Aplscruf's Music Blog

“Backwoods” in the Evening: A Rowdy Night with Massy Ferguson and Friends

Massy Ferguson celebrated another EP release on Friday, August 8 at Conor Byrne Pub in Ballard.  

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We began the warm summer night with a special treat: a parking spot directly in front of The Tractor, across the street from Conor Byrne. After all these years, we’ve never parked that close, especially on the first go ’round.

Fredd Luongo, lead singer of The Swearengens, stood in front of the Tractor with his band mates and watched us park the car.  I stayed in the car for a minute and pulled on my boots. I caught Fredd in my peripheral vision, staring me down.  His blue eyes followed me as I stepped onto the sidewalk, and I knew what he was going to say.

“You’re going to the Massy Ferguson show tonight, aren’t you?” A very sober look crossed his face.

“Uh, yes. Yes we are, Fredd,” I said, my voice full of remorse. “I’m so sorry!  We already committed to their show before realizing that you were playing tonight, too.  I’ll tell you what–if there’s time, we’ll run over and catch your show, I promise!”

I felt like some sort of traitor.  I love The Swearengens just as much as I love Massy Ferguson. Lately, for some reason, the timing has been off in our efforts to make it to a Swearengens show. Both bands have played in the Seattle area for years and tour with other local and national bands, too.  And this night, they played across the street from each other.  The stars were crossed tonight, I’m afraid.

With tails between our legs, Pat and I headed down the to Bad Albert’s for a quick and hearty dinner–pulled pork on toasted roll with slaw and fish sandwich and chips.  Great pub food, and inexpensive, too.

Conor Byrne is a long, rectangular brick building with a bar lining the left side and a few benches and tables along the right wall and scattered near the stage.  The triangular stage was ridiculously small for the piles of equipment loaded on and around it.  A low velvet couch against the wall near the side of the stage looked like it was built about the time of the opening of the original structure. We chose to sit on the couch and sunk way down into the worn, threadbare cushions.  That was OK–at least we didn’t have to stand for the show.  It was going to be a long night.

Hook and Anchor

Hook and Anchor

Hook and Anchor, a talented, five-piece, multi-instrumental Americana band opened the show. I liked their bluegrass vibe.  The female lead singer, Kati Claborn, had quite a large vocal range, and hit some beautiful high notes in a song near the end of the set.  She also played banjo and acoustic guitar.  She switched out to upright bass for one song and let the bass player Luke Ydstie lead on banjo.  Fiddler and guitarist Gabrielle Macrae sang her own song and accompanied on others. The band also included collaborator Erik Clampitt on vocals, guitar and steel, and Ryan Dobrowski on drums. They reminded me of The Gourds in the way they democratically let everyone take a turn at different instruments and vocals. The band had a helluva time switching out instruments, positioning amps and monitors, and changing places on the tiny stage.  They really deserve to be on a larger stage to showcase their fine talents without the distraction of trying not to get in each other’s way. 

Legendary Oaks

Legendary Oaks

Legendary Oaks, a four-piece rocking alt-country band loaded in after shuffling around the equipment. Pat and I talked to them outside before the show. We saw them back in January at The Sunset Tavern. I remember it well, because there was this strange turn on the dance floor that night.  The boys were up on stage rockin’ out, and these girls that looked like they’d just been to a Bellevue dance club came in wearing pretty dresses and high heels and started raising the roof!  We had a good laugh over that, and frontman Craig Schoen remembered my written account of the crazy evening. We were looking forward to another great show, but with probably a little less disco on the dance floor.

They rocked again with some psychedelic jams. Their lead guitarist Zoran Macesic could be The Edge’s protege, with echoing, haunting, repetitive guitar licks.  Schoen’s vocals turned a dark corner, Dave Grohl-style, and went from a smooth, even tone to a wail.  He jammed on his acoustic like a true rock star, with posturing and angst-riddled facial expressions.  Their sound has a bit of a Tom Petty vibe, too, which makes their songs so addictive.  Bassist Chris Jordan and drummer Justin Ansley kept the tight beat going for their strong set. They left the stage soaked in sweat.  Legendary Oaks also packed the floor, although the dancing was minimal this time around. 

As promised, we trotted across the street to see if The Swearengens were still on, hoping to catch a few songs before Massy Ferguson took the stage.  We just missed them.  Fredd was manning the merch table. We caught his eye and slowly waved goodbye to him with pouting faces.  Sorry, Fredd.

Massy Ferguson

Massy Ferguson L-R: Tony Mann, Dave Goedde, Adam Monda, Ethan Anderson

Massy Ferguson’s new 6-track, mostly acoustic album, entitled Backwoods is just what I would expect from the boys.  It has just the right balance of beer-swillin’ songs and sober, thoughtful tunes. Lead singer and bassist Ethan Anderson shared his thoughts about the new EP: 

An album is a time piece, I’ve always thought. It captures a moment, a snapshot of what an artist or band is or what they are feeling at the time. In that way, albums are bound and chained to the stage of life of the artist. And, honestly, these are more “sober” times for MF. Three of us have had kids with wives/girlfriend, etc., and all the grown-up stuff that comes with that, and Tony is leaving the band for the better part of a year (he’s headed to Costa Rica – hence the song “Last Note”). I think all of us have been feeling a little more worn down by the “business” of music–maybe it’s age, maybe it’s wisdom. Sober is not a bad thing, it gives you ability to better reflect; and I think this album is, at its core, quite reflective. Reflective on individual expectations, on art, on nature, on personal histories, on places and spaces we’ve occupied.

“We’ve proven over the years that we can write songs for the bar-room, but we had this palette of songs that were more pretty, introspective and acoustic – 6 of them to be exact – and they didn’t really fit in with the feel of our other new material. They felt like a break from what we do, and I’m really glad they turned out the way they did sonically.”

Massy Ferguson started off strong with the title track and “90’s Darlin'” from Backwoods.  They squeezed in a couple of female vocalists to the stage, adding to their already-big sound and filling up every square foot of stage space with instruments, pedals, and power cords (and power chords, of course).  The band got the people on their feet and clapping to their energized blend of alt-country, with mostly upbeat songs keeping them engaged throughout the night.  

DSC05956Ethan took a few moments during the set and christened the new EP with a poignant yet humorous speech about where he’s headed musically and where he’s ended up physically with this band.  He paraphrased it later: “…the moment right when you start to wake up in the morning where your brain is cloudy and you realize you are not in your bed at home. As a musician this is something I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve woken up in a bed next to Tony in a Richland, WA motel room, I’ve woken up next to a 68 year old British man named Nick on our recent UK tour, I’ve woken up on the floor of the Brick Tavern in Roslyn...Backwoods in the Morning is probably mostly about waking up (literally and metaphorically) in a better place, a better headspace, in a new recognition of your life and who you are, where you have been.”

Even the bar was a different space for them. “As for the Conor Byrne show, again, even the show was a departure from the usual. That’s not a room we play, but we’d heard it was a good room for acoustic music. The sound for us wasn’t as spectacular as I’d hoped, but the show was definitely fun. Once you’ve been a musician in a town for a long time, you like to shake things up a bit, and I  think we did just that with the Conor Byrne show. It was a bit more of an unknown commodity than, say, the Tractor or Nectar or places we’ve played a lot. And, truthfully, the EP is a bit more of an unknown commodity too, compared to what we usually do.”

Adam Monda on lead guitar decided to go all acoustic tonight and follow the tone for their new EP, which added a rich, subdued sound to some of the more rocking numbers.  It worked on this smaller stage, although as Ethan mentioned above, there were some sound issues and the occasional feedback hum.  Tony Mann had some great solos on keys, including a noticeable turn on “Last Note” from the EP.  Dave Goedde is fun to watch on drums; his long arms pounded out the strong country-rock beat.  He must have felt a little claustrophobic this night, crushed into the very back corner of the miniscule stage. 

Adam Monda (Guitar) and Ethan Anderson (Flute) of Massy Ferguson

Adam Monda (Guitar) and Ethan Anderson (Flute) of Massy Ferguson

Our favorite part of the night is when the flute comes out. We know there is going to be a sing-along to a cover song, and possibly a few extra fans or musicians on stage to help out.  Ethan held the revered flute up high and the audience cheered. The band held nothing back, and several of the other band members joined them until there was absolutely no room for any more people or instruments.  Guest percussionists pounded on pint glasses (more than one broke and ended up on the stage) to add to the wall of sound.  The audience, as instructed, sang and danced, bounced and clapped heartily as they played “Last Note” and “Bum Drunk” to finish off the fabulous night.  

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I enjoy evangelizing when it comes to our favorite Seattle bands.  We try to invite friends every time we go out to a show.  Many get the thrill of experiencing an unknown band for the first time.  It’s so invigorating to watch their eyes light up when a particularly rollicking song catches their attention.  I feel like we’ve done our part to spread the word about the great music that happens every week in Seattle.  This night was no exception.  Pat invited his friend and co-worker Gary, and he was thankful to get out and listen to new music tonight.  His wife and friend came to the show later after attending the Lady Gaga spectacle at Key Arena.  They were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the bands here in this tiny bar.  Quite a bit of a scene change from Lady Gaga.

The rowdy night ended with the setlist, signed CD’s, a drive with the top down, and Dick’s hamburgers at 1 am. 

Massy Ferguson Setlist

Massy Ferguson Setlist

**Catch Massy Ferguson around town over the next few weeks, including The Tractor Sept. 19th with Austin’s Band of Heathens, and Ballard’s Macefield Festival Oct. 3rd, where they will play at The Sunset.**

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September 10, 2014 Posted by | Americana, aplscruf, Concert Season 2014, Conor Byrne, Hook and Anchor, Legendary Oaks, Massy Ferguson | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Brambles and Legendary Oaks – Sunset Tavern 1.18.2014

Legendary Oaks

Legendary Oaks

Although still exhausted from my crazy road trip from the week before and the sleepless aftermath of frantically writing the corresponding blog, we couldn’t pass up a chance to see some live music in Ballard.  Our neighbors invited us out to The Sunset Tavern January 18th.  They had seen Legendary Oaks before and thought we might like them, too.  The other two opening bands were unknown to all of us.  Check out the links of all the bands below and hear their music.  Watch their videos. Make a purchase and support our local musicians.

Day Laborers and Petty Intellectuals

Day Laborers and Petty Intellectuals

Day Laborers and Petty Intellectuals opened the show.  When I saw the name in the bill, I thought it might be a Tom Petty cover band.  I don’t usually enjoy cover bands, but I was willing to give it a shot this time, since it would be a comfort to sit back and enjoy some familiar music.  I was disappointed when I quickly realized they were not a TP cover band at all. This big band played original pop/folk (they call themselves a six-piece folk-apocalypse band) tunes and had an unusual narrative style that wasn’t hitting my sweet spot. Other audience members disagreed; many people seemed attentive and clapped heartily for them after each song.  Maybe I was having an off night.  Check them out for yourself.

The Brambles - Photo Credit: M. Kyle Moseby

The Brambles – Photo Credit: M. Kyle Moseby

The Brambles (aka West Coast Brambles–not to be confused with East Coast Brambles) were up next.  Their music definitely hit the spot for me.   They had a tight sound with a bluesy Americana vibe.  People danced to the nice two-step, upbeat tempo.  Some songs were more solemn than others, but it was a good mix of both. The guitarist, Omar Schambacher was amazing. It seemed he was dying for a chance to break out into a big, rockin’ solo.  We enjoyed watching him play.  Also, my husband enjoyed Vanessa Small, the lead singer.  She was “not bad to look at” according to P, in his usual subdued enthusiasm, and she had a great voice for Americana.

Next, the headliner, Legendary Oaks came out fightin’.  The lead singer, Craig Schoen admitted he had a good buzz on and dove right in.  Their music was loud and rocking with a psychedelic alt-country twang, sans fiddler.  Our neighbor informed us that the last time he saw Legendary Oaks, not only was Schoen piss drunk, but he chewed out his fiddler onstage for being completely out of key on a song.  Awesome.  They seemed to do just fine without her and filled the whole room with sound.

Right about the time Legendary Oaks took the stage, the dance floor shifted from two-step to a Bellevue up-scale club scene.  It was surreal. Women with up-dos and pretty dresses you’d see at cocktail parties or conventions sauntered in and proceeded to dance, Night-at-the-Roxbury-style, in too-high heels.  There was also a small bachelorette party that joined them. The band was obviously amused by this strange turn on the dance floor. Schoen was on stage screamin’, cussin’ and wailin’ on his acoustic guitar while the girls raised the roof and tried to look like their shoes weren’t mangling their feet.  Oh, we had a good laugh at the bizarre dichotomy!  But as Kevin Shinyribs Russell says, “There’s no wrong way to dance!” So I had to give the girls credit for getting out there and shaking it.  We certainly wouldn’t be shaking anything but the last drop outta the can of PBR this night.

February 13, 2014 Posted by | Americana, aplscruf, Concert Season 2014, Legendary Oaks, The Brambles, The Sunset Tavern | , , , , , | Leave a comment