Present sense was left in the rearview as the long haul to Vashon, WA (an island hamlet tucked between Tacoma, the Puget Sound and Seattle) for the inaugural "Rainstalk" had begun. I was returning to my personal mecca for music wrought with frenetic intensity, slap your favorite buttocks freshness, and the diabolical electric William Blake style.

Diverted by a last minute Bat Phone call, I found myself transfixed by the Vashon daybreak that stretched the waning sunlight across the Olympic range. The site itself, a 20-acre swath on the southern end of the island, sat amidst plentiful 80-100 foot secondary growth Douglas Firs and aspen, the property line abutted by a generous slope leading down to the shoreline and a county park. The property had a homely warmth, from the hand-built, funky-angled log home to the permanent raised wooden stage hugging the treeline, not to mention the cutest six month being (Rain) who, when not attached to mother's breast, served as keynote speaker. Appropriately, the weather forecast spoke of wetness descending. Cat-like reflexes combined with a touch of stress and ghetto architectural ingenuity transformed the outdoor performance area into a Lucky Charms-infused, natural element-protected garage big top contraption.

Scott Law Band at Rainstalk by Kevin Kenner
By the time the Scott Law Band sent the power meter into spin cycle, roughly two-thirds of the 100 guests had nestled in for the weekend. This iteration of the SLB consisted of Scott Law (guitar, vocals), Arne Livingston (bass), Dale Fanning (drums), Damien Aitken (saxophone), and Asher Fulero (keyboards) laying down blues-tinged, soulful rock with poignant lyrics. Anchored by the solid-as-solid-gets Living Daylights rhythm section, Scott's fluid, melodic guitar in the first set invited both saxophone and keyboards to help weave grooves that felt in tune with the surroundings: relaxed, down home, and fun.

Whereas the opening set emphasized the song itself over the jam, the second set let loose thy doors to the widening day. Returning mid-set from a jaunt to the ferry terminal to collect Jessica Lurie, the SLB had upped the ante and struck a chord with the magical. The deep, in-the-pocket groove and Scott's melted stick of tonal goodness left me doing the closed-eye spin 'n' twirl. During such moments, it's as much about what is not played--the spaces in between, a lengthy sustain, subtlety, finesse--as the musical progression leading to that moment.

Jessica Lurie
The relative calm and ease that prevailed during the SLB dissipated when the Living Daylights, the second and final band of the opening day, took the stage. The time-constrained Daylights had a flight that evening to Kansas for a festival the following day and, dare I say, were a tad rushed. Aaah, life of a musician. Two sets morphed into one, and not a particularly long one at that. The Daylights are a band capable of creating complex polyrhythms through inventive bass loops, and are famous for letting loose a wall of sound with tsunami-like intensity (even during the down-tempo, dreamy pieces). Here they took a more direct line and played a well-balanced set spanning the LD evolutionary ladder.

Beginning with the uptempo "Fester," the Daylights demonstrated how to have three lead instruments without incessant individual soloing, a hallmark of their sound. Midway through the set, "Without" emerged as a highlight as Jessica Lurie slowly bled notes from the saxophone and Arne Livingston and Dale Fanning cushioned her notes with a graduated rise before retreating back into the shadows. The second half of the set contained a rarely played, personal favorite in "Dance" that contains enough twists and turns to leave your head on one side of the room and your ass on the other. Sonny Rollins' "Ramblin" and the driving, down and dirty bass fonk (not funk) of "Chez Arnesto" closed the set, and the brevity of the performance left me feeling bittersweet.

Skerik by Wyatt Dexter
With daylight still hovering about, Asher Fulero and Damien Aitken assumed the stage to assuage the crowd, this time as a duo, dishing out ambient textures reminiscent of music wafting about latenight chill rooms. At this point a plan was hatched, seven comrades with energy to spare decided to venture forth into Seattle to catch Crack Sabbath at The Rainbow--despite the fact that Skerik was to perform four sets at Rainstalk the following day--for there is no such thing as too much Skerik! A Dukes of Hazard car jump got us on the ferry, and we arrived just in time for a raucous second set that included family value favorite "Bukkake Ducati" and the heart rending Black Sabbath anthem "War Pigs." Set highlight, however, was a Skerik homage to Shirley Lowe, mother of Keith Lowe (bass) and Skerik's former elementary school teacher. The madman referenced her distribution of candy to both the well behaved and, to the not-so, eight balls of cocaine. Clearly it was all much to Shirley's delight as she proudly flashed the rock-on, shout-at-the-devil hand salute. For those about to rock, we most definitely salute you!

Skerik by Jaci Downs
Day two was a Skerik-a-thon by all manners sane and insane. The cast of characters, some of Seattle's finest instrumental thespians, included Joe Doria (Hammond B-3), Timothy Young (guitar), Mike Stone (drums), Keith Lowe (bass), and Ron Weinstein (Hammond B-3). Scorched earth policy in full effect, over six hours of screaming, anthropomorphic Molotov cocktail fortified rock 'n' fuckin' roll funkanautic jazzercise laid waste to Vashon Island amidst pillaging and looting the likes of which Shai-Halud had never seen!

The opening course consisted of Skerik, Mike Stone (who played all four sets), and Joe Doria (his lone sitting) behind the mighty Hammond. Think Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet without the five-piece horn section--groovy but not funky, lively yet with a relaxed fit. Exit Doria, enter Weinstein, purveyor of cookies as both meal and snack, along with Tim Young and Keith Lowe, both from the recently retired Zony Mash. With the exception of guest Steve Berlin on baritone sax in the third set and Keith Lowe leaving the building in the fourth, the marriage and twisting of styles from Mingus ("Better Git Hit in Your Soul") to Prince ("Mad House") to Miles (an absolutely rocking "Black Satin") to New Orleans funk to Seattle fonk to a holiday office party waltz was uncompromising and relentless. The full package of whoopass had been let loose.

I was certainly caught up in the moment; it was impossible not to be. An entire day of Skerik Plus left me utterly dumbfounded with a shit-eating grin clearly plastered to my face. Extraordinary musicians had just laid it down hard and thick under a blue tarped faux sky, playing before an intimate, ghoulishly appreciative audience. When all was said and done, a lone seated Tim Young remained and upon festival organizer request strummed Very Special Forces frustratingly infectious 80's love ballad "Serial Monogamist." So sayeth the VSF Psalms:

"My love for you is purely recreational/I think of your body as a recreational vehicle/(enter backing vocals)/I can't feel you through the rubber/When you touch me nothing happens."

Jeremy Birchman
JamBase | Washington
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[Published on: 6/28/04]

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