First, on September 3 I went to Nectar Lounge to see Hotels, a band I'd discovered when they played the KEXP Volunteer Appreciation Party in August. This quartet immediately became my new favorite local band. They have a strong New Wave/New Romantics sound that mixes in some dreampop too, evoking both early New Order and late Talk Talk. Their songs tended to feel longer than the album versions, but this was a good thing. I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing Hotels at more shows. Also on the set that night was Motorist, another local quartet that played moody indie rock. Although they didn't blow me away like Hotels did, they did sound pretty good - I noted in particular that the lead singer had a nice voice - and they may be a band to watch.
On Saturday the 6th I went to the Showbox SoDo to see TV on the Radio. This band plays idiosyncratic modern rock, on the side of prog/art rock but influenced by alternative bands of the '80s and '90s rather than classic progressive of the '70s. In a sense, TV on the Radio sounded as if the Talking Heads had anticipated the '90s. They mixed in funky bass and drums with guitar distortion somewhere between shoegaze and wall-of-sound; the songs were moody, often ominous, but sometimes more upbeat. There's a lot going on in their music, but unfortunately it was not served well by the poor acoustics and muddy sound mix at the venue. Still, I was glad I got to see them, at the least because it's made me pay more attention to them on KEXP and realize they're a great band that I should watch more closely.
On Saturday the 13th I went to Neumos to see Balkan Beat Box. Also on the bill was The Bad Things and DeLeon, and the common thread of all three bands was playing traditional folk and klezmer music from Eastern Europe and the Middle East in a modern context. The Bad Things were the most traditional, using only acoustic instruments, and they were joined on some songs by three brass players from Orkestar Zirconium. DeLeon brought electricity into the mix, starting out with a rock style heavy enough that I was afraid it'd be a set of metal folk, but they lightened up a bit and proved to be just as fun as The Bad Things. Finally, Balkan Beat Box lived up to their name, playing Balkan and Middle-Eastern folk music as hip-hop. Their set was mostly instrumental, though some songs had lyrics and they also did the hip-hop call-and-response frequently. The absolutely packed crowd was a bit too much for me, though I felt better when I finally found a bit of space off to the side and I ended up mostly enjoying the show, which ended with a big onstage dance party.
On Wednesday the 17th I was back at the Showbox SoDo, this time for the show I'd anticipated the most so far this year, Goldfrapp. Eschewing their glam-rock image from the last tour, this time Alison Goldfrapp dressed as a harlequin, Will Gregory and the backing musicians wore all-white, and the stage had a traveling-circus look to it. Musically, the set begain with a moody quiet song and stayed that way for much of the first half, presumably reflecting the sound of their latest album, Seventh Tree. However, older hits were mixed in too, and the set gradually built to a resounding finish. They brought it down again for two more slow songs in the encore before finishing, as I expected, with "Strict Machine". Being familiar with Goldfrapp's music, I was better able to judge the sound quality at the Showbox SoDo this time than with TV on the Radio, and the space is definitely not friendly to nuanced music: even in the middle of the room beside the soundbooth, the mix still tended to be muddy and was worse during loud busy songs. Despite that, it was still a good show, but the band felt pretty laid back and casual this time, and I believe their last show in 2006 had more energy and enthusiasm and was better overall. Hopefully when they come to town again, they can recapture that excitement.
Finally, on Friday September 26, I went back to Nectar Lounge for KJ Sawka. This was an evening of drum 'n bass and breakbeat electronica, starting with DJ NoiseMaker playing a full set as well as spinning in between the other acts. NoiseMaker lived up to his moniker, as I thought he kept the music too loud when playing between the other acts. His set was bass-heavy and relatively slow rhythmically, inspiring some lurching about on the dance floor. He was followed by EOTO, a duo on keys/synths/guitars/voice and acoustic/electronic drums and congas. EOTO picked up the pace, bringing a groovy beat that got everyone moving, and played a solid 90 minutes of excellent dance music. Only the relatively subtle changes in tempo and sound indicated the transitions from one song to the next. KJ Sawka finished the night with his slightly heavier breakbeat, joined by Kent Halverson on keyboards. Sawka and EOTO's sets were mirrors in an interesting way, as EOTO built complex melodic layers with the keys, synths, and guitars over the solid drumming base, while Sawka's set was naturally and mainly drum-driven, with the keys and other electronics providing color and accents. Perhaps it was the harder edge to the music, or just the lateness of the hour, but I felt more like just listening than dancing and there seemed to be less dancing in general. Also, weirdly, a fight broke out, I believe caused by someone flailing about too wildly near the stage, but the perpetrator was quickly thrown out. Besides that moment of alarm, it was a good show and I had a good time.
I didn't get many good photos at any of these shows, but what I've got are all up in my Sept 08 shows set.