This is a post that I’ve had in my drafts since last march and keep thinking I’ll get back to finish some day …
I’ve found myself talking a lot about the old days in Seattle and a set of shows where The Tone Dogs [also,et] and Sadhappy played at The Crocodile Cafe one day and The OK Hotel the next. I still have one of Evan’s flyers for the first show.
I had something like a religious experience at the show when I saw for the first time both The Tone Dogs and Sadhappy. But first, let me tell you how I got there.
One day, over a decade ago now, I was flipping through channels on cable and passed by the public access channel, did a double take and ended up watching what was in some kind of mesmerized state. I had stumbled on some show with a woman playing bass guitar accompanied by nothing beyond a drum machine, and was amazed by the range of her vocals and the music she played. When the show ended there were no credits other than a comment that it was recorded at The OK Hotel. I was frantic because I had no way to find out who this was that I’d just watched play.
I finally went out to a local, independent music shop near where I lived called The Orpheum. I used to hang out there, but like so many places that were it is not anymore. There was a cute redhead that worked there that I used to invite out to lunch and had a bit of a crush on … Yeah, so, anyhow, I went up to the counter and described the show I’d seen on cable access. The person there listened to my description and thought it sounded like an artist by the name of Amy Denio [also,et,et,et,et]. They didn’t have any of her solo stuff, but she was also in a group called The Tone Dogs which they did have one CD of in the shop.
And, that was only the beginning.
The whole point of all these memories is that I went to the Sadhappy site the other day and ordered the two newest CDs they had. When I placed my order, I wrote a question in the comment field asking if there was any chance that the old music from “sideways laughing” and “spin cycle” would ever be re-released because I was afraid to play the cassettes I’ve had all these years for fear of stretching the tape any more than it already is.
Well, I got a package in the mail a while after that and when I looked inside there were not only the 2 CDs I ordered but there was also a CDR of “sideways laughing” and “spin cycle” …
I can hardly tell you how much I love loving bands like Sadhappy. Local music is great. Great local music is awesome. Awesome local music is a mystical peak experience. This is something that I’ve been rediscovering since I moved to Portland, which I seem to have forgotten for so long somewhere along the way.
The thing is, seeing Sadhappy and the Tone Dogs live … I was completely paralyzed in awe of what I was seeing and feeling. I couldn’t move. My jaw dropped, I’m sure, and my eyes were wide. I’ve tried on so many occasions to describe it, but nothing I’ve ever said to anyone about witnessing that comes close.
Now, I remember especially one song that Sadhappy played as the opening band that night at the Crocodile Café called Between Four Horses, which only appears on the Sideways Laughing cassette. It’s not on any of the CDs that you can order anywhere. That group at the time was one person on a bass guitar and one person on drums playing live exactly what you hear. If you ever get to hear that remember this and listen to it again. I mean, oh my freakin’ gods! It’s unnatural. It’s divine. And, even by the time I saw them play it seemed clear that Paul Hinklin was tired of playing that song already …
I still have difficulty trying to tell this story. How to put it into words?
The music came fully formed from just two people, with a gravity that seemed impossible. The sounds coming from the bass were more than seemed humanly possible. There was one layer which was a solid and complete sound, with hands and fingers where and moving as one would expect. But, there was a whole other layer. While still playing and fingering the primary layer, Paul’s hand on the neck of the bass would hit each far corner, in sequence, like a metronome ticking along. I have no way to fully describe even what I witnessed with my own eyes. I still cannot seem to understand how it happened and I was actually there watching. There seemed to be some magical extra arm playing the four corners of the neck while the rest of the music was being played as would require two fully dedicated sets of hands and fingers; like witnessing the god of destruction himself, Shiva, play the music of eternity. With two arms playing what a normal human could manage, another arm was methodically marching to the elemental directions of the music like a steam-powered clockwork tarantula made of love and struggle doing argentine tango together until the end of time.
And then, after being thrown down the rabbit hole by Sadhappy, next came The Tone Dogs … There are some things that are simply ineffable. By this point, the mundane world was merely a dream carried away by deep, rich tones of ecstatic music. I cannot even begin to describe the rest of the show to you. It was simply beyond words and was one of those memories I carry with me. This was a show to which all other shows are inevitably compared.
And, then they both played together again at the OK Hotel, but this time The Tone Dogs opened for Sadhappy. Over the years I was in Seattle, I saw both Sadhappy and The Tone Dogs several times, but after those two shows never together again.
I got to see Amy Denio play in a lot of other bands. At various times, I think I’ve seen her play 20 different instruments or something like that and in a variety of styles. It was Amy that actually introduced me to the actual Sound Garden at Warren G Magnusson Park, which I believe is now off-limits because of fear that someone will try to shoot at planes heading to Seatac from the hill there. We went on one of the stormiest, windiest days I remember there, so the sound was really active.
When I was in Olympia, I did see Amy Denio play once at the Experimental Music Festival. But, for so long while I was in Olympia there really wasn’t much I could do to feel connected and alive with music, though I did try on occasion. There were a few groups in Olympia, but nothing like it was in Seattle back in the day.
Now I’m in Portland, I’ve seen several reminders of that time in Seattle and how important live music was to me. I’m pretty sure I saw Fred Chalenor show up a the Monsters of Accordion show a while ago here in town where Amy Denio was playing. I saw Skerik play as part of Critters Buggin at the Doug Fir. And, for me the spiritual successors to my memories of music in Seattle have been filled by local Portland bands like Portland Cello Project, Loch Lomond, and so many more I’ve been following when I can. I may have finally found that profound feeling again.