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Chop Suey just may be the quintessential Seattle music venue: it stands on a Capitol Hill street corner at the far end of the see-and-be-seen Pike/Pine Corridor, a distance that might help to separate out some scenesters. The interior is suitably dive-y with a decor resembling a demonically possessed ’70s Chinese restaurant. Drinks are poured strong and the live sound is surprisingly good for a club of such small size. It’s a great place to hear music and an especially good setting for up-and-comers Dead Confederate as well as openers Feral Children and Apollo Sunshine.

Feral Children hail from a Seattle exurb known as Maple Valley; one can only imagine the angst coursing through these five boys’ veins coming from a town with such an idyllic name. While they may cringe at this frequent suggestion, the band reminds one most of Modest Mouse with singer/multinstrumentalist Jeff Keenan spitting out sometimes deranged lyrics, sounding like early Isaac Brock, foaming-at-the-mouth while singing. In addition, Josh Gamble plays seasick-sounding guitar (also like Brock), his lines fleshing out the band’s songs. While Modest Mouse can be considered a guitar band, albeit not in the conventional sense of the term, Feral Children stand apart because one might hazard to call them a drum band. In addition to the hard-hitting Bill Cole on your typical rock kit, Keenan stands in front of a little Sheila E set-up of his own. The rhythmic interplay between the two is a dazzling illustration of the band’s offbeat and often, angry lyrics and is truly where the band comes alive. When they stay slow, they drift. When they start beating on those skins like wild men, you get the feeling you’re seeing the most exciting band today in the ol’ hometown.

Boston’s Apollo Sunshine followed or rather darted around like a child with ADD, in support of their latest, Shall Noise Upon. Had I known that these guys met at the Berklee College of Music, I would have spent less time reconciling what exactly made them so irritating; it also explained why every song seemed eager to veer off in ten different directions. Having spent a lot of time with Berklee students in a past life, most of those who remain musicians develop a love of technically difficult music with a fetish for instrumental virtuosity. These songs inhabited some weird space between sunny ’60s pop, Funkadelic, and jam bands. This Berklee connection also explains why, for the better part of the set, there was some dread locked dude playing a pair of congas. This overeager embrace of non-Western music, inordinate instrument changes, and profuse noodling was a strange and interminable interlude between the fiery Feral Children and a steely Dead Confederate.

Much has been made of Dead Confederate as a glimmer of a ’90s revival in rock music. True, we can’t get enough nostalgia and this is a hopeful thought for those of us that came of age in this decade; that our music will come to be revered as important, not hated like disco. The thing is, those rock journalists were kinda right. Hardy Morris hangs crooked over the mic like Saint Kurt himself and can let loose a shriek that sounds like it could (and did) travel a decade through time. At the risk of becoming aggressively facile, Dead Confederate’s sound inhabited the room with a largeness reminiscent of early Soundgarden. “Heavy Petting” is a kind of song that’s so instantly familiar the first time you hear it. You’ve heard this sort of thing before but had no idea you missed it so much. This band’s got a handle on creating a great sinister atmosphere solely through the guitar, only you get the feeling that they don’t care whether anyone was in the room listening to them play or not (another hallmark of ’90s ‘alternative’ rock.)

All in all, it was an exciting, if sometimes frustrating, night of music that reminded me of why I left the ‘burbs. Feral Children pounded out their angst while Dead Confederate let it loose like a fog machine. I felt pretty angsty myself during the headliner but only because I’m not into ‘polyrhythms’ enough to like Apollo Sunshine. But to paraphrase many a Berklee kid, maybe I just don’t get it.

by Chris Middleman
[Photos: Sound on the Sound]

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