Last Night: Jason Webley at Bottom of the Hill

Categories: Last Night
jason webley.jpg
Jason Webley
Bottom of the Hill
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Review by Melissa Baron
Better Than:
Watching Lost. And that's saying something.

Weirdos, misfits, hippies, Burners, and punks gathered at the Bottom of the Hill last night-- backpacks, weird hats and all--- to see their hero, accordion superstar Jason Webley and his pal Sxip Shirey.

The two are touring together on the release of their combined efforts, an EP called Days With You. The disc is part of Webley's collaborative series, of which there will be 11 collaborations overall, each EP released in a limited run of 1,111 copies along with a full length CD and a lyric booklet with songs by each of the artists. Days is the fifth product of this series.

Sxip Shirley looked like a composer. He wore a suit that was more professional than extravagant, and the wiry gray curls of his hair and beard protruded majestically. He took the stage and fiddled with a flute covered in tape.

Shirley isn't your average musician. Where most people see toys as playthings, he sees them as instruments. He creates sound effects and sountracky pieces without touching a laptop. Stuffing a microphone into the end of a flute and using a reverb pedal, he summoned images of wind, dragons, dark forests, and black metal bands. He taped five music boxes together, all slightly out of tune with one other, and used them as the melody and chord progression for "Rain on the Roses," a song about Ireland with the sound of soft rain in the background.

He also performed a piece about his neighborhood in Brooklyn, which he described as including a Jewish bakery, a Hispanic church whose congregation always sings out of tune, a mosque, a place for Muslim people to buy live chickens, a reggatone-loving Jamaican population, and a raw food hippie commune that makes its money selling foot fetish porn. He played whistles, shakers, and harmonica into the feedback loop using pitch shifters and reverbs. As he layered sounds, the neighborhood came clearly into view. The reggaton beat pulsed under klezmer melodies, evoking a busy, multi-ethnic Brooklyn. He used the same approach to sonically describe Istanbul later on. Shirley left Webley with a big act to follow.

Webley, Seattle's punk rock accordion superstar, commanded the stage. Shy, soft-spoken and easily flustered in person, behind the microphone he's a masterful storyteller, charismatic performer, and a powerful singer. He played furiously, his signature hat perched high upon his head, and he slide around more with every pump of the accordion. Sometimes he played so aggressively his hat slid off his head, exposing his long hair, matted with sweat. As he sang, his face contorted with enthusiasm. His music sounded dark, mysterious, and whimsical. His voice was gruff, yet beautiful. Webley plays music for pirates, gypsies, and gutter punks.

Live, Webley always had a lot to say. He'd start into a song only to stop at least once so he could continue talking to the audience. He insisted the audience sing along, teaching the crowd the words to a drinking song, or dividing up the audience to fulfill the necessary orchestration (violins and trombones) for one of his songs.

When people wouldn't play along during his drinking song, Webley asked if he needed to get everyone drunk. They answered "Yes," and new Webley friends probably anticipated a free round for everyone. But seasoned fans knew what was coming next. He instructed the crowd to stick their fingers high in the air, stare and their hands, and spin around 12 times. The trick works every time, getting people "drunk" enough to hook arms with one another and sing along at the top of their lungs.

By the end of the show, people were also drunk off of the accordion, heavily satisfied from a night of excitingly eccentric and excellently crafted music.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: At the beginning of Webley's set, a girl dropped her beer right by my foot. The glass shattered everywhere and my shoes (made of cotton) and socks got completely soaked. I spent the entire evening with soggy feet. Kind of puts a damper on the things. Hey girl, if you read this, you ruined my shoes--I want some new ones!

By the way: The Days With You EP is available for sale on Webley's website.
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