The Year of the Ox brought plenty of good tidings to the local music scene. Here is a look back at some of the highlights of the year that was and a look forward so you know what to expect in 2010.
An early story from last year was the resurrection of the Crocodile Café. The beloved Belltown venue received a massive facelift, dropped the café and became simply The Crocodile. While it doesn’t have the same worn-in club feel it used to boast, it is a much better room for music and it’s great to have the Croc back in the scene after a year of shuttered doors.
Some of the city’s biggest musical exports made musical waves in 2009. Pearl Jam landed a No. 1 record with Backspacer, its best record in more than a decade. Alice in Chains reunited with new singer William Duvall to release Black Gives Way to Blue, an album whose title track features Elton John. Both bands received Grammy nods for their efforts. Meanwhile, Nirvana managed to move units too with Sub Pop’s remastered reissue of Bleach and the DVD/CD combo of the band’s 1992 Reading Festival set.
Also on the grunge note, the Crocodile hosted a show in March at which Tad Doyle, formerly of grunge heavyweights TAD, played a three-song set of Soundgarden songs with every member of Soundgarden except for Chris Cornell. This immediately flamed Soundgarden reunion rumors, now confirmed. Last year the Sasquatch! Music Festival added a comedy and dance tent that was a big success. This year the festival’s promoters snagged a big fish for a headliner in the form of reunited influential indie rockers Pavement. No other acts have been announced for the three-day fest (the full lineup will drop Feb. 16) but I recommend getting your tickets early for this Memorial Day Weekend event because Sasquatch! will sell out.
The other two major festivals — Bumbershoot and the Capitol Hill Block Party — also made improvements in 2009. The Block Party featured an improved layout that made it easier to access the various stages and Bumbershoot featured its most diverse lineup in years. Look for Bumbershoot to swing for the fences with its lineup this year since it will be the festival’s 40th anniversary.
However, it won’t be just the big three festivals making noise in 2010. The Doe Bay Music Festival on Orcas Island impressed last year with a great lineup of local talent and has already set dates for this year. Also, the inaugural No Depression Festival brought some great national talent (Iron & Wine, Gillian Welch, Patterson Hood) to Marymoor Park. The festival’s 60-minute set filled with all-star collaborations between local musicians was a highlight of my summer.
If those two indie-pop and alt-country tinged festivals aren’t your cup of tea try the Georgetown Music Festival in June or Seattle Weekly’s always excellent Reverbfest held in Ballard. The latter packed 65 local bands into one day and the former was free. Both are great ways to discover your new favorite local band.
Hip hop continued to make its presence known in the local music community with some of the most noteworthy releases and performances of the year. The year was capped with the impressive Go! Machine shows that saw plenty of collaborations between artists. The excitement and support behind local hip hop will continue to grow this year.
While hip hop and the rebirth of grunge filled Seattle’s musical radar in 2009, this year cowboys, folk singers, and a superhero rapper should be heavy contributors to the Emerald City’s soundtrack. Here are five artists who have releases hitting bins this year that you should be keeping your ears open for:
Victor Shade. This is the superhero side project from Ra Scion of Common Market fame. Originally planned as a quick EP to be released in the fall of last year, the scope of the project grew after a few live shows and some studio time and is now a full record. The material sees Ra becoming a superhero alter ego called Victor Shade (named after the Avengers character) and it is more aggressive with beats (provided by producer MTK) that are drastically different than what Common Market’s Sabzi brings to the table.
Fleet Foxes. This year we get to find out whether Fleet Foxes will avoid the sophomore slump. Also, lead Fleet Fox Robin Pecknold has been writing solo material and recording with his sister Aja, who appeared with him when he played a solo gig at Neumos last summer, so look for that material to appear some time this year too.
Moondoggies. These guys had a great 2008 and there are high hopes for the band’s sophomore full-length recording.
Born Anchors. The follow-up to last year’s Sprezzatura sees this trio taking its post-grunge into a new direction, according to singer Jason Parker. The band’s take on the alt-rock of the '90s gives them the potential to become one of the better three-pieces to hail from Seattle since you-know-who.
Brent Amaker and the Rodeo. This group of six-string slingers are cowboyed up from head to toe and they always dress in black. The band plays country music in a style similar to Johnny Cash and their songs cover the most clichéd of cowboy topics: outlaws, women, and whiskey. In a rather clever marketing move, these coy cowboys will also release a graphic novel as a companion piece to the upcoming record.
The top 10 local albums of 2009
10. Wheedle’s Groove: A great collection of Seattle’s best funk and soul circa 1965-75.
9. John Spalding's Loveland: Emotionally compelling rock.
8. They Live!, The Drobots Saga EP: Fun, conceptual hip-hop with witty samples and danceable beats.
7. Maldives, Listen to the Thunder: The best country record to come out of Seattle, period.
6. Lonely H, Concrete Class: These kids definitely found their parents’ Eagles albums.
5. Mt St Helens Vietnam Band: Mathy, progressive, jangly indie rock.
4. The Redwood Plan, Movers, Shakers, Makers EP: Taking dance punk to the next level.
3. Jeremy Enigk, OK Bear: Sunny Day Real Estate’s frontman quietly dropped a record nearly as good as his work with SDRE.
2. Fresh Espresso, Glamour: In a year of great local hip hop this album shines brighter than all its peers.
1. Visqueen, Message to Garcia: Rachel Flotard turns the death of her father into 11 of the most beautiful rock songs you’ll ever hear.
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