I started out April right by going to see Hotels at the High Dive on Saturday April 2, with Ghost Town Riot and Strong Like Woman. The opening acts were both new to me.
Ghost Town Riot were a straight-up Seattle '90s-rock band, along the lines of Minus the Bear and Soundgarden. I know it's arrogant to say, but I thought they had a surprisingly good crowd for an opening band I've never heard of. Just a good reminder that there's lots going on in Seattle that I don't know about. Ghost Town Riot played basically guitar-driven rock though they had some prominent keyboard parts too. They played a mix of songs with vocals and just instrumentals, and surprised me with a reggae dub beat in one song, an interesting choice I wasn't expecting. Overall, I thought they were good without grabbing me, as is the case with much of that style of rock, but the instrumentals and the reggae dub suggest they're a band worth keeping an eye on.
Strong Like Woman were the real surprise of the evening, as it turned out. They mostly performed as a trio, with an occasional extra vocalist, and used prerecorded electronic music (played off a laptop), live vocals, and multiple drums. They began with a solemn opening instrumental, with the main trio, dressed in robes, standing in a circle ritualistically. They promptly dispelled the gothy imagery by breaking into a raucous electropop song with a chorus apparently inspired by the theme to the PBS kids' science-and-math show 3-2-1 Contact. And from that, they removed their robes to reveal marching band jackets beneath, suggesting the band came from crossing drum corps nerds with New Wave dance pop. Their songs sounded kind of throwaway, but their performance was highly entertaining, and the live drumming and vocals were actually good. Between the solemn opening, the drums, and the electropop, they reminded me of such bands as Yacht, Big Pig, Ming & Ping, and even Freezepop. They closed their set with a theme song—always a bonus in my opinion—and the whole band jumped down into audience to dance before bringing a few friends back on stage to finish. The band said this was their first show in Seattle—and they're from Seattle, so I'm a little unclear on whether it was actually their first public show ever—and with such a start, I can see them going far.
Speaking of bands going far, Hotels were in the midst of an online competition, Billboard's "Battle of the Bands", in which three bands in each of six regions of the U.S. were up for popular vote for a couple weeks. The six regional winners would go play a showdown concert in May in Las Vegas, and the victor at the concert would appear in the Billboard Music Awards show. Of course I've been a huge fan of the band ever since discovering them, but still, I felt their performance this night ably demonstrated why they deserved to win a shot at the big time. Somehow the set felt really strong, even more so than usual, possibly even more solid than their CD release show just back in February. They just have a killer blend of energy, enthusiasm, and talent behind their songs that can be both cinematic and intimate, joyful and wistful and morose, and always danceable. And just over a week later, it turned out that a lot of other people agree with me, as Hotels won the preliminary voting round and will be headed to Las Vegas for the showdown. Hopefully 2011 will be the year Hotels break out to the widespread recognition they deserve.
I was much too busy dancing to take more than a couple photos of Hotels, but I have several of the other two bands. You can see them all in my set on Flickr.
Hotels are also closing out April with a show at the Sunset Tavern on Friday April 29, with Yuni in Taxco headlining and Blue Skies for Black Hearts opening. Come see what I've been raving about all this time and cheer them on as they head to Las Vegas for the Billboard Battle of the Bands!