Some of the bands from the Pacific Northwest finally toured the American South, and fortunately for those of us in Dixie, those bands were Deep Sea Diver and Radiation City, among the best that musically fertile region has to offer right now.
We'll get to them in just a moment. First, Atlanta/Athens band Oak House opened with a loud set of earnest psychedelic rock, sounding like they were trying to wring every drop of sincerity and emotion out of every song they played.
Seattle's Deep Sea Diver took the stage by 10:30 pm. Fronted by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jessica Dobson, Deep Sea Diver's music hits such a resonant chord with me that I simply can't understand how they're not so much more popular, although I'm perfectly happy continuing to enjoy them at intimate little venues like The Earl.
Did I say "multi-instrumentalist?" Here's a video of Jessica performing Creatures of Comfort from Deep Sea Diver's terrific new Secrets LP, for some reason under an underpass on I-5, playing solo without a band and apparently without an audience either. Kind of makes me feel sad for Jessica, but she still manages to rock out on the song.
I'm not completely sure I've got it right, but I think Deep Sea Diver started their set playing the first two songs from Secrets, first the opener, Notice Me, and then blowing the audience away with the reverb- and feedback-drenched psych-rock freakout of the second cut, Wide Awake. Make no mistake about it, Dobson can shred a guitar with the best of them.
Although Deep Sea Diver is her main gig, Dobson has also played guitar for other bands, including Beck, Conor Oberst, Spoon and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as well as also being an official member of The Shins.
I first discovered Deep Sea Diver at Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival in 2012, when I caught them performing at the Toyota side tent, and then later at Portland's MFNW (RIP) in 2013. As much as I enjoyed those sets, it wasn't until I downloaded their Always Waiting EP from Bandcamp and played it obsessively in my car for months on end that I really fell in love with their music.
Portland's Radiation City are easy to fall in love with, too, and they didn't take long to go on stage after Deep Sea Diver's set, starting off by playing some ambient soundscapes very quietly while the stage lights were still low so that very few people even realized yet that they were on stage, until they finally burst into full gear on their first song.
Radiation City is distinguished by the astonishing vocals of Lizzy Ellison and the impeccably-crafted harmonies she achieves with guitarist Cameron Spies, multi-instrumentalist Patti King, and the rest of the band.
Like Deep Sea Diver, I discovered Radiation City during my visits to the Northwest, particularly during MFNW (RIP) 2013, when it seemed they were all over town, playing at the Doug Fir, the OBP party at Mississippi Studios, and the notorious Marmoset day party.
Lizzy Ellison deservedly gets much of the attention - she has a truly incredible voice - but recognition should also be given to Patti King. It's that second keyboard and uncanny sense of harmony that fills out the sound with such rich textures and lifts Ellison up enough to reach the heights that she does.
There's something almost spell-binding about their music. You'd probably have to call it "dream-pop" if you had to assign it to any one genre, but they have a rich and intricate sound that transcends genre. At times, I was reminded of the folkish psychedelia of Hundred Waters and at other times of indie pop bands like Braid. To be honest, at first listen, I though their new album Synesthetica was a step too far in the synth-pop direction, but hearing the songs performed live gave them a greater urgency and a fuller sound, and now I love the new songs as much as their older music.
It's always a treat to hear two of one's favorite bands together in one night, and Saturday night I not only got to hear both Deep Sea Diver and Radiation City again, but even bought the new Diver LP, Secrets.