Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bindlestickin' Tacoma: Travis Larson Band – Harmon Tap Room Underground, Tacoma, WA – 4/20/12

Despite the gruff exterior and general grumpiness, people tolerate me reasonably well. Inexplicable, but sometimes it works to my advantage. Like when my good buddy LA Ray, who I’ve known since we fought along side each other in the Union Army back in the 1860’s, invited me to meet him in Seattle for an extended weekend of music and mirth. I thought the mirth part was a little weird, but I found some Crest whitening strips at the flea market last month and thought it would be a good chance to see if anyone noticed my sparkling smile. They must have worked as I was constantly being mistaken for Will Smith all weekend. But I digress.

We stayed with one Seattle Ray, who will be the subject of another installment of Bindlestickin’, but in this story will play the part of our dashing and gracious host and event planner. Just like Julie on the Love Boat. Except without Gopher hanging around all the time. You’d think “Your Yeoman Purser” would have more to do. I digress, again.

Seattle Ray told us we’d be seeing the Travis Larson Band on Friday night. I thought Travis Larson might have been the guy who won a PGA tour event in Pebble Beach back in the 90’s, but I was mistaken. Before I could confess such ignorance, Ray took his eyes off the road for a disturbingly long stretch of time as he searched for some TLB on his phone to play for us. I buckled up because even though the distracted driving didn’t wreck me, the TLB tunes might have. Instrumental guitar-driven rock. Prog-rock, fusion, hell if I know how to classify it. It’s not like there’s a Dewey Decimal System for music nor should there be one. But these folks obviously know how to play their instruments and seemed to have a bit more training than the Roy Clark Big Note Songbook that I’ve been using. Like they graduated from that shit while I was still learning to Velcro my own shoes. But the next cool thing is that they use these skills for good and not evil. Meaning no tired three chord progressions and somebody done somebody wrong songs. Heck, maybe they are somebody done somebody wrong songs and I just don’t know it because they’re keeping the lyrics from us. Bastards.

Sorry. I didn’t mean that. The music reminded me a lot of Andy Timmons, a guitarist I had the pleasure of seeing almost weekly when I hung my hat in Dallas. It was all enough to give Seattle Ray instant credibility and calm my fears of having to watch Candlebox tribute bands all weekend.

On the afternoon of the show, as we were driving around the greater Tacoma area Seattle Ray received a call. We turned down the Candlebox CD and he pulled safely off the side of the road to take it. Or maybe not. But he didn’t kill us, which is good since TLB needed a place to stay and he opened his home to three more guests. I got to meet the band that afternoon and they weren’t dicks or anything. In fact, they’re pretty awesome and I had nothing to be annoyed about. That’s mighty rare.

As usual, 500 words in and we haven’t even gotten to the show yet. Welcome to Thwartness. And now the only two words that count: They rock.

Dale is on drums and keeps this machine moving forward, knocking out everything from the standard 4/4 stuff to time signatures in fractions I never even knew existed. Jennifer owns the bass and travels over the fretboard like a spider hopped up on espresso while her other hand keeps perfect time with both Dale and Travis, bridging the gap between rhythm and melody. Brooklyn Bridging the gap, none of that shaky suspension bridge shit. This unit is solid. Which is even more impressive since they’re keeping up with Travis, who is technically impressive enough to shred with the best, but knows when to dial it back enough to keep it interesting and knows how to write a hook with just six strings and nary a word. They mostly focus on the task at hand because this isn’t any formulaic bullshit that runs on auto-pilot. TLB moves through each song with the precision of a Blue Angels show, hitting their marks without fail. Travis and Jen often fly wing to wing, and it’s during these maneuvers in which you may see smiles slowly break on their faces like the twilight hues of a desert sunset. God, that was a horrible simile. They know they’re badasses but the smiles aren’t cocky; the smiles are because they’re loving what they do and they know they just made it worth your effort to come see them that night. Or what do I know… maybe they are cocky bastards. Go see them and decide for yourself. Say hi after the show and buy a CD. Take them to Denny’s for breakfast. Just don’t follow them city to city and camp beside their van in a tent every night. That would be creepy. They told me so.

I confess that I often get distracted by shiny new bands coming through town, but TLB reminded me that this genre is far from stale or dead. I spent the next few days listening to their latest CD Soundmind, as well as revisiting some other similar music from my past – Andy Timmons, Steve Morse Band, and Rush. I’m sorry I haven’t called in a while, baby. It won’t happen again. Just give me one more chance.

Cracky says show TLB some TLC.


  1. You got an honest face, and they're gonna tell you everything. But you cannot make friends with the rock stars. If you’re gonna be a true journalist--you know, a rock journalist-- First, you never get paid much. But you will get free records from the record company. Jesus. Fucking nothing about you that is controversial, man. God, it's gonna get ugly, man. They're gonna buy you drinks. You're gonna meet girls, they're gonna fly you places for free, offer drugs. I know it sounds great, but these people are not your friends. These are people who want you to write sanctimonious stories...about the genius of rock stars. And they will ruin rock 'n' roll, and strangle...everything we love about it, right? And then it just becomes an industry of cool.

  2. Thanks for the advice, Mr. B, but I don't think there's any danger of ol' Cracky being confused with a journalist of any sort or being a threat to rock n' roll. So send me that plane ticket and pass the NyQuil.

  3. Couldn't hide your tent from the band, huh, Cracky?

    Band sounds interesting, though. I'll have to give them a listen.