The Morning Show with John Richards on KEXP has come to mean a lot of different things to different people over the years. But the overwhelmingly pervasive theme at Neumos on Friday for the revival of John In The Morning At Night was a whole hell of a lot of fun. The room was packed with jubilant KEXP listeners for an event raising money for the New Home campaign. And with so many awesome people and bands all coming together for a good cause, a great night was almost guaranteed.
The show kicked off with Seattle electro pop duo Navvi, who paired samples, loops, and guitar from Brad Boettger with haunting vocals and additional keys from Kristin Henry. Stripped down trip hop and trap flavored beats, fuzzed out synths, and swelling singing warmed up the crowd as dreamy slow motion video played behind the performers. Boettger's sample pad was set up at an unusual angle, tilted down and away from him, perhaps so the audience could see and appreciate what he was doing as he made or augmented beats live. The set included a tasty cover of Radiohead's "Climbing Up The Walls", as well as several originals. They've been together for 2 years and released a series of singles leading up to their EP, // (pronounced "two"). As their last song, "LA 3am" ended the set, the room was really starting to feel full despite the early start time, and the crowd applauded appreciatively.
After their set, Navvi entertained a few questions in the green room. They said their full length is about half way done, and they are excited to finish it and get it released. They are playing Barboza as part of Beneath The Block on Thursday, 6/25, and West Seattle Summerfest on Saturday, 7/11. When asked how the duo felt to be a part of JITMAN, Henry said it was an honor, and "so much fun. Plus I'm a huge fan of HAERTS." Boettger added that he is also a huge fan of the venue as well. And Henry said she was fairly shocked at how much of the crowd showed up for their early, 8pm set time. When asked what she thought of John in the Morning, she admitted she tunes in religiously. "I'm a commuter," she said, "so I've listened to John every day for the last 8 years!"
Back upstairs, John Richards himself took to the stage, his voice a bit hoarse from a successful one-day fund drive that morning. He thanked the crowd, and introduced the first surprise guest of the evening, Seattle singer-songwriter Tomo Nakayama, to sing the John in the Morning Theme Song (written by Damien Jurado). Nakayama has a beautiful, unique voice, and he did the jingle justice, while giving it his own twist.
Baby Dayliner was up next. A tall and imposing figure in a posh, shiny suit, Ethan Marunas strutted and danced across much of the stage, never staying still for long. There hasn’t been a proper Baby Dayliner release since 2006, but Marunas has been working on a lot of new material for a series of EPs to be released on Brasslands this fall. Much of that unreleased material was on display at Neumos, and Marunas appeared to be enjoying himself. His act was somewhere between earnest and jokey, lounge singer and plaintive crooner, and his moves were infectiously fun to watch and get swept up in.
It takes an engaging performer to captivate with just a mic in hand and a laptop sitting in a briefcase to provide backing tracks, but Baby Dayliner did just that, even with very little stage banter. His voice took on a fun 80s tone at times, and his production sat somewhere between retro and futuristic. When the single "You Push, I'll Go" began, the audience erupted enthusiastically. Although the song has not yet had an official release, it has been played fairly heavily on the Morning Show, so it was a natural crowd favorite. After this song he took one of the first opportunities to address the crowd, thanking KEXP for all the support over the years. The room was feeling packed and sweaty now, as people loosened up and began to dance with abandon.
After the set, John took the stage to thank the singer, saying Freshkills turned him on to Baby Dayliner in New York City years ago, "and I've been waiting for years to see that live." John added his thanks to Neumos, calling it his favorite venue in Seattle. And he once again thanked donors in the room, saying that, "more people are supporting KEXP than ever before," before finally giving shout outs to KEXP staff members peppering the crowd.
In the green room, Ethan Marunas seemed to have shed his theatrical Baby Dayliner persona, and was very friendly and personable. He said this was a special one-off show that he'd flown in for from New York, and he was catching an early morning flight back east. He said he was honored to play the JITMAN show. Apparently it was something that was supposed to happen a couple years ago, and he was happy it was finally coming to fruition. After taking a somewhat lengthy break from producing and releasing new music, Baby Dayliner is squarely back in the saddle, and mixes for his new EPs go in for mastering this week. "John playing ["You Push, I'll Go"] has been huge," Marunas said, "KEXP and John in the morning has kept me relevant."
John welcomed fellow DJ Troy Nelson on stage to help introduce the evening's third act, Seattle garage soul rockers Pickwick. As they took to the stage, it became clear that lead singer Galen Disston was injured, as he gingerly made his way up the steps on a pair of crutches, his foot in a fresh cast. Guitarist Michael Parker commented, "our baby boy over here broke his foot yesterday, so Galen is going to sing sitting down." By day, Disston is a window washer, and apparently broke his foot falling off a ladder, "so if anyone wants to buy some vicodin after the show, I'm not working for the next 6 weeks," he joked. But he clearly wasn't going to let the injury hold him back. The set kicked off with the single "Lady Luck", a Richard Swift cover from their 2013 album Can't Talk Medicine. The song has some very challenging, high falsetto parts, which are presumably even harder to belt out when restricted to a seated position. But Disston hit the notes with apparent ease, yet he couldn't stay in his seat for long. When he stood for a verse, perching on his injured foot, the crowd cheering appreciatively.
When he sat back down, Disston said, "It's gonna be like VH1 storytellers, minus the VH1 and the stories." As the crowd laughed, he reassured them jokingly, "we'll give you what you paid for." And Pickwick certainly delivered. Even perched on a stool, Disston was captivating, while the 5 other members of the band amped up the energy considerably on songs like the new burner "Red Handed" and the rocking "Mother Superior". The crowd clapped and danced along as Disston rose, first leaning on his crutch, then wielding it almost like a weapon, stabbing it out over the audiences' heads. After the song, Michael Parker took to the mic to express his gratitude, saying, "we just want to thank KEXP for having us tonight. They've given us so much support over the years." He went on to say that as the band has had the opportunity to tour across the country, he's come to realize that most places just don't have stations like KEXP, and Seattle is very lucky to have this resource for new music.
Another highlight of the set was the slower number "Brother Roland", possibly an anti-war screed, or maybe about someone suffering from sickle cell anemia. Whatever the case may be, it is a seething song, full of passion and power. Disston careened from a growl, to a near screech, to a croon, bolstered by big organ sounds from keyboardist Cassady Lillstrom. The effect of the injured Disston rising to his feet during songs' emotional crescendos and discarding his crutches was almost akin to watching a faith healer (in this case, the music itself) work wonders on a broken body. If anything, this act of ignoring injury and adversity upped the intensity of the set, and the crowd responded in kind. Hands were thrown into the air with abandon for the "ahhh" refrain of Pickwick's biggest local hit to date, "Hacienda Motel".
But the band is certainly not resting on its laurels, or crutches, as the case may be. They've been hard at work on their second release, and Parker said they've written about 20 songs, which they will narrow to about 10 for the new record. Brand new songs, including one Parker said was written, "like two weeks ago" (whose working title is "A New Hope", an homage to the band's Star Wars passions), showed a lot of promise, and suggested some of the soul sounds the group started with are continuing to morph into a more straight up garage rock approach. After the set, Parker said the band might take longer to release a record than the industry has come to expect, but he personally believes the next album is going to be even better than their first, even if its sound takes some listeners by surprise. Take all the time you need, Pickwick, if you keep putting on top notch, high energy shows like this, your audience will eagerly wait for you.
After Pickwick left the stage, local electro producer Vox Mod started to set up his gear. He was not announced on the bill. What surprise was in store? Afternoon Show DJ Kevin Cole jumped on stage to give the answer, as he introduced a local supergroup of Vox Mod, MC Tilson (of The Saturday Knights), and drummer (and writer for The Stranger and Vice) Trent Moorman, known tonight only as The Morning Show Players. "Are you ready for some history?" Cole implored, "This is the first time this song will be played live in Seattle!"
As the instantly familiar beat of what has come to be known as "The Friday Song" started up, a gaggle of furry creatures took to the stage and the crowd erupted in cheers. The song is actually called "Show Me" by Mint Royale, featuring Pos from De la Soul, but loyal KEXP listeners know a Friday morning show is not complete without this feel good tune. It was, of course, the perfect pick for JITMAN, which happened to fall on a Friday, no less. As Tilson rapped, altering lyrics to make them locally relevant, a furry otter, penguin, tiger, and meerkat were joined on stage by two giant, dancing Rainier beer bottles.
It was a raucously fun surprise, which only increased in crowd exuberance when the the meerkat took off his over-sized head to reveal an understandably sweaty John Richards inside the costume. John leapt into the crowd and surfed around Neumos. It was a special moment, as loyal listeners and fans literally reached up to support their beloved DJ. After The Friday Song, a breathless Richards took the mic, exhaling a long, celebratory expletive. He re-introduced the supergroup, gave thanks to the Woodland Park Zoo and Rainier Beer for donating the costumes, and KEXP personalities Troy Nelson, Morgan Chosnyk, and Tilly Rodina for donning the animal suits. Up next, the headliner of the night, HAERTS!
HAERTS is an indie electro-pop four piece from Brooklyn, New York. But in truth they are an international outfit, with members from the US, Germany, and England. The met while studying in Reykjavik at the Iceland Academy of the Arts, and three members went on to study at Berklee College of Music. The group became HAERTS in 2010, and their popular debut single "Wings" was a featured song of the day on KEXP. Their eponymous debut came out on Columbia last fall, and has produced a number of singles. Though the crowd had thinned slightly at Neumos after the supergroup madness that preceded HAERTS, the remaining audience became enthusiastically drawn in to sweeping synths, and epic, syrupy bass lines.
After singing "Wings", lead singer Nini Fabi, dressed in a striking white dress, thanked KEXP, saying that John in the Morning was one of the first radio shows to play her band. The stage was decorated with pure white calla lillies on each mic stand, echoing the white of Fabi's dress. These flows are popular at funerals, and as such they often symbolize both life and death. These dual light and dark themes are also apparent in HAERTS' music itself. The dreamy set of keys, guitar, bass, and drums set the backdrop for Fabi's undeniably powerful vocals. She is slight of frame, and presents as almost timid at first blush, or at least vulnerable, until she opens her mouth and begins to sing. "It's really great that there are radio stations out there that are courageous enough to say they like something before anyone else does," Fabi added before launching into the set's 80s tinged final song "All The Days". After leaving the stage and letting the crowd cheer for a bit, they returned for an encore of what Fabi called "one of our favorite songs that is not our own song." It was Procol Harem's "Whiter Shade of Pale", and Fabi's voice was strikingly strong on this one, showing she can wail and take ownership of the popular ballad from 1967.
It was a great end to a great night. The sound man threw on Joe Cocker's version of "With A Little Help From My Friends", and happy people headed for the doors. As the crowd of KEXP supporters filtered out into the hot dog and onion scented Capitol Hill night, a feeling of camaraderie was pervasive. Several seemingly spontaneous high fives were spotted. KEXP and John in the Morning are made possible through supportive listeners, after all, and that support also extends to great bands like those who had just performed. All in all, this was a smashingly successful return of John in the Morning at Night, and a feel good evening full of delightful surprises.
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