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Pure inspiration: Pierced Arrows at Valentine’s.

Photo: Julia Zave

’Til Death

By Kirsten Ferguson

Pierced Arrows, Mudlark, Nuclear Family, Secret Service

Valentine’s, March 2


Unknown Passage, a grainy 2004 documentary about Dead Moon, a Pacific Northwest trio who belted out ragged but heartfelt garage punk for nearly 20 years before splitting not long after the movie’s release, was most interesting for its portrait of the group’s leaders, Fred and Toody Cole. Married for more than 40 years, and playing in bands together for much of that time, the Coles in the film come across as the coolest couple in rock, admirable for their unflagging spirit and true do-it-yourself punk ethic.

Living a relatively sparse existence in a homemade house outside Portland in the tiny frontier town of Clackamas, Ore., the Coles get by largely on ingenuity. Fred Cole, who has a musical history going back to the early ’60s when he played in Northwest garage bands as a teenager, makes his own instruments to sell at the couple’s Tombstone Music store and cuts Dead Moon albums to vinyl using a home lathe machine. The couple’s main indulgence is a low-level gambling habit that occasionally takes them off course during Dead Moon tours for unscheduled stops to play nickel slots. Otherwise, their dogged dedication to rock & roll—and each other—is inspirational.

Dead Moon split up in 2006 after the departure of drummer Andrew Loomis, but the Coles soldiered on, forming Pierced Arrows a year later with drummer Kelly Halliburton, a Portland native they met while on tour in Germany. “Mom and Dad aren’t ready to mellow out just yet,” Toody Cole told the Seattle Weekly at the time. She was right. They may now be in their 60s, but the Coles, who played at Valentine’s with Pierced Arrows on Tuesday night, still possess far more energy and raw spirit than musicians in much younger bands.

After a quick sound check of Fred Cole’s guitar amp, Halliburton—his drums perched right on the lip of the Valentine’s stage—took a slug from a Yuengling bottle and the band were off. They barely paused from one song to the next during a charged set of songs drawn from Pierced Arrows’ two albums: 2008’s Straight to the Heart and Descending Shadows, released recently on VICE records. Fred Cole cut an imposing figure onstage: tall, black cowboy hat, mane of wild hair and half moon tattooed on the side of his cheek. (Offstage, he was ever-friendly to fans.) Halliburton, hair stringy with sweat, a belt of bullets around his waist, pounded the drums with a primal caveman swing, and Toody, her own shock of gray hair flying feral, stepped up to the mike with abandon when it was her turn to take the vocal lead.

Pierced Arrows largely share Dead Moon’s brand of rough and ragged garage rock, underlain with Fred Cole’s gift for melody and on-the-darkside lyrics about life and death, but the new sound is a bit leaner, with a swampy, bluesy vibe on songs like “Let It Rain,” “Ain’t Love Strange” and the menacing “Paranoia,” its sinister lyrics punctuated by an intense Cole guitar freak-out. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two bands is the increased role of Toody Cole now; she first learned to play the bass at the request of her husband, who had tired of dealing with flaky male bass players, but Toody Cole is now a musical force in her own right, and she took the lead on more than half of Pierced Arrows’ songs. In part, it may have been to lend a hand to Fred Cole’s weakening voice; always a ragged howl, it now sounds a bit more strained.

Toody Cole shook her head “no” to fans yelling out for Dead Moon songs at the end of Pierced Arrows’ set, but the band closed the night with an encore featuring the signature Dead Moon song “It’s OK,” and the boisterous fans surrounding the stage went home happy. The night’s four-band bill, organized by Albany punk fan David Robinson, started off with well-received, ebullient sets by two cool female-fronted Albany punk bands, Secret Service and Nuclear Family. (Nuclear Family’s ripping cover of Buzzcock’s “Ever Fallen in Love” was a particular highlight.) Unfortunately, Mudlark from Massachusetts, who played “psychedelic hippie grunge” in the words of one attendee, were less inspired.

Tommy Shreds

Tommy Emmanuel

Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Feb. 20

The guitar god strides onstage, plugs in, and lunges into a no-holds-barred solo. Boom-bip-boom-bip. Whaaah! Chucka chucka chucka. Deedilee deedilee deedilee. Sounds like shred, right? Joe Satriani, maybe?

Nope. Last Saturday night at a packed Troy Music Hall, Australian acoustic-guitar whiz Tommy Emmanuel, a Grammy- nominated virtuoso fingerpicker in his mid-50s with roots in the Chet Atkins-Merle Travis tradition, spellbound the house with a display of matchless technical prowess. His mostly instrumental arrangements of material running from Beatles tunes to Tin Pan Alley standards to his original compositions were rooted in the alternate thumb-picking that Travis and Atkins inherited from black country blues players like Mississippi John Hurt and Blind Boy Fuller. But for Emanuel, plucking the melody with his right-hand fingers while his thumb swung pendulum-like in between the bass strings was only a starting point; from there he hot-rodded the style with dizzying single-note lead breaks, percussive effects reminiscent of flamenco guitar, peals of chimes using harmonics, and other devices to create a pyrotechnic spectacle that earned repeated standing ovations.

Dressed in a black blazer and jeans, the slender, graying Emmanuel opened his long set with a fast, unidentified guitar solo that sounded as if it could have been a conventional Tin Pan Alley tune before he commandeered it. The thumping bass and swingy chords soon yielded to his trademark techniques: By bracing his thumbpick with his index finger, he was able to use it for both up and down strokes like a flatpick and play blindingly fast treble riffs and dazzling cascades of harmonics.

Next was the 1934 Rodgers-Hart tune, “Blue Moon.” His snappy arrangement of the old chestnut featured a walking bass line under the melody and slapped staccato chords on the backbeat.

Emmanuel’s cavalcade of guitar tricks continued in his medley of Travis’ “Guitar Rag” and “Nine Pound Hammer.” He scat-sang in unison with his single-note breaks, and then rhythmically scratched a patch of bare wood behind the bridge of his guitar while tapping out a bass line with his left hand. In the beginning of “Over the Rainbow,” he artfully picked upper-register harmonics to mimic the pitter-patter of rainfall before introducing the theme of his lovely, reflective version.

Altogether different was “Initiation,” his impression of an aborigine ceremony in which the sounds of droning didgeridoos, tribal drumming, and various echo effects all poured forth from his guitar. Emmanuel is simply one of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever seen.

Opening was Emmanuel’s fellow Aussie Anthony Snape, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and powerhouse vocalist who strummed his guitar rather than fingerpicked. His well-played 1980s acoustic rock-sounding songs, however, would have fared better with electric backing.

—Glenn Weiser

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