully aged space were a perfect match.
It's really great to have another down- town stage ample enough to hold their 11.5- member band. (If you've ever seen how tiny Sharon Jones is, you'll know how I arrived at that number). What Jones lacks in stature, she triples in presence. Her voice will knock you down but her dead-raising moves will lift you through the roof. Good performers can place a room in the palm of their hands; she grabs it by the stones. I realize the weight of what I'm about to say, and I say it without blinking: Sharon Jones is the closest thing we've come to Tina Turner in generations. If you're gonna be this strictly constructionist, you might as well go all out. And she and the Dap-Kings did with a blazing soul revue.
As for the venue, the most notable physical change is the old exposed-brick walls all around the space, lit dramatically to really punctuate the texture. Also, the sound was much clearer than my last time here, occasionally even too clear. The changes so far may be new gestures, but the best part about them is that they uncover and celebrate the grand age of this downtown crown jewel. With the right programming, the Beacham will be a serious game-changer.
Down the street at central downtown's other large live venue was the heavy hammer of the Metalliance Tour (March 22, Firestone Live). Headlining was Helmet performing their 1992 magnum opus Meantime in its entirety, which is really all they should be doing at this point. But, belying Page Hamilton's renowned humorlessness, the band actually looked like they were having fun. In fact, Hamilton himself was impressively lighthearted. Besides discussing the Magic and other b-ball talk, he even apologized for the last time Helmet played Orlando, joking that he owes anyone who attended $10. Weird.
Oh, Mike Watt (March 23, the Social), what to make of you? The guy's street cred is unassailable. But the last time I saw him play in this very venue, it was unlistenable. So I wanted to see if something, anything, about his bassist-gone-wild solo material would click years later. It didn't: Technical fervor unchecked by any melodic ambition equals a big jumble. This is one guy who could actually benefit from a diet of bubblegum records for a while.
But maximum credit to him for tapping Tokyo's Lite as his supporting act. True, it's a natural fact that Asians are good at math. But damn, these Japanese cats are aces at math-rock, too! They have an aggressive, attacking style where everyone's a killer yet doesn't sound like a knot of elbows and knees. Hear that, Watt? That fluid combination of power, precision and flair is what had the house cheering Lite like they were the headliners.
With their honed new album, No Witch, Seattle's Cave Singers (March 24, Will's Pub) are now indisputably exceptional enough in their own right to discuss them without reference to the members' former, well-known bands. As unlikely of a folk act as they are, considering their prior pedigree, they're the genuine article and have taken shape as one of today's most distinctive indie-folk bands. They're fluent in the folk language but now speak in a fiery, modern dialect. From swampy swagger to the kind of mesmerizing folk meditation that Jack Rose perfected, these relative newcomers quiver with more skill, conviction and evocativeness than most lifers.
Although playing support, Jagjaguwar labelmate Lia Ices had quite the draw herself. The frequent comparisons to Tori Amos aren't without merit, but foisting that kind of baggage on the girl isn't quite fair, so, men, you can return to the room now. Her enchanted pop has more airy grace and melodic precision than Amos', without any of her heavy-handedness and angst. It's done with far more subtlety, wonder and taste than Amos has ever mustered.
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