By the time you are reading this fascinating post, the following statement will not be true: Tonight I am going to see (and hear) The Tripwires, Girl Trouble and the Young Fresh Fellows. While I’ve never even heard of The Tripwires (Seattle power pop super group) and have not seen Girl Trouble live (they’re a garage rock band from Tacoma formed in 1983), I opened for and consequently saw the Young Fresh Fellows in 1986. For those of you who are good at math (rainmen), that’s 30 years ago. This was also the last time I saw them live. I don’t get out a lot.
Over the years I’ve kept track of the Fellows and have continued to purchase both their albums and those of their side projects, which are actually big name groups. Scott McCaughey often tours with R.E.M. He plays in the Venus 3 with Robyn Hitchcock. He leads another semi-local group called The Minus 5. Guitarist Kurt Bloch led the well-known Seattle punk band The Fastbacks as well as performing with many other local bands. Bassist Jim Sangster formerly played in grange rock (yes, grange not garage) group The Picketts and currently plays in the genius power pop group The Tripwires. Drummer Tad Hutchison, simply the best drummer period, plays with Chris Ballew of The Presidents of The United States of America in a group called simply Chris and Tad.
The Young Fresh Fellows’ music is sort of a cross between The Kinks and The Sonics, with a touch of early Pink Floyd thrown in. Garage anthems, beautiful pop melodies and dueling psychedelic guitar solos are offset by oddities such as Tad singing a warped version of Neil Sedaka’s Calendar Girl (January, it was very cold / February, it was still real cold). Their live show is a bundle of energy, top-notch musicianship and humor. Band members are roughly in their fifties, but when Tad puts on a hat that covers his salt and pepper hair he suddenly becomes a 10-year-old boy playing incredible fills. Kurt jumps up and down maniacally and leans into Scott while ripping out psychedelic solos from the depths of H.P. Lovecraft’s mind. Scott is the leader and focal point, providing intricate lyrics delivered with a simple everyman’s voice. And Jim, not to be outdone by Kurt, is a kinetic kewpie doll pounding out the bass, the bass, the bass.
It’s difficult to choose a single song as a favorite, but one that resonates with me is Searchin’ U.S.A. from their Topsy Turvy album.
I’ve been to Pauline’s Café in Bellingham
Jack said he’d be with me in a minute
I asked him for a glass of water
He said, “What for, you want to put some LSD in it?
There’s already speed and marijuana in the hash browns
Pauline always gets a kick out of that crack
And that kind of service brings the customers back
Pauline’s Café, which opened in the 60s, was a legendary diner in Bellingham, barely wide enough to walk through from front to back, simply a counter with barstools. By the 80s the owners were in the autumn of their lives but were full of vinegar and enjoyed messing with the college students. One of Pauline’s strict rules was no dessert until you cleaned your plate. Searchin’ U.S.A. offers up several slices of life that I have experienced (verse 2 begins: Well, I’ve been to the Alderwood Mall…) encased in poppy Americana-esque music.
There are those of us who see the “Seattle sound” as something that existed long before grunge was conceived. The Young Fresh Fellows are the heirs to this wild, dirty, thumping throne of sound born with The Wailers and The Sonics. Check them out and file the experience under Mind Blown!