Drunk At A Show: Spirit Award, Snuff Redux, Belgian Fog, Happy Times Sad Times at Chop Suey
Some shows are a little more than shows. They are celebrations, showcases of different artistic mediums, commencements, parties. The Spirit Award show at Chop Suey on the 12th was all of these things. Spirit Award was not only kicking off their West Coast tour, they were releasing the vinyl of their album Neverending. In addition to the bands on the bill, DJ Abbie Gobeli of KEXP was spinning before and after the show and between sets, and there were visuals during each band provided by Kevin Blanquies, who projected trippy backdrops to flow with the songs. And then there was me, high-strung from a mess of various stresses that had piled up in a span of a couple of days, joking that it was a good thing the blog feature I write for is called Drunk At A Show. And boy, did I get drunk at this show.
Before I get into the bands, I have to bring up one of the best additions to any show I have ever been to, which was Terence Ankeny from Spirit Award’s real-life uncle taking the stage to introduce the bands. When I say, “some shows are more than shows,” I say that with Uncle Jimmy in mind and in my heart. Imagine being two gins in and being surprised by a towering, Planet Hollywood jacket and alligator skin boot wearing, bleach blonde and permed man treating the show like it was an arena concert. “Fresh off tour,” he said for each band (none of them were coming back from tour), followed by a sentiment like “I heard them say if they left the stage with any energy left in their bodies, they didn’t do their job,” or “They came here to kick your asses,” and yelling the band’s name like we were at a hair metal show. Speaking of which, in Uncle Jimmy’s heyday, his band opened for Quiet Riot. I think I could write a whole post about this dude, but back to the gig.
If there is one band in Seattle that I think absolutely does not get the credit they deserve, it’s Happy Times Sad Times. They opened the show with a set that was danceable at its slowest, and raging at its peak. One of the things I loved about Happy Times was that they were so down-to-earth onstage, so relatable and endearing. They made you feel like they were welcoming you to the show and the venue, not just opening for the other bands. They made you feel like they’re your old friends. Fake flowers covered the stage, mic stands and drum kit when they played. They dedicated a blazing cover of “Suffragette City” by Bowie to “all the weirdos” in his memory and in celebration of his birthday, and we hooted and hollered our pride in this identity. They got a roomful of people who most likely moved here from other places shouting, “Don’t move here, it rains all the time,” during their closer, “My New York.” We laughed with them and danced with them and felt comforted by the earnestness of their lyrics. It’s like they know how you feel—whatever you’re feeling—and they want to make you feel better. And then they do, with four-part harmonies, dance music-inspired drum beats, a full sound from two guitars and bass lines that act like a spine in every song.
Belgian Fog, who released their EP, One Night Man, that night, sounded so polished and tight that I didn’t even realize they had been playing until a couple of songs in; I thought it was more of DJ Abbie’s spinning between bands. They were a step closer in sound to Spirit Award, certainly less raucous than, but just as tender as, Happy Times, with their own distinct tone that had a pinch of dreamy electronica that comes from two synths and the occasional use of electric drums. At this point in the night, my gin’s power was at its peak and I remember happily swaying along, feeling mesmerized by front man Robert Dale’s falsetto and drone. However, I definitely wasn’t so far gone that I feel mistaken in recalling that they played a great show. Belgian Fog was accessible to anyone and fun to watch. And they played a beautiful cover of Elliott Smith’s “Ballad of Big Nothing,” that would make anyone feel soppy and content, tipsy or not.
Snuff Redux uses coolness like a good cook uses salt: not excessive, but just enough so they’re not one-dimensional. When I watched them that night at Chop Suey, I saw a band that could have come from somewhere in the 1980s, that hunkered down in denim jackets listening to Springsteen and The Cure for a few decades, and came back with the perfect amount of nostalgia to blend with current grunge sounds. The venue was full to the gills by this point, and they were a great penultimate band because they kept the energy sustained, but not burnt out by the end of their set. They played songs that had the perfect tempo to dance to without wanting to go nuts, which was the perfect wave for me to ride in my blissfully-inebriated-but-gradually-heading-back-to-sober state before Spirit Award took the stage.
When Spirit Award plays a show, they play a show. Effect pedals out the wazoo. A smoke machine that’s smell takes me back to middle school dances, but in the context of a Spirit Award gig actually looks cool and adds a dreamy, hypnotic effect to their set (which is full of songs that are dreamy and hypnotic already). At Chop Suey, watching them play “Fields” with artificial clouds floating around me and the air in the venue itself looking like it was dyed fuchsia and blue, there was a point where I thought to myself, “If there is a heaven, it feels and looks like this.” I felt such a release during Spirit Award’s set that had only to do with their music. I could feel Chris Moore’s bass lines pulsing inside my chest and traveling through the rest of my body. They went out with a bang—they closed with “Las Vegas,” with guitarist and vocalist Daniel Lyon joining the dance party we started during the extended krauty jam that they always close with live, then eventually climbing back on stage and taking his guitar off and joining drummer Terence at the drum kit to blast out the last minute or so of the song. And finally, with only feedback and a loop of distortion hanging in the air, Spirit Award was done.
Those who missed this gig missed out big time. But I urge all of you to check out Spirit Award’s Instagram to see a video featuring Uncle Jimmy, and of course, keep your eyes peeled for shows, new songs, and upcoming records from the bands—Snuff Redux and Spirit Award both have shows in Seattle in the next couple of months, Belgian Fog’s new EP is on Spotify, and word on the street is Happy Times Sad Times is recording a new album.