Monthly Archives: January 2006

the light… and the half-light

I’m torn. One might think it an easy decision: Rob Dickinson, the frontman of my favorite band ever is playing solo tonight at the Crocodile. The usual conflicts do not apply; distance (it’s 6 blocks from my house), cost (only $12), time (it’s a Friday night) are all acceptable terms and conditions.
The truth is, I’m just plain afraid.
I mean, we’re talking about the Catherine Wheel here. The namesake of this site. (“…so amplify this little one, she’s a volume freak…”) The inspiration for my art/music/writing hideout loft in Ballard of all places: Wishville. The band that suspended me over an open ninth floor window overlooking Beacon St., my heart pounding at the brilliance of Like Cats and Dogs.
During Catherine Wheel’s Adam and Eve tour, I saw them play for the twentieth time at Avalon, and in a fit of obsessive fan vigor, climbed aboard the early Amtrak, racing them to their next gig in New Haven. They played Toad’s Place — a homecoming for me. After the show, I walked past the line of 50 people waiting for autographs, and in a moment of uncharacteristic ballsiness, punched in the dressing room door code (I have friends in high places) and slipped inside. Rob Dickinson greeted me, all hot and British, “Did you sneak in ‘ere?” And I nodded. “Do you want a beer?” he offered. So I sat down between he and Brian Futter. We ate pizza from Sally’s and argued about the distance between Boston and New Haven. (He still owes me $20.) After half an hour of the three of us shooting the shit, Rob apologized for having to sign some autographs, and gave me a big kiss, and sent me on my way to collect Shea from the bathroom floor where he had passed out.
So Rob Dickinson is playing tonight. I haven’t seen Catherine Wheel play since about 2000, when they held an unannouced private show at Karma in Boston and I snuck out of work to get in. They stopped touring that year. They never officially broke up. After a decade of playing shimmering. mindfucking wall-of-sound rock, they just kind of… stopped.
Then Rob put out a solo album in September. I bought it, and nervously shelved it. I didn’t listen to it right away. I was afraid. When I finally faced my fears and sat down with chunky headphones and a prayer, I selfishly began to wish that he had kept up the heroin or at least gracefully stayed gone. It’s bad. Not just bad, but embarrassing. I could barely listen to it. His flawless voice is there, gutsy and dreamy like chocolate ice cream, but the music is boring at best and the lyrics to some of the songs made me want to crawl away and hide for him.
Cheryl Waters from KEXP is a long-time Catherine Wheel fan, too, and I can usually count on her for a CW song during her daily afternoon show. She’s interviewing Rob Dickinson right now on the air. He’s so sweet — he’s just such a nice guy. I thought maybe listening to his on air performance this afternoon would clarify my plans for this evening. And just hearing his voice, even if he’s gone from singing, “Eat My Dust, You Insensitive Fuck” over a wave of noise, to a finger-picked “My Name Is Love,” I realize I have to go to the show tonight. I have no choice. I guess if I survived the devastation of Lou Barlow’s rejection, I can forgive Rob for writing a few middle-aged, weepy sober songs.
I don’t know how I’m going to handle all this Hot Rock Stars in Leather Pants Getting Old and Tame thing. I have a feeling this is the beginning of the end for my classic indie rock faves.
Thank god for Colin Meloy. The lead singer of the Decemberists solo gig at the Showbox last night was sublime. He is a first rate entertainer, aside from being a creative, talented musician, which is not always the case. He puts on a good show. The last Colin solo show I went to was at the Woodland Park Zoo, which was just plein weird (and wonderful) — and he brilliantly alienated the audience of 40 year-olds and their kids (who were there to relive their youth with the Violent Femmes) by singing “Leslie Anne Levine” after the preface that there’s nothing as creepy as a ghost, preferably the ghost of a dead child.
Everyone is up in arms about the Decemberists signing to a major label last month, but nights like last night will separate the “because it’s cool” crowd from the “because it’s good” crowd. He apologized for not playing “all our favorite album hits” and instead focused on 50’s British folk songs and other oddities. In the end, he did play a handful of crowd pleasers. But it was funny to watch the reaction of the audience as the kids who showed up hoping for a Decemberists solo show shook their heads in confusion and dismay.
As a bonus, I am absolutely loving the smoking ban. The air in the Showbox is usually gray and stagnant, and I have to bury my clothes at the bottom of the laundry basket to hide the stink. But it’s all fresh air now, and a real treat. It surprises me that it took Seattle so long to pass the law, given all the crunchy green people here.
Oh, Rob. Singing “Future Boy”. Just listen to him. *sigh*
I’ll report back on the show. I’m surrendering all expectation before I go this time. And I’ve already forgiven him. We’ve been together too long for me to hold a grudge.


OK kids — just wanted to let those of you holed up in the Frigid Northeast that this is your big chance to come enjoy some gorgeous Seattle winter. Which would you rather have — 10 degrees and digging your car out of the snow, or 50 and misty mountains on the back of a scooter? See what I’m saying? Now Jetblue has some certifiably insane prices going on — $59 from MA to WA. On a plane. I’ve paid more than that for cabs to the airport. So git on it.
Plus, I quit my job yesterday so I have lots of time to hang out.

be kind to the new girl

It’s Friday, a few hours shy of noon, I’m at my desk at work, listening to KEXP as usual and because the volume is turned down, I don’t get the whole story. But I hear John Richards say, “Long Winters”, which is what gets my attention, followed by “caller #10”. Naturally, without a pause, I’m on the speed dial. Whatever it is, I want to be there.
I just went to see the Long Winters on New Year’s, and I was pretty sure they weren’t playing any other Seattle shows in the next month, so I couldn’t imagine what tickets they were giving away.
The line is ringing at the station, but it always rings before telling you to call later, so I just let it go. Meanwhile, John is on the air providing further details, which are still hazy, such as Pioneer Square and noon. Today. When the radio station diva answers my call to tell me I’m caller ten, I’m squinting disbelievingly at the address she’s dictated, and her directions to be there by 12:30, and John Roderick, head honcho of the Long Winters, is playing at the Gibson Showroom. Thirty seconds later my head is still spinning as I conjure up a sudden illness and sneak out of the office.
I honestly don’t think they could have sent a better person to this thing. You have no idea. And seriously, after this event, I would have happily surrendered my employment to do it all over again. In fact, I may have to.
We get to the Gibson Showroom, which is tucked away in an unassuming office building in the corner of the mossy Pioneer Square. I have no idea what to expect. There’s a sign on the entrance that says, “Do Not Enter: Video Shoot in progress.” Video shoot. Yeah. My dear John Richards, what have you gotten me into?
A member of the Barsuk mafia sees my sheepish face and comes to let us in. He is the Nicest Label Guy Ever. The first in a line of about a dozen people to wholeheartedly and earnestly thank me for skipping out of work to come see one of my favorite musicians play. He opens the door with a big smile and I say, “Um, KEXP sent us. That’s all I know.” And suddenly we’re royalty, and he leads us in and shows us the place and pulls up seats for us, introduces us to a handful of people, and vanishes around a corner.
The walls are covered with vintage, autographed Gibsons, drop-dead gorgeous guitars, so many of them that it’s pornographic. I mean, just, gratuitous. I’m wiping the drool from my chin as I stumble into the studio, where the music video is being shot, and nearly faint at the foot of this glossy, fire-engine red grand piano. There are several Important People running around with very large cameras, and a big boom on a trolley, and Gibson people everywhere. I’m wide eyed and shell-shocked.
I look around the room. As John was saying on the radio, there’s room for about 12 people. In the end, there was 13 and if there had been another person, it would have gotten uncomfortable. We’re talking intimate. I try and sit as close to the wall as possible so I don’t get in the way of all the activity and expensive electronics. I’m afraid I’m going to get found out as a fraud and kicked out any second. I have no credentials. I have a purple post-it note with the address scrawled on it that I was given over the phone. There must be some mistake.
In walks John Roderick. He is the same cordial, silly indie rock prince he is when on stage. Giving everyone a hard time, making jokes about his Art, fixing his new hair in the ruby gleam of the grand piano.
The head Gibson guy says hi to the eight of us seated along the outskirts of the room. From what I gather, there is one other kexp guy — caller #9 — and John Roderick’s mom. Who has funkier glasses than he does. The rest of the people are from Barsuk or Gibson. Or the media company that is shooting the video. I still have no idea what the video is. But the pizza is damn good and John has seated himself a few feet from us tuning one of the breathlessly gorgeous guitars.
Our Gibson Guy goes on to shed some light on the event. He thanks us for coming (hey — sure, no problem. anytime.), and tells us that John will be playing a dozen or so songs, which they will be recording for Gibson use. Feel free to make ourselves comfortable.
John starts with “Cinnamon” on an acoustic guitar. The amps are low, so it’s just his voice and the guitar and I’m sitting on this stool listening, golden tones bouncing off the shining hardwood floors, smiling and playing, “I drew them a heart…” and I’m instantly riding the #43 bus through Capitol Hill last summer, listening to When I Pretend to Fall, drawing a heart on the steamy window. I simply don’t know what to do with myself.
The afternoon lulls on, like a movie I’m watching of someone else’s life. And the music is just fucking brilliant. I can’t get enough of it. John asks if us kexp kids have any requests. He plays “Unsalted Butter” begrudgingly, and then when I ask for “New Girl”, he groans and grumbles and breaks some strings while tuning. Guess I picked the wrong request. But I don’t care cause it’s my theme song and if I don’t hear it, the perfect day would not be complete.
Our private concert tumbles through the afternoon, John playing “Blue Diamonds” on that flawless piano, and then a slew of other songs. He wraps around and ends with “Cinnamon”, this time electric, so they can record it again.
The best part of the whole afternoon is watching his antics — his silly storytelling and goofing around. Like hanging out in his living room. The Barsuk kids make sure we get some new label releases before we leave. Gibson Guy thanks us again. And John thanks us on our way out. “You should drop John Richards a line and tell him thanks,” he says. I’ve already promised him my first-born.

These shots are blurry but it’s the best I could do with no flash. Please forgive me.