Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

For some reason, a roots rock revival has taken hold in the arid, condominium-covered soil of contemporary Seattle.  During the last year, The Maldives, The Moondoggies and The Fleet Foxes have sprouted and blossomed in a glorious burst of beards, fiddles and flannel. It makes about as much sense as when Creedence Clearwater Revival showed up on San Francisco stages in the late 60’s, wearing Civil War uniforms and singing about the swamps and bayous and hollers of the American South, all the while surrounded by acid freaks in bellbottoms and day-glo face paint.

Fortunately, rather than try to explain this curiosity, we can just enjoy it.  And fans of the Maldives and Moondoggies had no trouble doing just that last Friday at the Tractor Tavern.   The bands tore through songs from their respective recently released albums, both sounding like groups poised for national breakthrough.

The show was the second of three straight headlining nights for The Maldives as part of a joint celebration of the Tractor Tavern’s 15th anniversary and the CD release of the Maldives Listen to the Thunder.  I’d seen the Maldives play previously at a Hugo House literary event at Town Hall, and in that highbrow setting, the band seemed, appropriately enough, a bit subdued.  Back on the Tractor stage, however, in control and in its element, the group unleashed its full power.

The show opened with the anthemic “Time Is Right Now,” with guitarists Jesse Bonn, Tim Gadbois and Jason Dodson  soon detouring into a long, blistering jam.  When they paused to come up for air I think I saw the briefest hint of a smile flash across Dodson’s face as the crowd roared its approval.  Apart from that moment of relaxation, these folks were all business.
Photo by Crusher Adams
The set featured many great tunes from the new album such as “Goodbye”, the haunting “Blood Relations” and “Cold November”.  While the album is uniformly strong, the songs are even more impressive live, as a recording simply cannot convey the sonic wallop delivered by 4 guitars, a steel guitar, a banjo, a violin and two drummers (oh, and two horn players came up for a couple songs).   The effect on the listener is similar to that of standing before an open blast furnace.

Special mention must be made of lead singer Jason Dodson’s voice, which evokes the soaring power of Richard Manuel combined with the fine grit sandpaper edge of Levon Helm.

The set ended with the Moondoggies and countless other folks joining the Maldives onstage for a joyous rendition of “By the Wind Sailor” from the Tequila/Someday EP in a fitting communal tribute to The Tractor’s great first fifteen years.

The Moondoggies gracefully took second billing on this show, but the crowd’s response left no doubt that these guys are headliners on any other night.

Many of the Moondoggies songs seemed more complex live than on record, with sudden tempo and chord shifts leading unexpectedly down dark and menacing musical alleys. The set included the great “Ain’t No Lord” and “Bogachiel Rain Blues” and finished with an epic extended version of “Night and Day,” all from the recent album Don’t Be A Stranger.
Photo by Crusher Adams
The highlight of the show was the soon to be classic “Save My Soul,” with singer Kevin Murphy sending chills through the audience with howls dredged up from someplace he’d probably rather forget, adding salt to the wounds uncovered in lines such as “Yeah it’s time I start changing; but I don’t feel like changing.”

The darkness lurking beneath this band’s sweet harmonies broke through to the surface just often enough to make this a memorable show.

{Photos: Crusher Adams}