Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tacoma Venues: The Viaduct

A few days late, but that's okay. As previously mentioned, I headed out to The Viaduct to catch local boys Colonies' CD release show last Friday. If you don't know, The Viaduct is a new venue in Tacoma, in fact the only exclusively all-ages, non-church-affiliated venue in Tacoma. In a lot of ways it's a niche that really needed filling. There are a lot of kids in bands in the greater Tacoma area, but not much of a scene, largely because they are relegated to the early shows at bar-based venues (notably Hell's Kitchen and Jazzbones) and Club Impact. I really hope that The Viaduct is a success, and that it both helps bands out by giving them a place to play, and shows other promoters/proprietors/whatever that there really is a market for something besides heavy metal and folk in Tacoma.

Unfortunately there are a few roadblocks up in the way of The Viaduct's success.

1) Location. Nobody is going to stumble across this place and come inside to see the show. Nobody is going to see it as they walk down the street and remember to look it up online (something I've done with more than one venue over the years). None of this will happen because nobody is going to walk past the place, period. It's buried up a gravel driveway on the fringes of industrial Tacoma. Foot traffic is... minimal up Center street to begin with, but the club isn't even on the corner (nor is there any sign to indicate its presence).

2) Exterior. Even if you do make it up the hill, the place is... uninviting. It looks like an old abandoned house, with boarded up windows and peeling paint.

3) Interior. Guess what? On the inside it looks like... an old abandoned house. Or even more so, like an unfinished basement. Its size is genuinely the only thing that makes it feel like a better venue than my band's basement practice space.

The fact is, all these weaknesses are cosmetic. With enough promotion and enough bands coming through I think this place really can be a success. Since no one will go there by accident, work extra hard to make sure people come there on purpose. Make sure every show gives every person—audience and band member alike—a reason to come back, and bring friends.

The fact is, the Colonies show was great. They had a solid group of bands and they all sounded good. I'm told that the band brought in a borrowed PA, it having been suggested to them that the Viaduct's system was not top-notch, so I'll reserve final judgement on sound quality. Regardless, they were able to put on a good show. Now they just need to keep getting good bands and promote the hell out of everything. That, and ventilate a little more. Or at least set up a stand selling bottled water or something.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mary's Burger Bistro: Part The Two

Alright, beyond breakfast, on to lunch.

First, the good. I ordered a green pepper and onion burger (1/4 pound beef patty) with fries and a chocolate shake. The shake was excellent. Very thick (but not so thick as to foil straw-users), very tasty. The burger was, on the whole, tasty. The best part (well maybe not the best part, but the bit that set it apart from many other burger joints) was the toasted kaiser roll bun. Good stuff. The meat itself was good, if a bit overcooked, and the toppings (grilled onions and green peppers with swiss cheese) were also quite tasty. Also, the cookies were extremely good (made even better by the fact that he was passing them out for free).

But there's a reason for that...

When we got there, the place was decently full, and we were about four back in the line. After a hiccup with Dave's card (no dedicated phone line for Visa or something like that... I still say it was just Dave's fault) the first three of us ordered. An hour later, all three of us had our food.

Yeah. An hour.

Three problems, as I see it. 1) Problems with the register/ordering system. They sent their tech guy home because it looked like a slow day. Unfortunately they decided it was a slow day at about 9. Not a good time to make that kind of judgement at what is fundamentally a burger joint. Especially one in downtown where most everyone is on a noon lunch schedule. 2) Not enough staff. The sign outside that says they are looking for a short order cook says it all. And 3) they were in no way prepared for the anticipation that has surrounded their opening. Probably if we had shown up with our crowd (2/3 of the office plus a few bloggers) they would have been happy. Unfortunately many, many other people also showed, throwing them into a bit of a frenzy.

I'm looking forward to going again, maybe next week, when the rush has died town, the staff has picked up, and the tech troubles have been resolved. And if not... I'm still in favor of their breakfast.

And the free cookies.

Mary's Burger Bistro

Yeah, yeah... "music blog". You were warned that I liked food.

Stopped in at the freshly opened Mary's Burger Bistro this morning. I've been waiting for this place to open for a while—since about the time that the sign went up and my brain went "Burger place! Not Jack in the Box! Huzzah!"

I may well have been the first customer, save that I chose to go to the office first and drop off my bag o' stuff, and by the time I got back, a certain Kevin Freitas was already enjoying a sourdough breakfast something something. Admittedly this was my intended order, but for variety's sake I went with the Croissant Deluxe Sandwich. I think all involved parties agree that they pass the breakfast test... the eggs were tasty, the bacon pretty good (I could go with something a little crispier, but hey... it's still better than any fast food breakfast offerings). Tasty (read: greasy) croissant. And, like any fine breakfast establishment, most sandwiches come with a side of... ranch? Yes, ranch. Bizarrely delicious. You'll have to ask Kevin how it stacks up in the Farrelli's Ranch Challenge.

As for atmosphere, the place has a great vibe to it. I'm always in favor of tall tables with stools over booths (maybe because I'm tall, maybe because I like being able to spin around in circles). There was a steady stream of oldies over the stereo, a friendly staff. Obviously, as with any opening things were a bit frazzled... large laminated menus because their menu board designer went on vacation, some hiccups learning the computerized register system. All told, though, well worth the trip. And well worth a trip back for lunch.

I'll be back later with a review of the important bit... burgers.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Upcoming: Colonies @ The Viaduct 8/24

Alright, down to the nitty and the gritty...

If you asked Colonies, they'd probably say they were a Seattle band. Which is fair. They live in Seattle, they work in Seattle, they play in Seattle. But in my mind, they will always be inextricably linked to Tacoma. I went to Curtis High School with guitarist Christian Powers in University Place, then a couple years later he popped up again at PLU in lovely Parkland. So to me he'll always be a Tacoma boy, and his bands Tacoma bands.

I've seen Colonies twice so far, once at Jazzbones, once at Hell's Kitchen. The band (in my opinion) was better at the HK show, but lost out a bit due to certain qualities of the technical staff which will be detailed when I get around to reviewing venues.

I always find it difficult to pin down any band (especially my own) to a particular genre, but Colonies' MySpace claims that they are Indie / Experimental Pop, and I see no reason to argue with that. There's a solid balance of music vs. noise that powers the group, and all the members are quite good at what they do.

In addition to rocking a few socks in the live setting, Colonies has spent much of the last year working on their debut album, Sleep Patterns, and it's time for their efforts to pay off. They've got a CD release show this Friday, August 24th, 6:00 PM at The Viaduct. Other bands on the bill are Piko Panda, Trans Union, Don't Tell Sophie (the only one of these I've seen... they'd like to be Modest Mouse, which could be either good or bad, according to taste) and Trip The Light Fantastic (Christian tells me good things, though I unfortunately missed them at the last show). Cost is $6.

Honestly, I'm as excited to see the venue as I am to see the show. I've only heard a little about The Viaduct, but in principle it's great. As their page states: "The folks that brought you The Junkyard /The Frameshop and The Hall have teamed up to start Tacoma's newest and only all ages venue that is not run by a church or a bar." My band's audience (our friends) is mostly under-21, so an all-ages, all the time venue is always a great thing to see. Parents will likely be happier about watching their kids go to an all-ages show if they know there isn't a bar attached. And while I've nothing against church-run venues on the whole, I do have my complaints about Tacoma's most prominent such establishment.

Anyway, it's roundabout time to get back to work. Hope to see you at the show. I'll be back on Saturday with a review of the show and possibly the record, plus some thoughts on the venue.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Let's see if I can keep this up...

Okay, introductions:

I'm Joe. I've lived in the greater Tacoma area my entire live. Grew up in University Place, attended uni in Parkland, and finally moved into the heart of the city proper after graduation in 2006. Nowadays I live on the downtown/Stadium District fringe, and work for downtown web developers SiteCrafting.

I've been peripherally attached to the local music scene in one form or another for quite a few years. I started playing at Shakabra Java with my dad and my brother when I was 15, and through high school played with a number of groups of varying quality, most notably Blarg! and Π Eating Contest.

In 2001 I started Mr. Fusion with my friend Erich. Mr. Fusion is a collaborative musical effort: between us we have two guitars, a keyboard, a doumbek and a pair of bongos, and we've both been known to play all of them, write, and sing.

In 2006 I started playing with my cousin Jake Westhoff and longtime bass player Tyler Killen in what would become This Shirt Is Pants. We eventually brought in drummer Adam Zack and hit the ground running, playing in Tacoma, Seattle, and various parts in between. We've just finished recording a debut EP (tentatively titled Coming Out Of Our Pants... anyone who gets that joke has my undying admiration) and are gearing up to take on the local scene headfirst.

Anyway... that's what this blog is about: my experiences as a musician and music lover in Tacoma. Going to shows, experiencing venues and clubs as someone who 1) listens to music, 2) plays music and 3) loves beer. There'll be a few extraneous restaurant reviews and other Seattle/Tacoma nonsense tossed in, but for the most part, I'm here for the rock.