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 Tobi Vail

Hello from Olympia, WA – 2: Morgan And The Organ Donors, Hooded Hags + The Maxines, live at the Midnight Sun

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Hooded Hags live

Words: Ms Tobi Vail
Photography: Armin C. Antonio

Saturday night, Spider And The Webs reconvened at the practice pad to cram in a quick rehearsal before nightfall. We ran through our new songs and then The Webs (Chris and James) had to go load equipment to play a show with two of their other bands. James Maeda plays guitar in Morgan and the Organ Donors (M.O.D.’s), who are fronted by local punk rock librarian, the lovely Ms. Sara Peté. Chris Sutton plays guitar and sings in Portland’s Hooded Hags with his lady friend Karen Harrington (ex-Cat Fancy). Both groups opened up for The Maxines’ record release party at The Midnight Sun.

The Maxines are a local garage-rock band on K but they are from Texas originally. They are underdogs in the sense they don’t come across as snobby scenesters but create their own kingdom of clean -cut cool and invite everyone to the party. When I asked Calvin Johnson to describe them he said:

The Maxines are cave dwellers from outer space, the guitar drum shout that just won’t evolve right. A can of paint won’t fix them, broken bottles won’t stop them, Frank Sinatra is sitting up in his grave.

Olympia loves our local bands but the show got a lot of word-of-mouth hype. I hoped this meant people would actually show up but too much promotion sometimes works to your disadvantage here. Bands that are big draws sometimes flop because free shows and local bands create a lot of competition. This is why most touring bands tend to skip it. Generally local shows are better attended but it’s hard to predict, adding an element of drama to things, which causes band members to freak out pre-show.

Morgan And The Organ Donors (M.O.D.’s) were up first so I put my dancing shoes on (black low tops) and ran down the street to The Midnight Sun. The Olympia All Ages Project put on the show and are looking for a permanent home. You’d think that after 30 solid years of a vibrant music scene Olympia would have a regular all-ages show space but the city makes it hard; there is a lot of red tape and bullshit rules that punish the kids for being under-21. When we arrived, the volunteers working the door had given up on trying to find a door-stamp and their sharpie had run out of ink. This meant they had to memorize your face or the show was free. It kind of didn’t seem to matter as so many people had already paid to get in that it was already full. This was good news; the bands could chill and play for fun.

M.O.D.’s are a feminist garage-punk outfit from Olympia that rock out with style and substance. In fitting with their initials, the group’s sartorial choices were stunning – Sara wore a wiglet, purple suede boots and a psychedelic polyester dress that was in keeping with her recent switch from a vintage country-mod aesthetic to more of a John Waters-loud-lady-with-big-hair-and-extreme-eye-make-up look. James donned a classic red and black tartan flannel; Fajr, the drummer, wore a sporty plaid that matched and Leah, the newish-sometime-bassist, had on light colored jeans and a tuxedo shirt. I like a band that takes the time to dress up, it makes them seem cohesive and prepared. But M.O.D.’s always dress well, even when they aren’t playing a show.

Morgan And The Organ Donors live

Saturday night’s set was wild and high energy. Sara’s voice was low and loud on the angry feminist anthems and sweetly strong on the soulful ballads. James’ guitar tone was precise and Leah’s solid basslines gave him space to play rhythm and lead. Fajr rocked her drumkit like a young Molly Neuman: she is easily my favorite punk drummer in town. The audience responded by dancing and staying for the whole set. The band fed off the crowd energy, giving detailed explanations of lyrics in between the songs. While ‘Mood Swingin” and ‘Prochoice’ are both good, my favorite moment of their set was the last song, a cover of ‘Sometime’ by Gene Thomas, which featured Sara on electric guitar and James’ super-killer slide guitar debut. It was great to hear Sara sing a song that showcased her vocal talent.

Don’t let her aggro-snarl fool you, this woman has a voice to rival Nico and the capability to sing country, soul and classic American R&B, although she doesn’t always get a chance to show it off in M.O.D.s. Hopefully they will do more of this, though I fully dig the feminist fury of their punk songs too. Rumor has it they plan to head into the studio as soon they get around to building it.

Next up was Hooded Hags, who ruled the dance-floor and satisfied my Dionysian cravings. I can’t fucking believe how great sounding this band is live. I truly love them. They are the perfect mix of minimalist garage and total weirdo note-y guitar freak-outs that sound equal parts Electric Eels and Fire Engines with a little bit of 13th Floor Elevators psych thrown in for atmosphere. They have a pop songwriting sensibility that is reminiscent of Hunx And His Punx, but live they get freaky, in a good way.

The first half of their set was pretty straight forward melodic garage-pop, not unlike Hornet Leg, one of Chris’ other bands -they used repetition to hypnotize the crowd into a trance. At that point they started playing ‘Doctor’, which somehow distills Link Wray’s ‘I’m Branded’ into pure magnetism and pulled me to the front to be as close as possible to their wild sound. Things got crazy and they unleashed all their total weirdo songs with false stops and chaotic structure one after the next. It was kind of like The Monks, where you think they are going to change and it just keeps going until you lose your mind and jump around like a maniac. Listening to how Chris and Karen’s guitar playing fit together made me wonder if Mick Collins and Poison Ivy have ever jammed! Seriously, their sound is punk-meets-groovy-in-a-haunted-house-full-of-ghosts-dressed-up-like-cats-or-beatnik-witches or something. Perfect music for dance parties. They plan to record their debut LP at the end of February for a summer release.

As The Maxines were setting up Billy Karren said, “Tobi, check out his guitar!” and sure enough, Matt has the exact same red plastic Kay guitar that Kathi Wilcox played in The Frumpies. It is a cheap instrument with a plastic pick up built into the white pick guard but these days they are expensive. Matt said he got his for $50 and I think Kathi paid $100 but times have changed. When they started playing I wanted him to turn up the reverb and mxr pedal but his sound was heavier reminding me more of the first Lovechild single than The Frumpies. I wondered if they could pull off headlining over two great bands. Possibly because all the bands are such fans of each other and mutually supportive the audience followed suit, dancing to Buddy Holly in between sets, who seems to embody the upbeat, earnest positivity of The Maxines.

These days whenever anyone is in a garage duo people think of The White Stripes, but despite their beefy guitar sound, The Maxines make me think more of early love rock bands like Some Velvet Sidewalk or Kicking Giant. Like Beat Happening, both groups challenged the idea that a band had to have a bass player, which at the time really pissed people off. People were mad Mecca Normal didn’t have a drummer too. I don’t think it started out as a political move, but the idea that friends could play a show without following the rules was incredibly radical at the time. The funny thing is, I think that in all these cases the bands were just people who happened to make music together as a way to hang out and have a musical conversation. Why add a bass player when it sounded good already? Although it’s been years since this changed, watching The Maxines I was reminded of the love rock aesthetic – the band seems to be based in genuine friendship – to add another person would dilute the intimacy that comes across in their songs. They were also quieter than most garage rock bands, giving them more of an indie vibe. I am a sucker for male/female vocal interplay and they excel at that.

Their set was quick and quirky, full of dorky audience participation and goofy kids dancing like crazy. Matt told me later that he is a drummer, which kind of makes sense, as their songs are more rhythm based than melody driven, and their catchiness comes from the way the guitar and drums swing in and out of sync, like Bo Diddley or the first Tronics tape. This makes them really fun to dance to. Instead of jumping up and down I found myself doing a version of the twist with some mashed potato inspired foot stomping and flailing arm movements. I remember feeling like I knew it probably looked stupid but I didn’t care because it was fun and I wanted to shake it up with the rest of Olympia. They ended the night by bringing Sara Peté onstage to help them sing M-E-L-V-I-N followed by a rowdy rendition of ‘Toolie Froolie’ by Bobby Lee Trammell that made the crowd go wild. Stay tuned for a west coast tour. The Maxines are planning to make a video next week and hope to tour the world when they get around to it. In real life Matt is a dad and is trained as an RN and Kelly is a counselor at Evergreen so it could be awhile.

After the show everyone who played went across the street to Ben Moore’s because it just wasn’t time to go home yet. All the bands have crushes on each other and were gushing with love. Chris Sutton said:

That was one of the best shows that I’ve been to in Olympia in quite a while. All of the bands played really well and each one of their styles meshed.

Kelly agreed:

The show Saturday night was pretty much the best I’ve been to in a long time – I mean, MODs AND Hooded Hags at the same time was such a cool thing to see. I’m so glad we got the chance to play with such amazing bands who I also really like personally.

Sara noted:

Hooded Hags and The Maxines are two of my favorite bands so it was really exciting to get to play with them both.   I didn’t feel as pukey nervous as I usually do and it just felt good…

Everyone agreed that it was the best Morgan And The Organ Donors show yet and that Hooded Hags ruled but it was The Maxines who made the show happen:

In Calvin’s words:

The Maxines record release party last Saturday night a rave-up mess! By the time they hit the stage I was ready to go home but then they started in with their primitive grind and all subtlety was lost (not like it ever had a chance in that steam bath). They didn’t play long, just long enough for everyone to re-evaluate rock’n’roll from the inside out and decide it was still heavy breathing.

Word. As my Grandma Vail used to say:

We had a time.

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