Three’s a trio, four’s a quartet

You can tell a drummer’s got his mojo working when you can hear him half a block away. So it was last Friday night at Old Ironsides, when Baby Grand—a fine local trio—opened a three-band show. Guitarist Gerri Ranta (who also plays bass in the Skirts) and bassist Tim White (who also writes about the visual arts for SN&R) are no slouches in the noisemaking department, but drummer Tony Cale was slamming the skins hard enough to give Elvin Jones a run for his money. The result was a set of crisp pop originals, songs whose choruses and bridges featured nifty key changes that propelled them along rather nicely. And Ranta’s voice, which tends to go mildly flat but in an endearing girl-group sort of way, imbued her songs with a patina of Shangri-La toughness.

“We originally were going to have a much mellower sound,” White confessed after the set, citing the Cocteau Twins as a reference point. “But when we got [former BG drummer] Brian Machado and then Tony, obviously that wasn’t going to happen.”

Next up was another fine local trio, the Groovie Ghoulies. This band, of course, needs no introduction, as most local club habitués are familiar with the Ghoulies’ four-on-the-floor, Ramones-like attack. Suffice it to say that the Ghoulies take the Cramps’ formula and make it safe for a Saturday-morning cartoon audience. Which isn’t a putdown; some of us prefer our comic-book death imagery to be powered by a turbo-bubblegum drivetrain rather than by demented necrobilly Ed Wood-isms. Bassist-singer Kepi has the perfect nerdish voice for songs like “The Beast With Five Hands” and “Graveyard Girlfriend”; he may very well be the Bob Wilkins of rock ’n’ roll. Guitarist Roach is a goddess of the fretboard, ranging from rip-it-up rock to at least one atonal lead that would have made Albert Ayler smile. And Matt Kanelos, after six months in the Ghoulies’ drum chair, has developed into a solid powerhouse.

The headliners were Seattle’s Young Fresh Fellows, a quartet whose introduction by the Ghoulies’ Kepi bears repeating: “Some bands play rock ’n’ roll,” he said, noting that those bands do things like wash clothes and call girlfriends on off nights. “And some bands are rock ’n’ roll.” Ergo the Fellows, which sound like what might happen if you locked NRBQ in a cabin with 100 gallons of beer and the Nuggets boxed set.

Over the course of the evening, the Fellows, fronted by occasional R.E.M. member Scott McCaughey, who’s the closest thing to Ray Davies that America has produced, tore down the ceiling (literally) and tore up the house with a blistering set of tunes drawn from the band’s near-two decades of existence—brilliant numbers such as “Barky’s Spiritual Store” and “Mamie Dunn, Employee of the Month” from its recent album Because We Hate You, along with Fellows classics such as “I Got My Mojo Working (and I Thought You’d Like to Know).” It was the kind of night not easily forgotten.