5213 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, WA, 98107
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is 21 and over
Listening to Marvelous Clouds, Aaron Freeman's 2012 debut under his own name, fans might have felt that he was ignoring an elephant in his room—a drug-and-alcohol-related onstage flame-out that made viral headlines the year before. But Clouds, a deceptively chill Rod McKuen covers record, was just a warm-up for the artist once known as Gene Ween. In the opening minutes of FREEMAN, the self-titled debut from his new band, Freeman addresses addiction and its aftermath with the combination of merciless self-inventory and artful songcraft that earned Ween one of the most devoted fan bases in contemporary pop. This song, the unmistakably autobiographical "Covert Discretion," is a quiet shocker. "Save your judgments for someone else," Freeman sings. "Be grateful I saved me from myself."
As bitter as it sounds, the track clears the air. FREEMAN represents a new beginning— Aaron Freeman's first album of original material since disbanding Ween and getting sober—but it isn't a record mired in its maker's private struggles. It's simply a collection of gorgeous, subtly offbeat songs—in other words, a continuation of the thread that runs through the entire Ween catalog. The lush psychedelic pop of "The English and Western Stallion"; the melancholy plea of "More Than the World"; the unflappable, Plastic Ono Band–esque blues-rock of "Gimmie One More"—these are songs that bear the unmistakable Aaron Freeman stamp.
And to hear Freeman tell it, they wouldn't have been possible if he'd stayed in his old band. "There was so much of 'Aaron had to break up Ween because of addiction' and 'Aaron broke up Ween in order to pursue his solo work,' " he says. "But I broke up Ween because we were at a creative dead end way before our last record, La Cucaracha. Basically we were going through the motions, becoming a showcase band."
Freeman stresses that FREEMAN is more about renewal than turning his back on the past. "I want this record to pay homage to Ween," he says. "These are the same songs I would've written in Ween—except without [ex-bandmate] Mickey." Several tracks hark back to the role-playing that was a hallmark of Freeman's back-catalog: "(For a While) I Couldn't Play My Guitar Like a Man," a badass blues-rock meditation on lost mojo; or "Black Bush," a trippy, heavily stylized ode to the natural beauty of Freeman's recently adopted hometown of Woodstock.
But there's also a fresh perspective here, the sound of a shadow lifting. "Delicate Green," which savors life's everyday blessings, is one of the sweetest, most sincere songs Freeman has written. And "All the Way to China" and "El Shaddai" reference Jewish texts—Kabbalah readings and James A. Michener's The Source, respectively—that guided him through his darkest times. "There's a lot of spiritual stuff on here because that really helped me," Freeman says. "I listened to a lot of reggae—'Jah gonna help me through Babylon,' you know? I listened to a lot of Paul McCartney too, and I thought, if he can do this, break up the fucking Beatles, I can certainly break up Ween and be okay."
Aaron Freeman has also turned his back on substance abuse, a fact that might concern fans who mistake intoxication for inspiration. "I wrote the songs I wrote in Ween despite all the drugs and alcohol I was doing, not because," Freeman says. "Most people don't get sobriety at all. They assume you're this better-than-thou monk sitting on a mountain, judging everybody. It's not that way: You have to let everybody do their thing, and you get weirder." A song like FREEMAN's "Golden Monkey," which rivals Ween's underrated Quebec for sheer mind-warping brilliance, proves Freeman's point.
In order to get to FREEMAN, Aaron Freeman had to make a clean break. "If I hadn't left my partnership, there wouldn't be anything," he explains. "I'd probably be dead too. I know that at the end of the day, this is the best thing I could've done for me and for every Ween fan." FREEMAN, an album that distills the Aaron Freeman aesthetic—built on equal parts wonder and malaise, frankness and mysticism, defiance and vulnerability—to its headiest essence, proves his point. This man, known for so long by another name, is finally free
Arc Iris crystallizes the evolution of composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Jocie Adams, a former core member of renowned indie-folk band The Low Anthem. This is a breakaway moment for Adams, who now takes center stage as composer, lyricist, and lead vocalist. Embracing her new role as auteur, Adams has created a genre-bending style that often shifts between cabaret-infused jazz, orchestral sophistication, grimy
outlaw country, delicate and whimsical harmonies, and big-band exhilaration – sometimes all in the same song. Hers is an all-together different world where fantastical whimsy goes hand in hand with down-to-earth grit, and where rigorous classical training inflects but never softens the visceral rawness of hard-won experience.
Adams is a refreshingly grounded character who draws on the same combination of technical wizardry and lighthearted wonder whether she is grappling with a complex set of notes or rigging up an indoor playground for her cat. She's dabbled in rocket science, but a stint working at NASA isn't really what sets her apart – it's the fact that she couldn't care less about it. That same freedom of spirit compelled Adams, who is a classically trained composer, to make the leap to the world of rock when she joined The Low Anthem in 2007. Now, she's transformed herself once again by carving out a space that is wholly her own within the worlds of lyric writing and orchestral arrangement.
Songs on the 11 track album range in sonic and emotional intensity - from the patient brooding of "Honor of the Rainbows" to the smoky cyclical aura of "Lost on Me."
Adams' vast aesthetic vision is matched only, and appropriately, by the band's multifaceted musicianship, which includes Zach Tenorio-Miller on piano, Mike Irwin on trumpet, Robin Ryczek on cello, Ray Belli on drums, Max Johnson on bass, and Charlie
Rose on steel banjo and trombone. In rehearsing, the group drew inspiration from a range of artists, in particular Dirty Projectors, Harry Nilsson, and Leonard Cohen. The album's unique sound is informed as much by Joni Mitchell as it is by Björk's sonic experiments and sweeping film soundtracks.
Yet while songs on the album pull just as readily from 19th century cello and 1970s pop, what emerges cannot be called mere eclecticism. Adams' style is highly focused at every twist and turn, creating an aesthetic where juxtaposed edges are sharpened rather than blunted. In "Money Gnomes," the rollicking simplicity of a bluegrass bassline makes room for sweeping, cello-infused turns around the dance floor. Part
morning jaunt down a dusty road, part lithe-limbed waltz, the music, like its lyrics, seems to offer potential for adventure and ultimately, in the breathy mantra of its coda, intimacy.
"Swimming," meanwhile, infuses the wry commentary and piano-draping antics of a folkcabaret routine with woozy, orchestral impressionism. Saucy trumpet hits—doubled in
Adams's vocals—and the obsessive ticking of snare and high-hat foreshadow, but never quite give away, the song's eventual, and eminently satisfying, dissolution into wailing rock outro. Together the pieces cohere to explore the concept of the new – an experience that is as intoxicating as it is terrifying. "Arc Iris encapsulates that sense of the future for me," Adams says, "a sign of something beautiful that will hold my hand for a long time."
The group's fearless embrace of juxtaposition is apparent in the way they practice and perform. Members won't hesitate to spend hours tinkering with a few notes if it means enhancing the synthesis of sound and storytelling. "We will always try every single idea," Adams explains. (Her neighbors probably agree – one morning after a rehearsal went past 3 a.m., a crew arrived to install sound-proofing for the house next door). Yet on stage, disciplined background morphs seamlessly into spontaneous innovation. Band members don't have set parts so the group never quite repeats itself two nights in a row. The musicians say that such on-the-spot acts of creation require two key ingredients: mutual trust, and individual nerve. And, they say, "we've got a pretty healthy dose of both." This rare mix of obsessive attention to detail and quirky playfulness is a distinguishing feature of Arc Iris. This is what makes it possible to have, on the one hand, an album so refined and tightly crafted that it considers everything including the cords that connect one track to the next – and yet on the other hand have the musicians gleefully sum it all up as "mystical rainbow fairy kitten astronauts hurtling through the cosmos."