Frank shoulda been pissed

Not to belabor a point, but there’s a reason the music business is dead. Nay, seriously dead—as in moldering in its grave and leaking fluids faster than that butterfaced blonde from the Black Eyed Peas. All you had to do was watch Sunday night’s Grammy telecast to figure that one out.

Or not watch. The lowlights would be up on YouTube shortly, where one could witness plenty of cringe moments like the hurl-worthy spectacle of watching someone named Alicia Keys emote like a bad Ramada Inn lounge singer in a “duet” with a computer-generated Frank Sinatra. Now, I dunno if Frank would have approved, but if it was my post-life image up on that screen, my malevolent spirit would be crawling back from the grave to personally drag Keys and her patron, BMG Label Group chief Clive Davis, to a very unpleasant afterlife.

Anyway, I had other plans Sunday that didn’t involve sitting through a four-hour telecast—plans that suddenly fell through, so I wound up looking for a little music and night life on an off-night in this town of 5,000 sushi restaurants and zero late-night Punjabi curry joints.

The Press Club seemed like a good place to start. Yeah, the last time I wrote about that particular venue in this space, it pissed off some guy who later pasted me to a brick wall with a drunken harangue outside a club across town. Note to that guy: The Press Club’s feng shui seems much better aligned now. It’s kinda not bad, actually.

Around 10:20 p.m., the Cowboy Killers—on this night, a trio featuring guitarist and singer Jay Shaner, bassist Ben Hoke and drummer James Neil—began playing on the club’s triangular stage. Shaner’s one of those guys who’s quite easy to underestimate, given his natural inclination toward self-deprecation, so you end up continually being surprised at how good he can be. Going by the tracks he has posted at, you’d think he was a garden-variety singer-songwriter, but in a band context—either with the Cowboy Killers or with the Ghosts of California, the currently on-hiatus band he co-fronts with Scott McChane—an electrified Shaner comes off like a homegrown version of Neil Young.

The similarities aren’t hard to spot—a pastoral vibe and a tendency toward wide-open imagery in the songwriting, a vocal delivery more smoothed-over than barking or gruff, and a utilitarian electric-guitar underpinning that steps forward with the requisite sizzle whenever a song’s bridge calls for it. Although, with the Cowboy Killers, Shaner seems to lack the tension-generating counterpoint he’s had in the Ghosts with McChane, he found enough grist with this lineup to unleash several jaw-dropping solos.

“Wasn’t the Grammy Awards tonight?” Shaner asked the 20-some people in the audience. “Guess you decided not to watch, too.”

The headliner was another trio, Sundown Machine from Portland, Ore., featuring a guy named Rick Bain playing a Gibson SG and his wife Amyjane on bass; they took turns singing every other song, tunes that had that post-glam, OxyContin-pop flavor common to many bands from the Northwest. They were all right. One of the local musicians in the audience commented on Bain’s alleged prowess as a songwriter, but we have writers just as good here. If not better.

Well, screw the Grammys, anyway.