I should have known.
When scheduling the lineup for the ninth installment of the Song Show – City Arts' interview-and-performance show I host at the Triple Door in downtown Seattle – the idea of the Lashes (above) taking the stage and talking songcraft seemed like a great idea. Something of a spectral presence on the music scene since the tragic accident that left guitarist Eric Howk paralyzed in the spring of 2007, the gritty power-pop band that once ruled Capitol Hill had only played a few one-off shows in the last couple years and they had not talked at length about the half-finished major label debut they seemingly abandoned after being unceremoniously dropped by Capitol Records. The central question in my mind was, "How do the songs live on after a band fades away?"
But I never got to ask it, because the Lashes frontman Ben Clark, unbeknowst to me, had decided he wasn't going to be interviewed on stage that night.
Up until the Lashes' set, the evening proceeded as planned, with a powerful set of sad songs from a very talkative Kristen Ward, accompanied by the immensely talented multi-instrumentalist Gary Westlake. P Smoov showed that he is the backbone of Fresh Espresso and Mad Rad in a performance that was playful and sensual, while also teetering on dangerous, a fact that was amplified by his Mad Rad cohort Buffalo Madonna, who stood atop a table at the Triple Door during one of two guest spots from other emcees (the other came courtesy of Rick Rude). Between songs, though, P Smoov – as Kristen Ward had done – respected the format of the show, telling his interviewer, and City Arts hip-hop writer, Todd Hamm about his craft and his aims.
City Arts executive editor Mark Baumgarten
Following an intermission, I sat with Hey Marseilles front man Matt Bishop and spoke at length about the difficulties of playing the same songs for years as his band continues to ride the wave of a debut album that is growing in popularity, the artistic freedom that comes from unloading a mortgage and the fact that he has never seen Harold and Maude (my shock, Bishop assured me, was just because I was older than him. Zing.)
The Lashes were scheduled to come on next, all six of them, and play an acoustic set. The details are still foggy in my mind, but this is what I recall:
After taking the stage late, the band played a snarling pop number that concluded to great applause. Then Ben presented a bouquet of flowers to his mom, who was sitting near the front of the stage. Then, somewhat skirting my first question, Ben informed me that guitarist Scotty Rickard had won a contest for covering Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” and insisted that Scotty play it. Scotty played a song that had no resemblance to any national anthem, really. Then Ben jumped onto my lap. The band finished the song by harmonizing, quite beautifully, on the last stanza of the anthem.
Okay, time for question number two. Or not. Ben continued to talk, excoriating P Smoov and stating something to the effect that Mad Rad – the group that has inherited the bad-boy mantle from the Lashes – made a poor substitute for the Lashes. He punctuated his point by grabbing a plate from a table in the front row and smashing it on the stage.
Things did not improve.
Ben (left) asked the audience for requests, stating that the band would play any song ever written. Someone shouted out “Goo Goo Dolls!” and the band played a version of “Hey Jealousy” (by the Gin Blossoms). I managed to convince him to take some questions from the audience, who had sent their own inquiries to me via text message: “What is your favorite song to play?” “What is the first song you all learned to play together?” “Where did you lose your virginity?” “How many belts is too many?”
I cannot remember the answers to any of the questions, as I was in a state of host-emergency, trying to get through the rest of the set before the band broke anything else. Having exhausted all the questions, I gave one final, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Lashes,” and exited stage left, and headed to the bar to try to make sense of the chaos that had just engulfed me like a black denim tornado.
That is where Ben found me a few minutes later. He put his hand on my shoulder. “My mom told me she was embarrassed by me,” he said earnestly. “She said I should apologize to you. I’m sorry.”
I told him it was okay. These were the Lashes, after all, a band that has always put spectacle before song ... which might be why I can't really recall much of what the band did play on Wednesday night.
What I do remember are the other electrifying performances of the night; most of all Matt Bishop's cover of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End." Now twenty years old, the song by the Austin songwriter hung in the air of the Triple Door, a palpable work of art with a beauty all its own. Bishop paid the song a great compliment by performing it without embellishment or pretense, showing great respect for the power of the music. It is easy to say that some day, the young songwriter might craft a song as powerful as Johnston's. The same cannot be said for the Lashes.
Stay tuned for video from this episode of the Song Show as well as more details on Episode 10, which will take place Wednesday, July 28, at the Triple Door.
Photography by Victoria VanBruinisse