I needed a cooler climate. After bounding around and baking in the American Southwest for the last few years, I headed to that green, wet, gray, elusive corner known as the Pacific Northwest. The ’79 Corona proved to have enough life to get me there, but barely. I drove the last 85 miles through the mountain passes with one windshield wiper, squeeking loud enough to pierce the sitar in my headphones. At 6 AM on January 30th, 2005, I pushed the car into a Salvation Army parking lot in south Seattle and left it forever. I taped a “Free” notice to the windshield, then headed north on foot.
I had to traverse the whole of downtown to get to the Crocodile Cafe — Seattle’s dingiest, dirtiest, and drunkest music space around. A fitting venue for my resurface on the West coast. Of course, it wasn’t open, and wouldn’t be for another eight hours. I headed to the 24-hour cafe on the corner, and came out 7 Rainiers later. The bouncer at the Crocodile gave me a cockeyed glance when I presented my dusty and torn Usounds credentials. It might have been the picture from ’87, or the Tecate stains from the barfight in Diablo. He waved me through at any rate. I wouldn’t have been denied; a little known (in America) gem of a musician was on stage that night: Matt Hales, or Aqualung.
I was awaking from a slumber at Maria’s pad on the outskirts of Tuscon when I first heard “Strange and Beautiful” playing over a commercial. There are certain voices, upon first touch, that carry undoubtable musical weight — the weight of loss and labor. But weight can be something to suffocate yourself gladly under — the case with Aqualung. There is a certain powerful witchcraft at work here, not only in the literal catchphrases — “I’ll put a spell on you/And when you awake/I’ll be the first thing you see/And you’ll realize/That you love me” — but in the common experience of disguised inner-pain: “I’ve been secretly… fallin apart…. sometimes, the waiting is all you can do.”
On stage, Hales presence is not nearly as melancholic as he sounds on record. He has an arresting personality, entirely comfortable on stage. He exchanged banter all evening with the crowd, as I lingered in the background gleefully downing PBRs, enjoying thoroughly this artful performance. As you listen to his piano work (Hales is a classicly trained musician) you realize that 1) Stange and Beautiful is not nearly his best song — that goes to the sincere and poetic “Seven Keys” — and 2) Aqualung should have won the Mercury Prize (which went to the soul-free Franz Ferdinand — please, don’t dance with me, Michael).
Amazingly, Aqualung played to a full house at the Crocodile, despite the absence of a U.S. release. That will finally take place on March 22, with an album combining songs from his 2 UK releases. After you buy the album, you should do as I did after the show: pour a thermos of wine, fire up the Aqualung, and find a spot where the sun will come up.
Brighter Than Sunshine Audio: