Friends tend to play music with friends. It’s an obvious connection that makes sense for most everyone involved, not only in terms of exposure, but also in terms of the more coveted camaraderie. In a music scene as vibrant and eclectic as Seattle’s—don’t let the pessimists tell you otherwise—we’ve seen this time and time again. Bands are formed, friends are made, bands are broken; new bands find success, former bandmates invite each other to play shows with their new bands, lesser-known musician friends are brought along for the ride, and so on and so forth. It’s a viciously great cycle for artists and their fans. And, to boot, there are a wide range of examples of this (I’m sure we can all come up with one of our own) not only in Seattle but in the entire music world, and the lineage that boasts Carissa’s Wierd/Band of Horses/Sera Cahoone/S/Grand Archives as its essence is certainly an impressive one.
This past Wednesday night (2/20), the swanky downtown venue Triple Door hosted a bill showcasing two of Sub Pop’s most promising young bands, Grand Archives and Sera Cahoone, and one notable solo effort from Jenn Ghetto, who performs as ‘S’. Given that’s the first letter in my name, I think it’s a pretty radical moniker. Technically, this was a CD release celebration for The Grand Archives, but it might as well have been just the same for Sera Cahoone (and her backing band), whose sophomore effort, Only As The Day Is Long, will be dropped March 18th. Plenty of new songs were strummed during her set, and Mat Brooke and company played their new record in its entirety.
I’d actually never seen a show at the Triple Door, but I guess I came away impressed with the quality and visage of the venue (i.e. sound, décor, ambience); I was not so eager to shell out unjust sums of dinero for tasty but overpriced Thai food. No one should have to pay $15 for Pad Thai, I don’t care how many shrimps it has. I suppose I could’ve skipped the eating and spared you the food review. That being said, the early show (7:30 pm) was a highly entertaining experience that was superbly boosted by Grand Archives’ beaming blend of dreamy, harmonized guitar pop and scenic alt-country, Sera Cahoone’s nostalgic, lo-fi country-western, and S’s opening sequence of heart-on-your-sleeve solo electric guitar songs. Ghetto, former co-leader of CW, seemed a bit uncomfortable being on stage alone, but I sense that is just her nature. Her songs were sparse, heartfelt, and affecting. The best example was “Save You”, where she used live guitar loops to create an enhanced sound to complement her soft, sorrowed lyrics. A beardless (!) Brooke, her friend, even came on for a one-song guitar duet.
I find it odd referring to Sera Cahoone as a “band”, but I suppose that’s what it is, and she probably wrote all the songs anyway. Given that the bands were playing two shows this night, the opening sets weren’t as long as they could’ve been. Nevertheless, Sera managed to play a bevy of new songs, as well as favorites from her self-titled debut (“Couch Song”, “Last Time”). I’d never really been a fan of country music until a few years ago when several local and independent artists changed my perception of the genre dominated by regurgitated top 40 trash. While her friends do quite well in making her visions come true—in particular plucker Jeff Fielder and steel pedaler Jason Kardong—it’s Cahoone’s voice and relaxed persona that draws me in. I literally could listen to her sing all day long. Fielder, who provided the headline for this review, switched often between electrics, a Dobro, and a banjo, and stood out for more than his stature. The new album is surely not to be missed.
The entire bill of this show was attractive, but I undoubtedly came to see Grand Archives, as I’d been anticipating their debut for what seems like a year now, if not more. The quintet did not disappoint. The centerpiece of the band, at least on record, seems to be the faint and rustic reveries of Brooke (he wrote 9 of the 11 songs on the album). His voice and lyrics border on flawless—if you dig that sorta thing. They’re a bit more intelligible through headphones, but that’s only because his bandmates create such a lush sound behind him. The group is rounded out with Ron Lewis on piano and guitar, Curtis Hall on drums, Jeff Montano on bass, and Thomas Wright has acoustic duties. All except Wright share vocal responsibility. A couple of their friends showed up to play horns (French, sax, trombone) on a few cuts, one of the more endearing and energizing qualities of The Grand Archives. Of course, Ghetto, Cahoone, and Kardong all entered the stage at some point or another to lend a helping hand and get their licks.
As I mentioned, they basically played all the tracks off their record, but one highlight was during the encore, when a particularly jammin’ song was interrupted with 60 seconds or so of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” (ya’ll know the lyric: “Sundown / you better take care / if I find you been creepin’ round my backstair”). The sound was spot on, and was a perfect ending to the show. Now, if I could just find some $7 Pad Thai…