Reluctantly, we left the girls with the babysitter and headed to Capitol Hill, where we happened upon Canon, which provided a much needed attitude adjustment.
The BYOB show was in a low-ceilinged loft apartment. The stage was a painted square of floor next to the closed-off bedroom. It felt like a party where we didn’t know anyone as we nibbled tortilla chips at the snack table. The only difference was the feeling of anticipation in the crowded room.
Then organizer Kristen Watt took the stage and introduced the first artist – Mark Ward. After a few cheers and some applause, all talking stopped. I’ve been to mass when there was less reverential silence. Too often, singer/songwriter performances sound like someone used a guitar as an excuse to make people listen to their poetry. But Mark Ward maintained impressive energy with just a guitar and a kick drum, playing fully realized songs. When he chatted with the audience, it felt like the talented friend at the party had picked up an instrument, except that everyone stopped to listen. He joked about a cut on his finger that was bleeding; someone in the audience offered him a BandAid.
After a short break, Bellingham’s The Learning Team came out. They were same young people who had been standing next to us at the snack table before the show. Their lead singer strongly resembled a college classmate who wore a beret and read philosophy in French. I was predisposed to judge.
But their catchy blend of Vampire Weekend and the xx included a cello, and their propensity for trading instruments between songs quickly thawed my reserve.
Then the singer told a story about touring dingy clubs filled with hostile people in black who watched with folded arms, and confessed that this small friendly crowd and funky space were just what he always thought playing a loft show would be like, reminding me that pretentiousness doesn’t grow in Bellingham. By the end of the set I was a fan.
I doubted it was possible to recreate the magical quality of the Doe Bay set that introduced me to You Me & Apollo. But it turns out that they do magic every day.
They play an indefinable mix of classic Aerosmith’s vocals and groove, Roy Orbison’s yearning ache, 70’s ass-shaking soul, country hurt, early Elvis, and even Billie Holiday (okay, actually I didn’t get any Billie but the Daddy assures me she’s in the mix), all rolled up and dipped in the blues. You could say they are the good parts of America.
The sawdust-covered bass rhythms played by a clean-cut gentleman with an angelic expression were satisfyingly prominent. Morgan Travis on guitar – is that not the coolest name ever? Morgan Travis. It hand rolls all the manly Western stereotypes together and tucks them into the band of a ten gallon hat of the color of your choosing. You could go anywhere in a story with a character named Morgan Travis. Travis stands silently with Joe Perry aplomb, apparently oblivious to everything around him, fiddling with pedals between songs and shifting between slide and heavy distortion.
Music is all about relationships. It’s the spaces between the notes, the connections between the instruments. You Me & Apollo is a strong band of talented members, and the music belongs to them all. But the show belongs to frontman Brent Cowles. Most closely resembling Steven Tyler at his drug-soaked best, Cowles’ huge voice contorts his face as it tears out of his body like an exorcised demon. Sometimes a sultry slur for a shuffled slow dance, other times a cheerleader for a saloon piano sing-along, Cowles’ voice goes wherever it creates the most effect – in parts of “We Got a Roof” it could even be mistaken for Grace Slick.
By the time they wrapped up “Oh My Molly,” the listening room was replaced by a floor-shaking honkey tonk. At the end of the set, Cowles put down his guitar and danced into the crowd. Members of the Learning Project brought out a round of beers for You Me & Apollo, and Cowles returned to the stage to close with the Coasters’ “Down in Mexico,” the same song that wrapped their Doe Bay performance.
And then we were at a party again, in a one bedroom loft on Capitol Hill, full of small groups of people drinking BYO beer, just hanging out with their friends in the band.