Saturday, September 05, 2009

In a Post-HD World

Normally when I wear my Harvey Danger shirt around, I'm mistaken for a staunch supporter of High Definition or, sometimes, hard drives. But for one glorious weekend, I could be readily identified by strangers as a fan of Harvey Danger. And perhaps it would be the only time in history I would run into somebody wearing that same shirt and we'd exchange silent nods of approval. In the Emerald City, this was literally the end of the yellow brick road for Harvey Danger, 17 years after forming at the University of Washington. I've mentioned before how the band has a relatively small but extremely passionate following and that was demonstrated in spades last weekend. At least a few superfans had attended multiple shows in different cities on this final tour, which went through Boston, Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles before swinging back to their hometown Seattle for three final shows: an all-ages show Friday, an early show Saturday, and the Last Ever. I met a mom who had flown in for the Friday show from Orlando with her 18-year old son for his graduation present (awesome!). Others had flown from as far as North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Illinois, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, the UK, and elsewhere to be at their last ever show. Me, I hopped on a train down from Vancouver to take in the festivities.

Sleepy Kitty, a two-piece band from Chicago/St.Louis, restored my faith in opening bands, which lately I've been entirely ready to do away with. Sleepy Kitty consists of original Harvey Danger drummer Evan Sult (on drums, naturally) and Paige Brubeck on guitar, keyboards, and harmonized vocals (looping pedals!). Ever since I've been addicted to their song Gimme a Chantz! from their $3 EP What I Learned This Summer. Check it out on their myspace site. They opened for two of the three shows and I enjoyed them so much I could've gone for a full blown gig. It was only their third (or fourth?) show ever, so hopefully we'll be hearing more from them soon. The early show on Saturday featured Can You Imagine? as the opener, a bubblegum pop/50's rock & roll band that includes one-time Harvey Danger producer Steve Fisk on keyboads and cartoonist Peter Bagge on guitar/vocals. Afterward, I was mentally forming a blog post about other comic book people who've released music... off the top of my head I could only come up with Robert Crumb and James Kochalka, so that might require some more diligent research.

For the uninitiated, I won't bore you too much with the details (there's another forum for that), but needless to say it's a little magical being in a room filled with people who know every single Harvey Danger song inside and out. At one point, Sean Nelson just stopped singing and let the crowd takeover for the first couple verses, which he really could have done for every song. Over the course of two days, Harvey Danger played well over 7 hours of music. Someone who wrote down the setlists tallied 77 songs total! The all-ages show at The Vera Project, a non-profit music/arts centre for youths, clocked in at almost 3 hours, which was probably the band's longest ever show... until they topped it the very next night. The format was the same for all the shows: ~1.5 hour set, followed by an "on-stage encore break", then Q&A/request free-for-all. In order to make a request, one had to raise their hand and ask the band an "interesting" question, which ranged from the uninspired ("What is the meaning of [insert HD song]?"), intriguing ("What was your creepiest encounter with a fan?"), painfully cliché (nearly anything pertaining to Flagpole Sitta), and random ("Do you love your father?"). Sean would usually pause before making a decision: "Uninteresting! NEXT!" or "Now that's an interesting question." Occasionally, the worthiness of the question would be decided by a gladiatorial thumbs up or down as determined by the cheers or jeers. If your question was answered, then your request was granted.

  • For the last ever Flagpole Sitta, John Roderick of The Long Winters ran on stage to help sing the BA-BA-BAAA's. After the song ended, Sean said something along the lines of "We're going to take five seconds to appreciate the fact that we never have to play that song ever again", followed by a band toast.
  • They played my all-time favourite HD song Loyalty Bldg. at the final show. Perfection.
  • During the middle of what seemed like a record-breaking fifteen minute (Theme from) Carjack Fever, Sean gave each member of the band an extended introduction for the last time.
  • Someone asked if they ever play Rock Band and if they do, do they play the instruments they play in real life. Sean went to each band member for their replies: "No." "Nope." "No." "No, but I'm buying that Beatles one."
  • BNL's Steven Page was around somewhere but I didn't notice. @stevenpage: "Harvey Danger taking requests. No teleprompters, no binders of lyrics. Pretty impressive. Tho they only made 3 albums."
  • The first two shows both ended with Radio Silence, which is a fitting last note to go out on. When this was played during the requests portion of the final show, we were left in suspense as to what would the last Harvey Danger song played would be. In a risky, but brilliant move, they capped off the night with a new song, the appropriately titled The Show Must Not Go On, which was followed by what may have been the first and last band hugs.
As with all the shows, the band came out after to chat with fans, sign things, take photos, etc. It speaks to their extreme generosity that they stayed until absolutely everyone had been taken care of. Personally, it was just wonderful to have the opportunity to say thanks for all the years of fantastic music.

On the covers front, they played a stunning cover of The Beatles' You Never Give Me Your Money at the Vera show. When asked later by a young fan what was his favourite song ever, Sean said probably that one. At the final show, Bowie's Oh! You Pretty Things was the first request, saving me the trouble of requesting it myself! Another request was their almost never played cover of The English Beat's Save It For Later, here mixed with a snippet of Pearl Jam's Better Man. I overheard them playing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road during the soundcheck but that didn't crop up at the actual show. Their Dead Sea Scrolls rarities CD sold at the shows contains an unheard cover of Hall & Oates' Maneater and a live cover of Randy Newman's Louisiana, 1927.

Here's where I'd usually post some cover songs, but instead here are my two favourite HD originals from each album.

Harvey Danger - Jack the Lion [from Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?]
Harvey Danger - Carlotta Valdez [from Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?]
Harvey Danger - Loyalty Bldg. [from King James Version]
Harvey Danger - The Same as Being in Love [from King James Version]
Harvey Danger - Moral Centralia [from Little By Little...]
Harvey Danger - Cream and Bastards Rise [from Little By Little...]

The latter two albums are both available on iTunes, while their debut album is more or less readily available as a physical disc (check Amazon or your local used CD shop). Of course, as it has been for the past 4 years, Little by Little... can be downloaded for free from the official site. When asked if that release tactic was regarded as a success, Sean said the fact that the room was filled with people singing along to every song from the album proves it was, though in hindsight they'd make the "donate" button more prominent, ha ha.

One last thing I want to tell you about is a stunning collection of live music housed at the University of Washington, one that you can only listen to IN-PERSON if you happen to be visiting Seattle. Between May 2002 and December 2007, audio engineer Jim Anderson recorded every (or pretty damn nearly every) show at the Crocodile Café before it closed down, re-opening in March of this year as The Crocodile. In October 2008, he donated this massive collection of digital recordings to the University of Washington's Ethnomusicology Archives. In total, this amounted to over 2800 HOURS of live music. It is not available online and can only be listened to at one of two terminals at the Libraries Media Center. Here are some of the gigs that caught my attention:
  • Five full Harvey Danger shows and a handful of solo gigs by band members
  • Andrew Bird 2003/06/12
  • The Dresden Dolls 2004/08/22
  • The Living End (!!) 2006/12/16
  • Sam Roberts 2003/10/24
  • Jon Brion 2004/12/18
  • The Ditty Bops 2005/03/10, 2005/06/25

    For White Stripes-related fare:
  • The Greenhornes 2002/11/13
  • Brendan Benson 2005/11/08
  • Blanche 2005/06/25
  • Holly Golightly 2003/09/26, 2004/10/26
  • The Kills 2003/09/26, 2004/12/04, 2005/03/25
And that just barely scratches the surface. In fact, the list is so dense it hurts my eyes reading through it. There are even recordings of Disney Cover nights!! In one recording, Sean Nelson performed some Mary Poppins, Pinocchio, and Winnie the Pooh tunes! I even heard a pretty decent punk rock cover of Oogie Boogie's Song. Disney cover jackpot! Take a look at the extensive list to see if your favourite artists are on there-- tons of indie blog faves I'm leaving off. I'll be back in Seattle in October for a Ben Folds + symphony show at Benaroya Hall, but I think I know where I'll be spending the afternoon...


todd said...

I don't have much to add, but that's a cool (and accurate) post.

Anonymous said...

Jamie Hewlett ( is a co-creator of the comic Tank Girl (made in to a particularly epic film) and a founding member of the Gorillaz.

Fongolia said...

Ooh, good one. That would have totally slipped my mind. I associate him mainly with Gorillaz and Monkey: Journey to the West... forgot all about Tank Girl.