Last night started at the sold-out M. Ward show at Slowdown. Ward went on shortly after 10:30 for a 5-man low-key urban hoedown in support of his new album, Hold Time (Merge Records) which I recommend. The music is middle-of-the-road ’70s-style countrified folk-rock, differentiated by its thick beat and Ward’s miraculous guitar prowess, not to mention his raspy croon. On stage, he was the young guy in the trucker cap surrounded by what looked like a veteran crew of sidemen who followed his lead to perfection.
There is a timeless quality to Ward’s music, an easy simplicity that masks a deceptive intricacy. It’s considered indie rock, probably because of Merge and his ties to other indie rock performers (not the least of which is Zooey Deschanel), but Ward’s music exceeds the boundaries of any trends. I get the feeling he’ll be playing his songs for the next 40 years, and they’ll always sound just as good as they did last night. I’m also not sure where he falls in the cadre of classic singer songwriters. He’s not angry enough for Johnny Cash; too urban for Woody Guthrie; too rootsy for Glen Campbell. Most often, he reminded me of Kris Kristofferson, maybe because the song he was singing — alone on stage — when I wrote this note was a dead ringer for “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” but with Ward’s moonlight guitar chords and his wispy singing style has become his trademark.
Memorable between-song comment: “We’ve been traveling all over the country. It’s nice to be in a place that feels like home.” Shortly before that, I took a couple pictures with my iPhone, but was told to stop by a Slowdown guy who couldn’t have been cooler. So I guess that makes this photo contraband.
I cut out before the encore so I could drive cross-town to O’Leaver’s for The Photo Atlas. Fortnight was still on stage when I arrived, playing its brand of indie-pop. They get better every time I see them. When are they going into the studio?
The Photo Atlas took over at midnight for a set of twitch-dance-rock that reminded me of The Rapture, sort of. It was shiny post-punk with an ever-present dance beat beneath everything all the time. Chatting with folks around the bar, the consensus — regardless of whether they liked the music or not — was that this is the kind of band that a label could turn into something huge, at least with 15-year-old girls. I think there’s more to them than that, but then again, I like twitchy-dance rock. Here they are in action.
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Let’s get to the weekend. Tonight at The Waiting Room it’s Nettwerk Recording artist Maria Taylor with Whispertown 2000 and our very own McCarthy Trenching. Tickets are still available for only $9. I wouldn’t be surprised if this sells out prior to showtime.
Also tonight at O’Leaver’s it’s San Francisco duo Tartufi with local heroes Fromanhole and new band (as far as I know) Wall Street Kids featuring members of Perry H. Matthews and Gnome Slaughterhouse (who remembers them?). $5, 9:30 p.m.
Tomorrow night The Thermals play at Slowdown Jr. with The Shaky Hands & Point Juncture, WA. $12, 9 p.m. Thermals’ new album, Now We Can See, is a pop gem. This will be tons of fun.
Also Saturday night, singer/songwriter Nick Jaina is playing at The Barley Street with Midwest Dilemma, Robert Adam HauG and Lincoln Dickison. Jaina’s new album, A Narrow Way, is loaded with good, lowkey indie folk. $5, 9 p.m.
Of course, going on both Friday and Saturday nights is Big Al’s Free Music Festival at the Saddle Creek Bar. 12 bands, two nights, all the details are here.
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