Summer finally came out to say hi last weekend in West Seattle; to the tune of one of this town’s best seasonal festivals. Glittering sunshine, and some of the region’s best musical acts, for free? Win-win, all the way.
Ye Olde Concerts Examiner hot-footed it out to the West Seattle Summerfest Friday afternoon, and was greeted right out of the gate with a heretofore little-known act that went down perfectly with the seasonal heat. Power trio Whalebones have been compared by the local press to Neil Young, but lead singer/guitarist Justin Deary sounded more to these ears like a less-unstable Anton Newcombe, with a sprinkling of Roky Erickson’s garage visionary streak. Live, Deary cranked his guitar to 11, vaulting the band’s solidly catchy songs into headier psychedelic territory. Drummer Faustine Hudson and bass player Bradley Button furthered that trippy feel with a throbbing rhythm section that spiked directly into the shoegazer ambience of outfits like Spaceman 3 and Spiritualized. It was a pure musical contact high, and yours truly can hardly wait to hear them at Seattle Center’s Mural Amphitheatre August 19.
Most of Friday’s Summerfest, though, was a game of Six Degrees of Fastbacks Musical Separation. The Fastbacks’ legend has always loomed large in these parts: They were a key influence on the Riot Grrrrl movement in the 1990’s, and their Ramones-meets-girl-group snap-and-crackle pop has held up like Gibraltar in a hurricane for three decades.
The band’s guitarist Kurt Bloch is the closest thing this ‘burg’s ever had to an official rock and roll ambassador, and he’s been a key figure locally as a player, singer, and producer for over thirty years. Friday saw him bringing his current pop combo Thee Sgt Major III to the Summerfest stage for a raucous buzzbomb of a set. TSMIII is definitely cut from a similar cloth as the Fastbacks–sharp and compact rock and roll, replete with Leslie Beattie’s terrific Debbie-Harry-style vocals. Bloch, decked out in gloriously-hideous golf pants and a polyester jacket, played his role as Seattle’s coolest rock-loving uncle to the hilt.
The Cali Giraffes, Fastback bassist/singer Kim Warnick’s newest project, followed TSMIII onstage, and–big surprise–The Giraffes also hauled out tight, fast power pop that made for a great chaser. Warnick’s vocals provided the strongest connection to the old Fastbacks’ sound, but what stood out most was how muscular and solid her work was on the four-string: She’s one of the most nimble and melodic bass players in rock.
Finally, Bloch and Warnick united onstage with guitarist/singer Lulu Gargiulo and drummer Mike Musberger for The Fastbacks’ first full-on set since their 2002 breakup, and they did not disappoint. This group of Seattle rock elder statespeople still kicked up a charged-up roar that put bands half their age to shame, and the packed street pogoed without pause for the ‘Back’s entire 45-minute set. Bloch toned down his wardrobe (but definitely not his energy) for the set, and Gargiulo and Warnick delivered their trademark vocals as though the last thirty years never happened (that means they still sound like the Ronettes on Red Bull).
The Cops finished out day one of the West Seattle Summerfest with a performance that matched The Fastbacks’ showing, slug for slug. The Seattle quartet’s been on semi-hiatus for the last few years, but plans to return to the recording studio soon. Based on their set Friday, that’s great news. The Cops’ material rocks with a unique combination–spiky post-punk and swaggering garage rock–that somehow works, and they mixed old favorites like “It’s Epidemic” with some ace new songs. Michael Jaworski (who also fronts the equally awesome Virgin Islands) may have been the hyperkinetic center of the show, but his bandmates–bass player Drew Church, drummer David Weeks, and Jaworski’s fellow abuser on guitar John Randolph–more than kept up the pace. And when Jaworski handed over his guitar to Kurt Bloch (producer of The Cops’ Free Electricity CD in 2007) for the night’s close, the Fastbacks Connection was completed, in high style.
Stay tuned for a recap of Saturday’s Summerfest highlights.