Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Two reviews for the price of one...

Hold on, its going to be a surprise tonight. I know that I usually wax rhapsodic about airplanes or elegant cipher systems, but not this time. Tonight I am going to talk about music -- and about a mostly excellent concert that my family and I took in last night. Also about the venue, the absolutely excellent Triple Door down in Seattle.

Rather randomly for a Monday night, we met up with some friends and went to see our friend Kristen Ward play. The music in due time -- first the Triple Door. Apparently it was once and old burlesque theater -- and if this origin is true, then the burlesque theaters of old were a far classier kind of place than when I was in college. Obviously a contemporary remodel had completely remade the pace into tiered seating with sumptuous leather booths, smaller tables on the sides, and snippets of bar. All faced the stage and managed a feeling of intimacy despite seating 270.

The service was fantastic and the food was every bit what we expect from The Wild Ginger. Which is to say fantastic. Though let me tell you there's a lot of salt in their stuff -- this morning I'm puffed up like a balloon enough that I was tempted to blog about Zeppelins rather than music as I'd planned... The only culinary failing was that Erica ordered a vodka gimlet rickey. "Rickey" is barspeak for taking any true cocktail and serving it in a tall glass, over ice, with club soda. The server was baffled by this but put the drink order in ("Vodka Gimlet Rickey") just fine. What arrived was a regular vodka gimlet served in a cocktail glass. They were happy to take it back and pour us one correct -- which was very good in the end -- but it was a little sad to see the bartending team either mix by routine or else just have no clue what we were talking about. At least they made the thing with fresh lime, and not that true form of evil, Rose's Lime Juice.

If any of you behind the bar at the Wild Ginger are reading this, make note of that one...

stage.jpgNow on to Kristen's music. She was asked to play an "mellow" set, which was fine and worked pretty good for the first half of her show. In fact, having gotten used to Kristen in front of a full band, it was fun to see how her sound and performance has gotten much more solid even when just in front of her guitarist and pedal steel player. "Good Time Man" was rather magical as the venue lit up a "starry night" backdrop that could have been cheesy but instead worked really nicely.

The drawback to the mellow set was that it prevented her show from having the zip that her 2nd album has, that little bit of extra pizzas and energy that comes from percussion and the rest of the rhythm section driving the music along. It was fun, though, to hear a few songs that I'm used to hearing with the full band stripped down to their core. Listening to guitarist Gary Westlake (resplendent in an outfit which I can best describe as "satanic Colonel Sanders") play his solos over this relatively naked format was great, and really showcased his work.

From our seats, I had an unusual opportunity to watch Kevin Suggs, Kristen's pedal steel player. I don't mean to sound weird, but I kept staring at his legs. And all I could think of was flying helicopters (you knew aviation would end up here, didn't you?). Between what I counted as ten pedals and some odd knee levers, he was always in subtle motion, that kind of amazing "my hands are doing things entirely unrelated to what my feet are doing" skill that I always associated with, well, helicopter pilots and really good drummers. Now add steel players -- and they have extra things to do with their knees! Add that to the "things that Nick must understand before he dies" list...

I Wanna' Go Home, a song that I keep thinking has the potential to become sort of classic icon of our times (Obama campaign, are you listening? Kristen would probably license the song to you if you ask, and it would give my friend some great exposure!), was missing from the set, which left me a little disappointed as well. It kept the show down to the core of Kristen's music, though, stories of love gone a-little-bit-right, not-so-right, and not-right-at-all.

Her voice was in good form and the mini-band sounded great. Gary was energetic as always and Kevin was able to put out a wall of sound that managed to fill up the space even with just three instruments playing. But more than anything I enjoyed the chance to have a Friday-on-Monday. Some cocktails, a nice dinner, and time with our friends.

The performance wrapped up all too soon -- I'm not used to the brevity of these opening act gigs! I was enjoying the show and while it was nice to have a break and a chance to chat, the next act would make wish Kristen's set had continued all the stronger!

Fences took the stage and we left soon thereafter. I have never seen a performance as presumably deliberate in their mockery of the audience's position as this interesting duo of drum and guitar/vocal. The singer, looking rather like he wandered in off the street in cutoff shorts with a set of keys dangling from a belt loop via carabiner, faced away from the audience the entire time. The music could have been interesting -- if only I'd felt at all welcome in my intrusion on their time. I'm sure it was a deliberate act -- a statement about insisting on being taken seriously solely for one's music or such. But in either case it rubbed the wrong way and, with a sleepy kid in a noisy room, we knew it was out time to go.

It was a good time -- and I'll be back to the Triple Door for sure on a night when we know all the music will be as good as Kristen's and we've got a sitter. I'll certainly be back out to see the next of Kristen's shows as well.

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