Murder City Devils
You can’t keep a good devil down
What: Murder City Devils, Constant Lovers, Corey J. Brewer
When: 9 pm Sat., Feb. 4
Where: Wild Buffalo, 208 W. Holly St.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
By now, just about everyone the world over knows a thing or two about the ’90s grunge scene in Seattle, and about how a bunch of flannel-clad bands who loved distortion and had a lot of angst to burn somehow caused an unintentional musical revolution, the reverberations of which are still being felt in the Northwest music scene and beyond.
However, a little less attention is given to what followed on the heels of grunge, what came to fill the howling void left behind after major labels descended on Seattle, signing bands who looked the part (even if they sounded like shit) and helped bring about the end of a musical movement that was never sure it wanted to exist in the first place.
What band would step into that void? And what kind of sound would they bring with them when they did? Would it be the navel-gazing indie rock that is also intrinsic to the Northwest music scene? Would it be the polished Britpop that was edging out grunge as a radio staple?
It would be none of those things. Instead, it would be a swaggering crew of musicians who trafficked in big hooks and dark, in-your-face horror punk. They even throw a little farfisa in the mix to keep things interesting. They possessed all the gusto the grunge movement lacked, and with a surfeit of charisma and a killer live show, they set about taking the world by storm. They dubbed themselves—appropriately—the Murder City Devils, and it was not long before they were the flagship band of Seattle’s flagship label, Sub Pop Records. They were rowdy, they were fun, and after years of angst and taking ourselves so seriously, we were ready to show up to the party they were only too willing to throw.
For a time, it seemed the Murder City Devils would ride their own particular crazy train to great success. They played to bigger and bigger crowds, toured with the likes of Pearl Jam, Built to Spill, and At the Drive-In, and put out records rife with sing-along anthems. For awhile, it seemed impossible to go anywhere in the Pacific Northwest without hearing the distinctive strains of “Boom Swagger Boom” coming from a jukebox or blaring out a car window. Hell, Bellingham was so taken with the Murder City Devils that a bunch of local musicians got together and formed a band inspired by both their music and their live shows, and the baby devils of Black Eyes and Neckties would go on to earn their own place in our hearts and music histories.
But, as it so often happens, behind the scenes all was more boom than swagger in the Murder City Devils universe. After putting out a handful of albums and undertaking the relentless touring that goes with attempting to form a successful, sustainable musical enterprise, band members found themselves at odds with one another and wanting to focus on other things. They managed to keep the wheels on until 2001, when keyboardist Leslie Hardy left the band, and then decided to call it quits with an epic Halloween concert at the Showbox. Instead of going out in a blaze of glory as was their intent, the band instead became mired in an ugly legal battle with Sub Pop, thus ensuring they’d probably never want to play music together as the Murder City Devils again.
And for several years, it appeared that would be the case. Members of the Murder City Devils went on to play in other critically acclaimed and creatively fulfilling projects—singer Spencer Moody to Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death (along with former Bellingham musician and all-around artistic force Corey J. Brewer), bassist Derek Fudesco to Pretty Girls Make Graves and then the Cave Singers, drummer Coady Willis to Big Business and the Melvins, guitarist Dann Gallucci to Modest Mouse, and so on.
In other words, post-Murder-City-Devils reality proved artistically fruitful for the band’s former members.
But time, as they say, heals all wounds, and thanks to a festival circuit that loves nothing more than to revive defunct bands with offers of large audiences and sizeable paydays, the Murder City Devils roared back to life, first at 2006’s Capitol Hill Block Party, where they barnstormed that stage before doing the same the next night at a surprise show with the Blood Brothers at the Showbox. They reconvened just a year later in Austin for Fun Fun Fun Fest and haven’t really fully disappeared since.
They’ve even recorded new material—2014 saw the release of The White Ghost Has Blood on Its Hands Again, which introduced us to eight new Murder City Devils songs. As I type, the band is gearing up for a run of West Coast shows, to begin in Seattle before they make their way once again up the I-5 corridor to Bellingham, where they will play a Sat., Feb. 4 show at the Wild Buffalo with Constant Lovers and Corey J. Brewer.
If memory serves, the last time the band played here, it was back in 2000 during a giant underground music festival called “Showoff or Shutup!” that took place at Bellingham’s beloved DIY all-ages venue, the Show Off Gallery. It is true that the pyrotechnics employed by the band during their set probably went a long way toward the city shutting the space down for fire code violations, and while we’ve never fully recovered from the loss of the Show Off, we have fully forgiven the Murder City Devils for the part they inadvertently played in it.
Although I’m as happy to see them return to Bellingham as the next person, I will say that I hope they leave the Wild Buffalo still intact after playing their sold-out show at the venue. After all, that’s a whole lot of boom swagger boom for one small stage to contain.
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