CRACK SABBATH | 02.14 & 02.15 | SEATTLE

Ostensibly jazz-deconstructionists, Seattle's Crack Sabbath cover everything from Nat King Cole to Black Sabbath. Similar in intent to Sex Mob, the listener is actively forced to keep guessing at name-that-altered-tune. Crack Sabbath has no cd's, no website and does not tour, making shows mostly word-of-mouth. The band consists of sax fiend Skerik (Critters Buggin, Frog Brigade, Ponga), bass master Keith Lowe (Zony Mash, Thee Old Codgers), drummer Mike Stone (Pigpen, Hair of the Dog) and Hammond B3 wizard Ron Weinstein (Hair of the Dog), who all found time for a two night stand at The Rainbow.

For the Valentines Day show on Thursday, Skerik was dressed in his finest devil outfit and Lowe was wearing a black kilt with knee-high black socks. The show started in funk mode with Skerik on keys complimenting Weinstein's textures. Skerik then introduced the night's itinerary; the first set would be about despair and broken hearts with the second set being about real, true love. I was not sure whether the first group of songs were originals or covers (Monk?), but they reached the toe-tapping, utter despair of broken hearts. In one jazz piece (Mingus?), Skerik was hunched over screaming into the sax mike; with his horn and devil horns he cast a demonic shadow on the wall. A fog machine started up, and with an initial crowd of 30 people, it was like watching a world-class band in your basement. Weinstein's B3 sent the Rainbow rumbling, Skerik made frantic noises, but the Stone-Lowe rhythm combo made their jazz-deconstruction strangely danceable.

A sampled loop of Ted Nugent's "Strangle Hold" led the next jazz-fueled jam excursion. Skerik gave a narration of Ted Nugent speaking into a video camera about hunting a "semi-wild, somewhat animate" buffalo in his private hunting lodge known as Michigan ("hit by my crossbow, the buffalo now slumps awkwardly into the bushes"). In response, Skerik urged the crowd to hit Ted with Cupid's crossbow. Several jazz pieces that we could not quite place (but we can hum a few bars) led into a furious version of "Territorial Pissings" that would have made Kurt proud. In theme with Valentines Day, free champagne was then served, with "Cat Scratch Fever" and James Brown providing break music. The Rainbow filled up to about half of its capacity.

Opening the second set, Skerik went back on his word and stated the set would be about "the usual Crack Sabbath subjects- death, despair and pain." A guest vocalist went on stage to sing and vogue to "My Funny Valentine," which turned into a wicked groove improv. The Thursday crowd began dancing at the hot funky set. "Charlie Dozen," a Dirty Dozen Brass Band cover, was tight. As the lights came on, Lowe led the band into "Frankenstein," a definite crowd pleaser, but strangely tamer than the previous excursions. Several folks claimed it was the best Crack Sabbath show they had seen, and we wondered if they could top it the next night.

Friday the Rainbow was packed, 2-3 times as many as the previous night. Crack Sabbath started without theatrics into a straight-up Miles Davis (?) song and had newcomers thinking they were seeing an evening of standard jazz. However, the jazz segued into two raging classic rock themes before segueing back into another Miles song. A friend came in at this point and, having no CS background, claimed the music was "more accessible than Critters Buggin." I thought the next song was possibly Iron Maiden, but the wife told me it was Herbie Hancock. CS then segued into what I consider their two signature jazz cover songs (sorry- can't place them), sending the dense crowd bopping and swaying to the infectious rhythm section but blowing the doors off the place. I consider a "hose" to be out when the audience starts howling and cheering at the same time, and the Rainbow joined together for several spontaneous roars. Just when you though it could not possibly get any more chaotic or crazy it went faster and crazier; it was seizure inducing. His hair flying, Stone pounded beats, Keith filtered his lead bass through a loop machine, Skerik was Skerik, and Weinstein filled every inch of the Rainbow with soaring B3 gospel. Transcendent. A well-placed cool-down "Tomorrow Never Knows" followed. We figured this would be the logical set break, but Skerik yelled "I don't want to take a break!" and invited up dread locked Brad Mowen (Sweaty Nipples) to do vocals on another smoking Nirvana cover. This segued into a heavy metal jam where Brad made twisted pig noises and sang "I'm ma-kin ba-kin, I'm mak-in out with my daad" in Rob Zombie heavy metal voice into the effects mike. It was as if some group insanity had been reached, comfort zones abandoned, and the crowd was now head-banging in-synch. I have not seen such a well-executed, virtuoso freak-out in some time, and yet Lowe and Stone never lost the groove. What better to next segue into than a roaring version of the classic, "Caravan"? I asked my friend if this was still "accessible" and he responded, "I had no idea- this is like hitting the jackpot."

The last set opened with a surprise blues song that featured several Seattle guests. Guitarist Tim Young (Zony Mash) stayed through the short second set, filling in as lead while Skerik acted as band leader, directing his players into some all out ferocious jams. Brad was called back up for vocal duties on the last song, "War Pigs." You have never heard Black Sabbath until you have heard it filtered through the twisted jazz of Crack Sabbath (including the long lost "Joker and Batman" lyrics). Although messier and murkier than the previous night, the show's intensity and oddities elevated it to legendary status. The elated crowd left eager to spread the word and await their next fix with the addiction that is Crack Sabbath. There is no substitute.

Troy Colyer
JamBase | Seattle
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[Published on: 2/18/02]

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