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Headphones/Crystal Skulls/Western States
June 12, 2005 - Neumo's - Seattle, WA
by Katie Sauro


Sunday night was David Bazan's second unveiling of Headphones, his newest side project, to his hometown fans in Seattle.  Their debut performance came a few months back, at the Showbox opening for Modest Mouse.  While it was Bazan’s and bandmate (in Headphones, as well as in Pedro the Lion) T.W. Walsh's night to celebrate the successful completion of their first Headphones headlining tour, it was labelmate Crystal Skulls who stole the show.
 
Headphones is made up entirely of synthesizers and drums – no guitars.  The description makes the band sound like it should be electro-pop, maybe an imitation of Ben Gibbard’s (who just happened to be at the show that night) side project, the Postal Service.  But after listening to their recently-released self-titled album and seeing them play live, it’s clear that this is no imitation. 

The songs Bazan and Walsh played sounded much like those of Pedro the Lion, complete with Bazan’s signature deadpan vocals, stellar song-writing, and dark ambiance.  The lush arrangements PTL fans are so familiar with, however, are replaced with stripped-down versions, but with the same result – an incredible live show.  They played a too-short set, encompassing much of their new album, to an enamored crowd.  Headphones isn’t exactly “dance” music like their description implies, but they had the crowd moving and singing along.  Fans of Pedro the Lion were not disappointed, and possibly even pleasantly surprised.

Second on the bill was one of Suicide Squeeze’s newest acquisitions, Crystal Skulls, who, from their first note, had the eager audience screaming and dancing.  The band is chock full of talented musicians, including Yuuki Matthews and Casey Foubert of the short-lived band Seldom.  Foubert has been a huge part of the Seattle music scene, contributing to albums by bands and artists such as Pedro the Lion, Dolour, and Rocky Votolato. 

The pop perfection and smooth melodies provided by Matthews, Foubert, and Ryan Philips are all background for Christian Wargo’s pure vocals, and the end result is one of flawlessness.  Crystal Skulls played a set of songs from their recent release, “Blocked Numbers,” comprised of catchy hooks and smart lyrics.  Their danceable tunes made them by far the most fun band of the night.

The two opening bands were the Western States and the Sea Navy.  After spending what seemed like forever doing soundchecks and making sure every last little detail was in order, Cameron Elliott and the rest of the Western States finally began their set.  With no synths, no distortion, and no electronic bleeps and blips that are so popular in much of today’s indie music, the trio played straight-forward indie rock that is clearly comparable to and influenced by Pedro the Lion, complete with the modest vocals of a shy bearded frontman.  Elliott's vocals over crashing drums and guitar hooks varying between soft and loud, long and short, is reminiscent of Bazan, and his purring voice is comparable to that of Seattle's own indie-folk hero, Damien Jurado.  Sometimes their sound was a little too Pedro the Lion-ish – almost to the point of imitation – but all in all, the Western States played a great set.

The one-man-band otherwise known as the Sea Navy is comprised of Jay Cox on guitar and an Emerson stereo with pre-recorded drums.  If you were unable to see the stage (as I was at first), you wouldn’t have even been able to tell that it was only one guy.  Cox is a talented guitarist that played an interesting, eclectic mix of power-pop and punk.

The showcase of new local music was enough to do Seattle proud, as the crowd left deliriously happy (and drunk), and so did the bands. 

Sunday night’s show was the last of a month-long tour.