carissa’s wierd at neumos

I lay in bed late last night retracing my steps from earlier in the day, the magic carpet overcame me and the map of the North Cascades floated out of my hand as I lost consciousness for an instant. I came to and pondered the quandry looming over me: Carissa’s Wierd is playing tonight for just the second time since last summer (i.e., twice since 2003). Am I going to go even though I got up at 3 AM and hiked 16 amazingly beautiful but rocky miles (two miles of wrong turn) and my feet are killing me and my nutsack is on fire because Zeus the God of Chafing needed a laugh? I put my contacts back into my bloodshot eyes and told Diana I might come home after one or two songs so-could-she-please-wait-up-for-me.

the very dated picture of the band in the Neumos calendar featured Ben Bridwell studiously chilling out; Jen Ghetto is hiding her face, M. Brooke is sitting on the floor knitting a scarf from his beard and Sera Cahoone has the end of the sofa

Finding a parking spot on Capitol Hill at 11 PM on a Saturday night is an exercise in extreme futility. I walked liked a penguin to Neumos all the way from Thomas and 15th, picking the shadowyiest sidewalks possible. I arrived in time to find all the Wierdos (as the extremely devoted, passionate fans of Carissa’s Wierd are sometimes referred to) buzzing in anticipation of the band’s set. Jen Ghetto was on stage by herself, doing some last minute tuning. Sarah Standard, violinist for the band, walked past me on her way backstage. Curtis Hall, the drummer for Mat Brooke’s band Grand Archives, stood a few feet behind me watching the show. I recognized a few other notables from Seattle’s music scene. Wierdos and curiosity-seekers alike showed up to pay their respects. It was hot as hell in there, I felt like I did a thousand jumping jacks and then pointed a blow dryer at myself while sitting next to the oven pre-heating on 450 degrees. I had no choice but to take my hearing aid out and stand under the speakers by the bar. Great views of the band from there if you don’t mind feeling like a human richter scale……

I don’t know what attracts me to Carissa’s Wierd. I’m not a Wierdo. I missed the golden age, as it were, of the band’s formative years playing for appreciative fans who listened for the sake of the sound that was beautiful and different from the rest of Seattle’s scene at the time. It’s not strictly curiosity, I got that out of my system after gradually giving CW’s catalog a try over the years (finding a half dozen gems that shimmered, but discovering most of it was unbearable to listen to) and going to last summer’s CW show at the Showbox. I’m a devoted fan of several musicians who’ve moved on to other projects after CW, but the intrigue-by-association wore off some time ago.

Chamber rock, slowcore, feelingscore, mopefolk, crybabycore, whatever music journalists disparagingly refer to it as….. the soft, feathery trance-like arrangements and whispery, agonized muttering baffles a lot of musicphiles. I can’t listen to it at home, my life is too upbeat to appreciate most of CW’s catalog there. But in a dingy rock club filled with strangers and the smell of stale cigarettes and the band playing its heart out, those dark but pretty ballads are mesmerizing. Last night’s show was very good. Other than a funny bungled chord and one bad-or-ironic song in which Mat Brooke sang way out of his range (i thought his vocal chords were going to pop), I loved the entire set. Jen Ghetto played a moving solo on So You Wanna Be a Superhero that garnered probably the most admiration and applause of the evening.  I detected a little twangy country toward the end of the set in a faster-paced song with a cool jangly intro. I didn’t recognize it for old or new but I fully appreciated it. What is Carissa’s Wierd now? Last summer’s concert at the Showbox was referred to as a “one-off”. What does it mean when a band follows a “one-off” with another show a year later, with a fourth scheduled for New York City in October?  Is CW a side-project for everyone in the band now, something they do to sustain themselves for artistic reasons and pay back the devotees who love them? Is there going to be a reunion every year with the occasional new song thrown in, as a favor (or part of a contractual arrangement) for the hometown record label that reissued some of their old songs?

I slid into bed at 1:30 so as not to wake Diana (she finally turned in at 12:30) and I was out cold in seconds. The night was a test of my endurance, my feet hurt like crazy. And I was sweating like mad, I was ready for someone to ask me if I needed medical attention. I’ve never been in such a stuffy room. But I made it all the way through the encore because Carissa’s Wierd was so good.

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