The evening started out slow. The first band up was the slow and steady Island Bound. They were a six-piece who played more of a straight up reggae, but with a strong Hawaiian flavor thrown in. Yes, Hawaiian ska. They were tremendously versatile with some of the band members playing multiple instruments and pulling off beautiful, succulent three-part harmony including a female vocalist. They produced a full-bodied smooth set.
Band number two was another Seattle act called Longstride. Longstride played more of an upbeat traditional reggae, but with harder rock and some surf thrown into the mix. This four-piece came out wearing matching white shirts (not tucked in) with matching black ties and a singer who sang in a growling, gravelly tone, then crooned with the best of them for the next song. The highlight was his rendition of Concrete Blonde’s “What’s Going On.” He was definitely not Johnette Napolitano, nor was he trying to be. But he belted out this song in the way it should be played — throaty, gutsy and very powerful.
Longstride is a very energetic and fun band and succeeded in getting the now thickening crowd very warmed up.
Between bands I spent my time reading Pete Townshend’s autobiography. A woman came up and asked what I was reading. When I told her, she asked, “Who’s Pete Townshend?” I told her he was the driving force behind The Who. Her next question, “Who are The Who?” Some people just spend too much time living in a vacuum.
After a few minutes, I heard the intro to Elton John’s “Funeral for A Friend.” I looked up and witnessed five men strolling onto the stage all dressed in Elton John costumes, complete with feather boas, colorful hats and the obligatory crazy glasses.
The Funeral music became “Bennie & the Jets” and I immediately realized that though this is an Elton John tribute band, it’s Elton John done rggae/ska. Everyone in the now packed club sang along word for word with every song. I looked around and the average age was probably mid thirties to forties. Many couldn’t have been alive when songs like “Bennie & the Jets” or “Rocket Man” hit the airwaves forty years ago. Nonetheless, the quasi-lounge ska version of “Bennie & the Jets” gave way to “Rocket Man,” which gave way to “Honky Cat.” Meanwhile, a large screen at stage right displayed animations of the subject matter of each song. For Honky Cat, a cartoon of a black cat kept slinking across the screen while the lyrics displayed just like a karaoke bar. Other songs included “Bennie & the Jets,” and “Your Song” (the first song I ever heard by Elton in 1970).
Besides, churning out fabulous renditions of Elton tunes, the costumes were just as brilliant. The singer dressed all in white with white ruffles running down his legs, a silver lame top hat and gold lamé platform shoes. The guitar player (who also doubled on trombone) wore all pink right up to the pink leopard print hat. This was another band with a very adept vocalist, which was proven well enough when he hit the high notes during “Crocodile Rock.”
The final song was the only non Elton cover and it was then that the keyboard player shed his wig and glasses to reveal his true identity. The remaining members remained in character. Elton Jah is a brilliant, talented and fun band. I had doubts that the Skablins would be able to measure up. Elton Jah would be a hard act to follow.My doubts dematerialized when the Skablins hit the stage. By far the largest band on stage this night, this ten-piece is succinct and zany. Front man, Gordy Whyte is a champion showman. He leaped about the stage complete with high kicks and writhed about like a trained contortionist. The guitar player looks like a teenaged Jimmy Page, the bass player sported a nose ring and hair down to his waist that he wore in two pigtails. The Skablins also sport two female horn players (I’ve been seeing more and more female horn players in ska bands and this is way cool). The highlight for me came early in the set when they did a kicked up ska version of The Kinks’ “Come Dancing.” I seemed to be the only one who knew the words — blasphemers! But by now the crowd was thinning.
Trombone player, Buster Larsh on several occasions frequently upstaged his front man compatriot by putting down his trombone long enough to dance wildly about. At times the horn section filling the left of the stage, choreographed their horn movements. Whyte eventually shed his black jacket as the show wore on, causing his white shirt to half hang off him. With his mic hand wrapped in the end of the sleeve, he resembled someone trying to wiggle out of a straightjacket. Before the show was over, he shed the shirt completely, then twirled it above his head and used it as a fan on his fellow band members. I did say he never stood still.
At one point, a guest trombonist was called on stage and I couldn’t make out if they introduced him as Horn Solo or Han Solo.
The finale was a drawn out version of “Hell” (more commonly known as “The Afterlife”). This is where the band expended the their last drop of energy and really hyped things up. Although they did do a “last gasp” song after, the energy expelled from Hell and the antics that preceded it, left the stage with steaming.
This weekend was the perfect way to see in the new year. I just got to see several outstanding Seattle area bands perform some fine music and put on some great shows over a two-night period. The Seattle music scene is as vibrant and full of talent as it ever was.