Punk’s vitality lies primarily in its imperfection. In the unrefined fuzziness of a bedroom recording or the brutal sloppiness of a drunken live set, you can hear growth, change, disorder–in short, the sound of being alive. Punk widens the cracks in music’s surface enough for us to see the organ of humanity churning beneath.
Linda’s Tavern is one of the few places that retains the scruffy, punk rock, anti-glamor of Seattle’s glory days. Although gleaming new apartment buildings tower hungrily on two sides, a visual representation of the rapidly changing demographics of the surrounding neighborhood, Linda’s back patio still feels like the boozy hangout of burnout rock stars.
On Saturday that’s exactly what it was. Linda’s Fest–the annual, free festival located in the back parking lot, and featuring a lineup of the neighborhood’s premiere punk and garage rockers–was in full swing. In the heat of summer’s death rattle, made warmer by whiskey shots and Rainier, my shirt stuck to my lower back whenever I stood up. Thankfully, the stage area was shaded and cooler, but once people began moving that didn’t really matter. It was hot.
World Bank combines elements of surf rock and blues into their own particular brand of kinetic, lyrical punk. Lead singer Alicia Amiri is small and intense, possessed of Beth Ditto virtuosity, and the band plays just exuberantly enough to support her seismic voice without burying it. Despite playing to a smaller crowd than others later in the day, they managed to sustain a solid, energetic performance.
Breakneck drums, slashing minor-key guitars and furious yowling coalesce into Bad Future. Like an alley cat, injected with speed, running and hissing under a moonless sky, Bad Future imbue their thrashing hardcore with a moody sentimentalism and then play the whole thing VERY VERY LOUD.
In a scene from the 1967 documentary The Queen, drag queen Crystal Labeija, furious at her loss in a pageant, unleashes one of the greatest typhoons of queer outrage the world has ever witnessed. “I have a right to show my colors,” she screams. “Taking it the wrong way? Shit! SHE [the winner] LOOKED BAD!” Nothing is more satisfying than queenly rage, and nobody understands this more than Sashay, who manage to bottle this kind of queer invective, light it on fire, and throw it at passing cars. “Linda Derschang can choke on a burger,” they screech on a song of the same name. Crystal would be proud.
Unfortunately, halfway through Linda’s Fest, my stomach turned on me. Note to readers: mixing whiskey and donuts is a mistake. My friend Dez and I decided to get out of the heat and head to a house show in the U-District. The venue, a DIY space called Werewolf Vacation that hosts shows about once a month, is located in the basement of a craftsman in a relatively quiet residential neighborhood. As the bands played, illuminated by thickets of Christmas lights, the air of the basement turned soupy and damp in the still-present heat. If Linda’s Tavern is a symbol of Seattle’s auspicious punk heritage, Werewolf Vacation is a sign’o the times, a scrappy gathering place for the next generation.
By the time we arrived, The Hardly Boys had already played. We contented ourselves with the whole table of cupcakes that was laid out in the living room. Dez had the presence of mind to ask somebody if there was anything in them after I had eaten two. Luckily they were just gluten-free.
The biggest treat of the night (after the cupcakes) was new band Sleepy Genes. Dressed in fast food uniforms, they slogged through a set in the swampy basement, kept aloft by buoyant songwriting and sticky synth hooks. There’s a bittersweet goofiness to their music, particularly in the standout track “Call Me, Baby” which zips by like the cute boy at the roller rink, here then gone in the span of an adolescent sigh.
Up next was Portland’s Mr. Wrong, who, despite being a two-piece outfit, manage to summon the keen irritation of every smart, young person everywhere. “I smell bad and look strange and act really rude/ but I gotta get some money to buy some food/ and I don’t wanna go on welfare,” they explain on “Do You Have a Job For a Girl Like Me?” and your face falls off and you’re a ghost now because that is TOO REAL.
Finally, after Mommy Long Legs had closed out the show, after the people had all poured out of the basement, leaving only a visible layer of sweat on the concrete floor, Dez and I said our goodbyes and headed for the bus, resisting the urge to take cupcakes for the road. The air wrapped around us like a quilt and my head buzzed with the echoes of too-loud music pumped through shitty speakers and for a minute or two, the messiness of being a human being felt pretty great.