Yes, I know we whine about the rain a lot here in the Pacific Northwest, but we just had the wettest wet season on recordso let me tell you, when you finally get a sunny day in the 70s here in late May, you celebrate it like all your birthdays rolled into one. How does one handle such bubbling joy? Why, you head on over to the Seattle suburb of Bothell to see Tacocat play the Bothell Block Party and BrewFest, that's what! I had to arrive late and leave early, but I and the generously-sized yeast-and-hops-infused crowd was delighted to see our pop punk feminist sweetheart warriors perform on a stage set up in the cute downtown area. Thank you Greater Bothell Chamber of Commerce and UW Bothell! Please to enjoy! (Click on the photos to enlarge, and click on THIS HIGHLIGHTED LINK to see them on my Flickr!)
When I was growing up in the '60s and '70s, two strong characteristics emerged for me early on: I loved to read and I loved to shop. I did not discriminate in what I read when I was a kid; if it had WORDS on it, it was to be read. Spaghetti-Os can, Dad's camera manual, Reader's Digest? I GOT YOU. And a chance to get OUT of the house and BUY something, even cereal or socks? YES! We always had lots of books and magazines in the house, including a subscription to Better Homes & Gardens, which like everything else I read cover to cover. In the back of the magazine were small ads, purportedly curated by the editor, many which ran for years. The people reading these ads were housewives and me. These were some of the things I hoped to buy there (and mostly never did) when I was about 9 to 11 years old. Please to enjoy.
WHOOP, I whooped, when I found out that Ty Segall would be returning to Seattle again, a little over a year from his last visit, and performing not ONE, not TWO, but THREE shows at the newly-spruced up Neumos in Capitol Hill! Segall is who I point to when I hear any of that dusty-fart whining that rock music is dead and all the good bands are from (fill in the black with decade of high school/college attendance). LOOK AT MR. TY, say I...here is a young musician who consistently puts out very high quality, very diverse projects, very frequently, and puts on a stellar live show which generally whips the crowd frothy with musical happiness. He's well-earned the froth and mosh and adulation, say I, again and again on this blog, and I am grateful that I'm here on Le Planet during Ty-time.
On a dark, orange day, where someone got shot a few miles down the road outside a Milo Yiannopoulos speech, when stomachs were turned by the sight of fascism coming for breakfast while others served it cheerily, what, really, is one supposed to do? Cry? Scream? Curl up in a ball? Dig a bomb bunker and hoard clean water? Strip naked and run down the street with fiery torches in both hands? If you are me, you don your "Dump Trump" tshirt and make the trek over to Ballard to do yourself a DAMN FAVOR by seeing one of your all-time-favorite bands, The Intelligence. This was my small act of rebellion on Inauguration Day: that we come together, still, to be with friends and hear music, and not give in to despair and worry of what is to come. We go out, get our freak on, and get re-fueled.
(Editor's note: Today, the world sent a strong message of strength and solidarity in resisting the bigoted, sexist, ignorant agenda of United States Dictator, Donald J. Trump. Women, men, and non-binary folks of every description came together in every state and on every continent to march in peaceful protest -- numbers estimated in the millions. I was unable, sadly, to join in the march today. However, our friend Grace Tom, a 9th grade student who lives on Seattle's Eastside, kindly helped me out today! She attended the Seattle march with her family, camera in hand, and I'm delighted to feature a few of the images she captured today along with a short report. A budding photojournalist and videographer, you can see more of her work on Instagram (@grace_t6 or @picsbygracee) and can contact her via email at email@example.com. Thank you, Grace, and thank you to each and every marcher. You are beautiful. -- Marianne) The expected number of attendees at the women’s march in Seattle, Washington on January 21st was around 50,000; the outcome was more than I think anyone expected. 175,000 men and women marched 3.6 miles from Judkins Park to Seattle Center. Thousands of these men and women wore pink “pussyhats” upon their heads while raising signs above them, many with clever and witty statements. There were signs that proclaimed “WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS”and drawings of Trump that said “KICK HIM IN THE DICK.” Some signs cleaner than others, yes, but they all brought across the right message. (click each photo to enlarge)
I can recall one long Saturday afternoon when I was about 10, back in the long-ago before internets and other on-demand time-sucking entertainment sources, I was working on a puzzle on our kitchen table. I had completed a fair amount of it, with what seemed to be 10,000 tiny, infuriating pieces, but had become stuck and angry, unable to figure how to continue. My mom came over after listening to me huff and whine for a bit, and suggested that I switch positions, so that I was viewing it upside-down. I looked at her witheringly, as preteens do so often. How could that possibly help? She explained to me that the brain is a complex thing, and that a change in perspective can spark new ways of seeing things and solving problems. I grumpily changed seats to attempt to work the puzzle again. After a minute or so, a pattern began to emerge. I quickly began to push pieces into place, feeling both dense for missing it before and exhilarated to complete the task.
What does this have to do with last Tuesday's concert from Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley, you ask? Puzzles and perspectives are at the heart of their music, kindred souls that they are. Both compose complex and layered songs that take disparate, odd sonic shapes and fit them together like they were meant to be. They then turn that puzzle upside-down, listen, and figure it again, adding in spontaneous guitar runs or drum patterns that run the risk of breaking apart the whole, but instead add an intriguing freshness and unpredictability.
My mom was an artist, and knew a thing or two about the process of creating unique work. Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley are artists, and fit together two lovely puzzle-performances before an appreciative crowd at Chop Suey.
At the end of the year, it's a pretty enjoyable task to review my photographic work for the last 12 months. It reminds me of how lucky I've been to be able to be at all these awesome shows, and to be able to attempt to capture a little bit of the magic of live performance to share with you. It's never an easy task, especially as the physicality of the work gets more demanding for me. More than once this year I've had to stop shooting to shove emergency candy in my mouth to counteract low blood sugar. I cannot imagine what some of the bands might have thought seeing this photographer down front in the middle of their show suddenly take a box of Sugar Babies and frantically chew them like some desperate confectionery junkie, although I also find that image very funny.
I am always convinced at the end of the night that I've got nothing in the camera and will be dejected, but that's never true. I'm working on having a slightly more realistic expectation after 38 years of experience. Ah, but maybe the worry of not getting shots is what helps me get them. Given the opportunity, I will work until the last note is played and I've done everything I can to do my best without impacting the experience between the audience and the performers, because that's what it's all about, Charlie Brown.
The criteria I use each year to pick the photos are but two: one, do I love it and two, is it beautiful? Do very much now please to enjoy my favorites from this year, click on the photos to enlarge, and please visit my Flickr any ol' time you like, because it's really just there for you. Thank you.
I've photographed Ty Segall many times and am always rewarded with dynamic pictures and FUN. Similarly to Thee Oh Sees, unless there's a photo pit, it's nearly impossible to get any pictures if you are up front and center and short like me, because it is always a swirling mass of humanity that tends to knock you and your gear around pretty constantly. For this show at the Neptune, I found a prime spot on the side and stuck there (not like I could move anyway), and got the rare Ty jump shot and a very pretty "reach out and touch somebody's haaaand." The lighting at the Neptune is always excellent, and that makes my job infinitely easier.
Hands down, I find pro-wrestling-themed Stallion to be most entertaining band around. After performing in a mid-June rainstorm, here we see "Luscious Luke" Beetham enthralling the crowd with a display of bullwhip prowess. I've seen grown men recoil at the deafening crack, and grown women, too -- namely me. This is as close as I'm gettin' to that business, I tell you whut.
I love this one because that's Dreamsalon's Craig Chambers onstage, celebrating his 40th birthday, and his spouse Adria Garcia in front, wildly writhing and whipping her hair in a beautiful dance for her man and his music. Sex-zaaaayy!
Oh, Pizza Fest, you always so crazy. So, OK, you might not find this meets the whole "beautiful" standard for this post, BUT I DO, for I find it beautiful that anyone would go to the trouble of wearing frozen pizzas onstage in support of a pizza-themed punk music festival.
See that pole covered with stickers? That pole is every Seattle music photographer's nemesis. Whenever I shoot at the El Corazon, that damn pole steals half the shots I want, bisecting my subjects with immovable, frustrating certainty. To get a sweet jumper there is YAY.
SSDD is one of my favorite bands to photograph, because lead vocalist Kennedy Carda is so animated. You can really feel the power of the band through the images, thanks to that. Three of my faves came from their Pizza Fest show this year: a giant double-exposure pizza slice coming for guitarist Jermaine Blair, an in-action shot of Carda and guitarist Ricky Claudon, and Carda slinking behind steely-eyed bassist Erika Mayfield.
Lead vocalist Shannon Perry, also an internationally-known tattoo artist, is always an outstanding subject to photograph: so stylish and unusual and gorgeous. This black-and-white conversion worked well to highlight the lace details of her dress, tattoos, and eyes.
The lighting for this performance was very challenging, as it was strongly backlit with hardly any front lighting at all. In some cases, I would go ahead and pull out my flash, but that didn't seem to be the right choice here, as I thought it would be intrusive and jarring. All I could do was max out my manual camera settings and then work with the results in post-processing. I think the results were striking.
It was joyful to have the Boys back in Seattle after a 3-year absence! But again, lighting challenges! Hot strobes, little front lighting, and the dreaded fog machine combined for a lot of work for even the smartest camera. It's hard to find focus when all of these conspire. I shot half the show with flash and half without. This double-expsore shot of vocalist/guitarist Gabriel Alcala, sans flash, gives you a feeling of his wild, hair-whipping moves.
My last shoot of the year was such a happy one, with four of my favorite local bands playing a holiday-themed concert at the (relatively) big Showbox Market, with a photo pit and no restrictions -- woo! Check out a smitten fan giving vocalist Michael McKinney some sweet eyes, and the moody lighting and movement on the close up of McKinney and bassist Shawn Randles.
Tacocat is another band that is always a joy to shoot -- so colorful and sparking, they are. In the first shot, I waited for bassist Bree Mckenna to come into shot between two tiny metallic Christmas tree decorations to grab a framing with that lovely bokeh.
The second shot of drummer Lelah Maupin is NOT post-processing magic! As I was framing this shot, the fog machine started up and and enveloped Lelah in a floating pink cloud as it combined with the fog. Whoa!, I thought, and SNAP.
Finally, I just love this one of vocalist Emily Nokes as she is walking offstage after Tacocat's set with friend Victoria Liss. It shows the joy of the night and all the love in the room. Those shots are always the ones I treasure the most.
I'll give it to ya straight, my friends...I've been staring down this list for days, not sure where to begin. In a year of exceptional sadness as 2016 was, I don't gravitate towards music. I withdraw from it, not wanting to infuse my greatest pleasure with heavyhearted memories. Despite this and despite everything, the music that makes life so much better rolls on and through, whispering in my weary ear, "We got you, sister. We're not going to let you down. We're here when you are ready." And that is how it is, and how it will always be.
This year was filled with wonderful new releases from artists young and old, fresh or seasoned a f. Here are my 15 favorites.
I am pretty sure Ty has made my list every year since I've been making this end-of-year best, which means three things: 1. He's a perpetually busy guy; 2. He's a endlessly talented guy, and; 3. I have good taste. I think the general music press thinks of young master Ty as mainly a frenetic garage rocker, but that does him a disservice, even though I in particular think there is zero wrong with being a frenetic garage rocker. You can hear it in everything he does, if you listen -- he has strong ideas of what he wants to produce, a vision, even... some fever dream of a Vanilla Fudge record covered in a spilled sticky can of Coke, the record player needle covered in sugary dust, vibrating madly in the grooves. There's a complexity there, from lyrical themes to layers of sound, that deserves your attention.
I can say without doubt the tour behind this record was one of the weirdest shows I've ever seen, and it was brilliant. Damn, if you're not on the Ty train by now, toot toot, get ON already.
Spencer Tweedy: Geezer Love (self-released)
Speaking of prolific sorts, we have the father-and-son dynamic duo of Jeff and Spencer Tweedy. These guys made my last year's list with their album "Sukierae" under the name of TWEEDY, a rather Captain Obvious choice of band name, but I digress. This year, Father went back to his day job with Wilco and came up with "Schmilco," an aching little sweetheart of a record, Wilco at their warmest. Son went back to college and on his free time, wrote and recorded a 4-song EP, "Geezer Love," released on his 21st birthday, that sounds like a very gifted young man that's been paying very close attention for 21 years on to how to write, perform, and produce quality music, and then just does it as easily as normal college kids effortlessly barf Miller Lite on a foosball table. Kudos, you genetic wonders.
This year, I taught my 11-year-old Newfoundland dog to balance a bone on her nose. Also this year, some of my other favorite olds surprised me with new tricks, or old tricks that were so old as to be new tricks again, or tricks that I won't be able to fathom in ten lifetimes. More power to ye, merry gentlemen.
It's been a great Iggy year: the "Gimme Danger" Stooges documentary, finding out about Iggy's pet bird Biggy Pop on Instagram, the release of "Post Pop Depression," and getting to see the album performed live at Seattle's Paramount Theater. "Post Pop Depression" teams alt-superstars Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, Matt Helders from Arctic Monkeys, and the Dead Weather's Dean Fertita with the Ig, resulting in a lush, confident, thoughtful pre-MTV Bowie funk. Not punk, but plenty tough. Iggy Pop for President, Every Year.
I'm sure I'm far from the last fan or critic to expect a new album from the three surviving Monkees (Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, and Peter Tork, RIP Davy Jones) to end up on this kind of list. But "Good Times!" is such a wonderful surprise, varied and so solid throughout, with contributions from songwriters like Andy Partridge of XTC and Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie. The supporting 50th Anniversary Tour was a similar delight, and had me re-appreciating the Pre-Fab Four, who had the stone-cold balls to become a real band in the face of very determined opposition.
Nor did I AT ALL expect the latest release from the Rolling Stones to wow me. I am a giant Stones fan and have been since my earliest days, but let's be honest: they've been writing the same-sounding material for a verrrrrry long time now, autopilot recording artists. All musicians, should they last so long, face this problem. How does a band remain innovative, fresh, interesting, and cool? For the Stones, the answer in 2016 was in rehearsals for their extensive tours. When they started warming up by playing some of the old blues that was the foundation of the band in 1962, ears perked up and tape started rolling. It is so much FUN to hear the band having FUN with the music they love most of all.
I haven't been able to listen to David Bowie's "Blackstar" more than a few times. Its themes of violence and mortality are so emotionally provocative in light of his death this year that I can only absorb it in small doses and end up crying every time. I am utterly awestruck that he was able to write and complete this complex, difficult work when terminally ill. How? How?? Stronger, better, smarter, braver, and more talented than us all, now and forever.
Steal Shit Do Drugs: S/T (Annibale Records)
Anyone who loves music would live happily in Seattle forever. There is what seems to be an endless supply of amazing new music, great live shows every night of the week, and an artistic community that is generous and supportive. Now we just have to do something about the cripplingly high housing costs and that pesky rain. Nah, scratch that last thought -- the rain might save us from the constant hellfires that will consume our planet soon enough! Cheers! Anyway, here are some of my favorites that just so fortunately happen to be in my Pac NW vicinity.
Something I really appreciate about Acapulco Lips is they appreciate VINTAGE SOUNDS. I am highly fussy about authenticity when it comes to this topic, and this band always gets it so right. Walk right back to 1966 with a little surf style, girl group sweetness, and frug-dancin' garage beat. YEAH!
I fully expect Gazebos to take over the world someday. Until then, we have "Die Alone," which I think just hints at what they can musically accomplish with such talented people on board. They don't sound like anyone else, don't look like anyone else, vocal power for days, and hooks that worm into your brain so bad you might need to see the doctor.
There is just something about Happy Times Sad Times that turns me into a slobbering, head-banging nut, which happens with only select bands like the Gories, whom I revere. If you can turn this battered middle-aged music fan into a 16-year-old pogo princess, you've got POWER. HTST not only rocks out, though -- downtempo songs are just as compelling. This band deserves a lot more attention in Seattle -- get 'em on the bill, Capitol Hill!
Extra-mega-special thank you to the band for featuring my daughter Cameron's art (tiny practice drawings of mouths that I found in her garbage can!) on the cover of "New Album!"
I'm a yuuuuge fan of Steal Shit Do Drugs and was highly damn stoked when their self-titled full-length album arrived on my porch all the way from Italy just a few weeks ago. I'm just as stoked that they will be doing their first European tour in the early part of 2017 and may hide myself in a drum case just to go along. This is the sound of modern punk music. Get it.
I played these three albums the most this year, which is not a huge surprise to anyone who keeps track of my favorites, which I believe is only me, but you never know. Each artist raised their personal bar here, and that's exciting for me, and maybe them, and maybe you reading this. I'd be personally very pleased if you purchased these for yourself, not me, because I already own them, and not them because they are busy. Thank you.
My Miami sweethearts Jacuzzi Boys make records that make me smile. I always feel better after listening to them. I think "Ping Pong" is their best album yet, with shining, strong, split-stereo production, tight performances, and great songs throughout. My dream is for them to have their own animated Saturday morning cartoon show. I AM NOT KIDDING.
Tim Presley, like his friend Ty Segall, also makes my list every time he puts out a record because I love every record he makes. Stepping out from the White Fence moniker, plain ol' Mr. Tim on "The Wink" also steps away from his own multi-layered home production and into the studio with producer Cate Le Bon. Le Bon's instincts prove perfect, as we have superb, clean sound and crystal clear vocals, while the arrangements and instrumentation remain familiarly weird and a bit more sparse, to good effect. This is the kind of record that bears repeated listening, for you will hear it differently each time, sonic details popping here and there, lyrics veering from opaque and obscure to stunningly direct.
Why does Presley sing with a muted British accent? The world may never know.
If you think Puberty sounds a lot, I mean A LOT, like my favorite post-punk performers, The Intelligence, OH GUESS WHAT? That's because Puberty is a Lars Finberg project, and the band is loaded with current and former members of The Intelligence! Aren't you glad to know this? It pains my little heart that more people haven't heard this record, because it is fantastic. Born out of "Trainwreck," a crazy monthly performance event at The Orient Express karaoke in Seattle, it took years to reunite the Puberty band to make this album, and another year before it was released. Finberg doubles his vocal lines with Susanna Welbourne (better-known internationally as burlesque star Kitten LaRue), wrote all the songs, but sits out on playing. Oh, but these songs are SO LARS. Grim, funny, spooky, strange, and charming, it may not be for everybody, but I will never stop insisting that it SHOULD BE. Make 2017 Semi-Tolerable Again and buy this album.
I made this video a couple nights ago and am proud of several edit points. Check out the wicked guitar work on this by Dave Hernandez!
It's a genuine thrill to see Tacocat gain popularity this year with the excellent "Lost Time," although that means more time on the road away from Seattle. We miss them when they are gone, because the three women and one man who make up Tacocat bring so much to our town. They are musicians, artists, DJs, writers, hosts of fun creative events, and light up the town with ever-changing hair and clothes and makeup. Most importantly, they are advocates for those who are in need -- our homeless population, PoC, the LGTBQ community, reproductive rights organizations, and more.
You can hear this advocacy on "Lost Time" but it never comes across as preachy or trite. Instead, there is a sly humor and head-bopping pop punk that delivers messages with hilarious accuracy and an awful lot of fun.
Because this was exactly what was needed in 2016, and brought me smiles and strength, "Lost Time" is my album of the year.
If calendar years were actual humans, it is sure that the Rapidly-Aging Jerk 2016 would be getting a hefty sleighful of filthy hunks of planet-destroying coal from Santa. This is why we so needed a chance to put on our holiday spangles and get together last Thursday night at Seattle's Showbox Market with local awesome musical combos Connie and the Precious Moments, Dancer and Prancer, Boyfriends, and Tacocat. If, just for a night, we could set aside our past, present, and future Scroogescapes and celebrate with our funky, punky community, inclusive and crazy and fun and kind, it would be a little seasonal magic to soothe our worried minds, yes? Well, yes! I wore my $5.00 kittens-in-Santa-hats leggings and took some photos for you, and had the best time doing so. Please to enjoy! (Click on the photos to enlarge in glorious detail and click on each Flickr link for more!)
I'm Marianne Spellman. I am in Seattle-ish. I like and make music and words and photos and coffee and have crappy eyesight, like every other blogger. I do freelance thingies for cool people and places every so often. I post here often.