The Sunset Tavern’s Anniversary Toga Party
featuring The Young Fresh Fellows, Huge Spacebird, and The Chris & Tad Show
The Sunset Tavern, Seattle, WA • June 21, 2002
Two years ago, entertainment visionary Max Generaux – along with his small staff – converted one of Seattle’s most downtrodden dives into one of the city’s hippest nightspots. Anchoring one end of Ballard Avenue – the Jet City’s music Mecca – the Sunset Tavern combines swanky ambience (its blood-red interior and exotic decor suggests a turn-of-the-century San Francisco bordello) with an “everybody knows your name” comfort bubble. With this sort of environment – and a great sound system – the Sunset has become an extremely popular venue for both performers and their fans.
To celebrate the Sunset’s anniversary, Generaux threw a toga party on June 21st – and everyone came. There were no ritual sacrifices, but bloodletting was the only thing missing from this free-for-all orgy of merriment, as three of the town’s most popular bands – The Chris & Tad Show, Huge Spacebird, and The Young Fresh Fellows – put on one of the best rock shows of the year.
After Lena, one of the Sunset’s elderly Norweigan regulars, began the festivities by warbling “God Bless America,” former President Chris Ballew and YFF drummer Tad Hutchison made their entrance clad in space suits. With Ballew alternating between guitar and his “Orgatron” and Hutchison tapping away on a stripped-down kit (often with maracas), the duo flabbergasted and delighted the crowd with some truly inspired silliness. Singing seemingly-impromptu songs about Tang, acid-accented bus rides to Frisco, and devil worship, the pair demonstrated both their wit and capacity for absurdity. Ballew paid tribute to the mostly ignored toga theme, rocking his way through “Coliseum Party” and “Roman Rumble.” During the latter, the avant-garde genius (now stripped down to a cowboy costume) ventured into the crowd with a digital recorder, persuaded a fan to sing the chorus, and returned to the mic, manipulating her digitized voice like a DJ scratching a record. This set-closing feat drew howls of laughter and wild cheering from the sweaty room.
Groove-rockers Huge Spacebird almost stole the show in their middle slot, focusing on selections from their Steve Miller-meets-Thin Lizzy eponymous debut (a few years old now, it’s still a local-jukebox favorite). Electrifying the Ballew-befuddled audience with more “Lizzy” and less “Miller,” this veteran band, recently re-appearing after a long hiatus, re-established their status as one of the Northwest’s best unsigned acts. Co-frontmen Mark Hoyt and Jeff Taylor led the group through fan-favorite screamers like “Walkin’,” “New Destroyer,” and their set’s peak, “If That’s Lovin’.” Guest Don Pawlack, formerly of The Souvenirs, accentuated Hoyt’s and Andrew McKeag’s twin-guitar attack with his pedal-steel mastery; Peter Lansdowne’s booming drums and Taylor’s overdriven, superfuzz, set-you-on-your-ass bass lines kept the frenzied mob at bay.
With the beyond-capacity crowd now warmed to the point of heatstroke, The Young Fresh Fellows – the city’s pre-eminent party band for more than fifteen years now – capped the wild night with a mind-blowing display of talent. With local icon Scott McCaughey (also of The Minus 5 and R.E.M.) at the helm, this supergroup (Fastbacks guitarist Kurt Bloch, eternally-19-year-old drummer Hutchison, man-about-town Jim Sangster on bass) peppered their career-spanning song list with fantastic covers – The Sonics’ “Strychnine” and McCaughey’s great interpretation of The Kinks’ “Well-Respected Man” had the worshipful audience in the palms of their hands. Ballew joined the band for a rant of “Everybody’s Going Digital”; Bloch, normally maniacal, turned truly demonic during the closer, “Born to Be Wild,” sliding his strings along the rafters and mic stand, unintentionally paying homage to both Hendrix and Townshend in a crazed series of solos. In a Morrison-like move (Jim, not Van), McCaughey wandered into the crowd, begging for some “sweet water,” as the band jammed in dirge-like fashion… and then the orgy was over.
As The Fellows stumbled backstage, their fans reluctantly staggered out into the unnaturally warm pre-dawn air, undoubtably lamenting that anniversaries come along only once a year.