Familiar names and newcomers alike made big splashes in the local music scene in 2010. This made for an exciting year and setting the stage for what looks to be a very promising 2011 for Seattle’s music community.
The biggest national story in Seattle music ended up not being all too big of a story at all. Or at least it ended up being a story without much activity involved. That story was Soundgarden’s reunion and when singer Chris Cornell broke the news his old band was getting back together it seemed like big things were on the horizon for the grunge gods. Unfortunately, the band performed one local show and three total public performances in 2010. Worse yet it was nearly impossible to get tickets to the local concert, which was held at the Showbox, because of a poorly planned ticketing system. Although it appears this year’s reunion shows were cash grabs to promote a Soundgarden boxed set, guitarist Kim Thayil has mentioned B-sides and live records that are in the works so there is a strong possibility of more activity from the Soundgarden camp to come.
Other grunge activity included the first performance by the members of Mother Love Bone in more than two decades. The band played a brief surprise three-song set as part of a Brad concert (another grunge-era band that experienced a bit of a rebirth in 2010) with the soulful Shawn Smith filling in on vocals for the late Andrew Wood. The memory of Wood will live on in March when a documentary about his life titled Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story gets released along with two CDs of his previously unreleased music.
On the festival front City Arts Magazine managed to book an impressive first-year festival that spanned four days and spread across dozens of venues throughout Seattle. The Capitol Hill Block Party expanded by adding a third day to accommodate Jack White’s touring schedule with his band Dead Weather and One Reel celebrated Bumbershoot’s 40th birthday by booking Bob Dylan.
Unfortunately Dylan’s gate draw couldn’t save One Reel from feeling the burn of the recession. One Reel, which is a non-profit organization, laid off eight of its 14 festival staffers shortly after the festival. There’s no telling what this means for the 41st annual Labor Day weekend event. On a positive note you should expect the Sasquatch! Music Festival to make some noise next year. The fest will be celebrating its 10th year and has already booked Foo Fighters and added an additional day to mark the occasion.
Sub Pop Records made a few power plays this year by signing the two hottest local acts The pair of signing not only show vibrant signs of life for the local music scene, they also help cement Sub Pop’s reputation for helping introduce the world to some of Seattle’s finest musicians.
In September the label signed Shabazz Palaces, a hip-hop group featuring former Digable Planets rapper Ishmael Butler. The group’s songs feature unorthodox rhythms and beats that are often heavy on African percussion, making for refreshing, challenging and enjoyable hip-hop music. It is believed to be only Sub Pop’s second hip-hop signing (the other being Olympia’s Evil Tambourines in the 1990s) and you should expect very big things from them in 2011.
The other Sub Pop signing of note is the Head and the Heart. The band of plays an upbeat style of folk with three and four-part harmonies and delivers spirited live performances. While the signing hasn’t been made official yet, it is the worst kept secret in local music and the proof is in the pudding if you believe what you see on iTunes. The Head and the Heart have already pretty much conquered Seattle with their rapid rise to local fame (the band formed in late 2009) and are poised to take on the rest of the country with an album slated for release next year.
Musicians weren’t the only names in the news this year, several new and old venues also made the news. The Hard Rock Cafe finally landed in Seattle with a restaurant that features a performance space near Pike Place Market. There was a bit of fear that the corporate chain would interfere with the business of other area venues but so far that has not been the case. The south side of town saw the welcomed return of Columbia City Theatre. Next year be on the lookout for the reopening of the Neptune Theatre in the University District. The former movie house is being leased by Seattle Theatre Group, which plans to turn it into a music venue in the spring. The addition of new venues is a positive sign of growth and a reminder of the importance of the music scene’s role as an economic driver for the city.
Another sign of growth is the rising political clout the scene carries. The City of Music initiative, which was established in 2008, is still going strong and Mayor Mike McGinn created the 21-member Music Commission to support the initiative’s mission of promoting the growth of the music scene. McGinn, who received heavy support from almost every power player in the music community, also announced a nightlife initiative this year that proposes staggered last calls at bars, expanded late-night public transportation, increased security training at nightclubs, and other changes which were part of his campaign platforms.
However, those two political stories pale in comparison to what was perhaps the biggest local music story of the year. Last summer KEXP made a push to move to the Seattle Center grounds in the shadow of the Experience Music Project. Heavy hitters like Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews and the Wilson sisters signed a letter urging McGinn to support the plan. While initially it didn’t appear KEXP would get its wish because the station’s proposal wasn’t deemed financial beneficial enough for the city, earlier this month McGinn revealed a proposal that would place the non-profit station in Seattle Center’s Northwest Rooms.
The move is scheduled for 2012 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World’s Fair and is expected to have a major impact the local music scene which means it’s something you’ll be reading about in this space next year.
A few additional things to look forward to in 2011:
- Pearl Jam, one of the city’s biggest musical exports, is turning 20 and the band has big plans to celebrate. The first phase of the celebration involves the release of a live album called Live on Ten Legs which will be released Jan. 18. The next phase has yet to be announced but Kelly Curtis, the band’s longtime manager, stated the band is planning a festival “somewhere in the middle of the country.” There are also plans for reissues of Vs and Vitalogy, which were the band’s second and third albums, as well as a Cameron Crowe-directed documentary that chronicles the band’s career.
- Aside from the aforementioned releases by Shabazz Palaces and the Head and the Heart you can expect a few bigger local names to release albums this year. Death Cab for Cutie will release its seventh studio record Codes and Keys in the spring. Ben Gibbard wrote a lot of the record on piano so expect to hear a less guitar-driven side of the Bellingham band. Also, the bearded folk rock of Fleet Foxes will make a return in 2011 in the form of a new record. Hopefully the action from these two bands will wake the sleeping giant that is Modest Mouse which has been dormant since 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.
- Of course you can rarely mention Pearl Jam without thinking about Nirvana and the ghost of grunge past will make an impressive appearance at Experience Music Project. In April the museum will open Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses, an exhibition being billed as the world’s most extensive Nirvana exhibit. Krist Novaselic, Dave Grohl and Courtney Love were involved in the creation of the exhibit which will feature 200 Nirvana artifacts including lyrics handwritten by Kurt Cobain, instruments, clothing worn by Cobain and other pieces of memorabilia. It will be the second museum gallery space dedicated to Nirvana in as many museums in Seattle in the past two years. Seattle Art Museum’s Kurt explored the influence Cobain had on artists in various disciplines in 2010. The fact 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of Nevermind’s release is not a coincidence.