Review and Photos by Norm Bowler
Robert Olen Butler wrote a book titled A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain. I love the book, but love the title even more - the idea of happiness coming from an unexpected direction.
That's what this whole show was like for me.
I had never heard of either band before, so I went to the show with an open mind (or perhaps an empty one). Both bands are touring to support new work, but you won't hear me saying how their new stuff is either too much the same or too different compared to what came before. Like a baby duck fresh from the shell, I imprinted on the first thing I saw, and became a fan of both bands as they are today.
Little Image opened the show. They're a three-piece band from Dallas. The band has Troy Bruner on drums, Jackson Simmons on vocals, guitar, and keyboards, and Brandon Walters on keyboards, bass guitar, and vocals. Their Seattle show was the 12th stop on a 14-city tour tied to the release of their new single, "Worth It."
Little Image was swirling, moody, and psychedelic. They used strong keyboard layers that reminded me of 80's synth-pop, and doubled them with pitch-shifted vocals. The strobing lights were set low and in front of the band, which added to the dreamlike quality. The music drove hard. We were all going to ride this dream to the end, whether we liked it or not - and we did.
They've been writing and recording for the past couple years, and it looks like the single they just dropped is the lead off from an upcoming album. It also looks like this is their biggest tour to date. Their stage show and their online presence still have a few rough edges, but I think Seattle was lucky enough to catch them just as they are moving into a more powerful and mature phase as a band. I look forward to seeing what comes next for them.
The Jungle Giants were the headliners. They're a four-piece band from Brisbane Australia, with Cesira Aitken on lead guitar, Keelan Bijker on drums, Andrew Dooris on bass guitar and backing vocals, and Sam Hales on lead vocals and guitar. They are midway through a UK/EU/US tour in support of their latest album Quiet Ferocity and current single "Sending Me Ur Loving."
Though they are a four-piece band, it often felt like five, because there were two Sam Hales on stage. Between songs, he was the Nicest Guy Ever, complimenting the audience and fellow band members. Early in the show he pointed out a fan in the audience and told the story of how he'd knocked on the bus door to bring them snacks earlier. Later in the show, Hales came down into the audience and played a guitar solo with this same local. When introducing band member Andrew Dooris, he said "Such a great guy. Talk to him for twenty minutes, and you'll be friends for twenty years." The sort of guy who would show up at your door with homemade cookies the day you moved into his neighborhood.
But when the music started, Friendly Sam became Sam the Preacher. He would lift one finger in the air or point out into the audience to drive a point home. He had a smallish road case on the floor in front of his microphone, which he would jump onto to elevate himself both physically and musically. As songwriter, lead singer, and frontman, Sam Hales has three tough jobs; he made them all look effortless.
But this was not a one-man show by any means. Everyone in the band played with precision and authority. The Jungle Giants were much more guitar-driven than Little Image, with occasional loops or backing tracks to add special effects and keyboard flavor. Another standout performer was Cesira Aitken on lead guitar. She didn't have a microphone, and never spoke a word, but she had a commanding stage presence and all the guitar goddess skills. She made her Stratocaster cut, snarl, and sing.
Critics and music nerds often stand in the back, taking notes and keeping score. I wasn't able to be so detached, since I was also shooting photos. I was bouncing between the left and right front corners, to center back, to the standing balcony on the side of the room. So the audience definitely were part of how I saw and heard the show. And I can tell you, The Jungle Giants had the Crocodile's audience right where they wanted them. Between Hales' preaching, and cheerleading support from Aitken and Dooris, that audience would have done anything they were asked - Baby Shark, Macarena, you name it.
Everyone has a different definition of a good show - a full room, tickets or drinks sold, money in the tour fund, social media followers, whatever. But at the end of the night, I realized that this audience had a great time, and were going to go home happy. That might be the best kind of winning. Definitely a good scent from a strange mountain.