! = recommended
* = all-ages
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I've been doin' the blogging thing for this here imaginary blog since around 2005, but living down in LA I don't get to see many (or any) Northwest shows. So when I booked a weekend trip to Seattle, and my concert buddy suggested a night at Tractor Tavern, I was -- as we say in California -- "totally stoked."
We arrived at the tail end of Willy Mason's set, and waited about fifteen minutes for local act Fences to take the stage. From listening to their Myspace beforehand I was looking forward to some breed of acoustic folk/pop -- unfortunately for the live show, something got lost in translation. Tattooed lead singer/songwriter Christopher Mansfield's acoustic guitar was backed at various times by a banjo, bass, guitar, drums, xylophone and synthesizer, but either I was too far to the side or the mix just wasn't great for his set, because half the instruments were drowned out by the other half. The band started off strong with a couple banjo-based songs, but about halfway through I was more than ready for the next set.
I'll add, though, that it definitely takes an extra-special something for a singer/songwriter to hold an audience's attention, no matter how many others are present on stage. If Mansfield had a little more confidence and push as a frontman, Fences' live show would've had a much better lift-off and might've held up.
Now, to say that headliners AA Bondy (nee Scott Bondy) made the evening would be a complete understatement.
I actually hadn't taken the time to look them up before the show, and only vaguely remembered reading reviews of their LA show a couple weeks prior. Needless to say I was floored by Bondy's ridiculously arresting, haunting vocals accompanied at first by only a guitar and harmonica on "Black Rain, Black Rain" -- recalling a young Bob Dylan or a grittier, more world-weary Conor Oberst -- and later by electric guitar, bass and drums. Although the songs on both American Heart and When The Devil's Loose are acoustic-based songs of longing, with lyrics like "love, it don't die/it just goes from girl to girl," Bondy's delivery has a little more (Dare I say it?) grunge than the average singer/songwriter, a bit of dirt and attitude that also came out in his sassy, irreverent onstage banter.
Oh, and that extra-special something I mentioned before? This guy has it by the boatload. Whether he was singing about Jesus or cocaine ("Vice Rag") or love or any number of aches and pains, it was hard not to believe every word he said. Even when the songs were a little shy and sleepy you'd still want to follow him around like the Pied Piper.
From what I can tell, Tractor Tavern is a small-ish/midsized venue, as far as Seattle's indie venues go (someone tell me if I'm wrong?), but it would be even more awesome to see AA Bondy in a really intimate setting, or at least a place where the folks mingling at the bar aren't within earshot of the stage. Everyone up front seemed to be loving it though, and when I got home I immediately texted all my music geek friends to check out this band if they haven't already. Fans of M. Ward and Bon Iver should do the same -- or just fans of great folk storytelling in general.