Columbia City Theater, Seattle, WA – 2/24/12: A colleague of mine once said that as fans of great live shows, we are always searching for a million dollar show in a thousand dollar venue. To me that means that we want a show worthy of a grand arena while in a small space that can keep things intimate. This Deep Sea Diver show at the Columbia City Theater was one of those shows. Everything came together so perfectly. The crowd was full of excitement before, during and after the show.
To call this show a complete surprise isn’t entirely fair, my friend Emily and I had heard DSD on KEXP several times but that’s about all we had to go on. Sure Jessica Dobson was a sweet sounding backup singer for the Damien Jurado album release show the week prior. Sure, we knew she is going to be a part of the new Shins lineup. We had done a little research on Zune and found a few scraps of EPs to catch up on some old stuff. The show had sold out. Lots of good signs. So, to say that a killer, well crafted, excellent sounding show by a band with huge promise was a complete surprise, isn’t totally fair. That didn’t make it any less enjoyable when they met all our building expectations.
Turns out that the DSD we were listening to on Zune was a completely different band. We got to chat with the drummer – Jessica’s husband Peter Mansen – after the show and to his surprise and ours, they hadn’t released anything before the album they were there to promote – History Speaks. Totally different band we were listening to leading up to the show. We had wondered why there was male lead singer instead of Jessica. That helped catch us a bit off guard.
Another element of the surprise was something I’d been hearing a lot about, that this venue – Columbia City Theater – is one of Seattle’s hidden gems. And it’s only just down the street from me. In all my years living in some great urban neighborhoods in NYC and Boston, I’ve never been this close to a venue with so much potential. We’d only know this venue as the location for some burlesque shows that we’d meant to check out, but lately they’ve been booking som great gigs – including Cold War Kids that I’m going to take in next week.
There is a bar up front that leads into the back room with the stage – a long room with descending levels as you head towards the front and a long stairway/balcony that runs along the left wall. Maybe it’s the old construction but the sound doesn’t go anywhere in there. All the layers of sound that the band were putting out melded seemlessly together. No annoying fuzz over the top of everything where certain sounds aren’t supported.
With all the pieces coming together – the “pleasant surprise” aspect, a great venue, it was up to the band to deliver a killer set, and they did just that. Over the course of the show I heard elements of bands I have huge love for – PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple and Arcade Fire. I wouldn’t throw those names around lightly, I realize what shoes a band would have to fill if you throw those names around. Deep Sea Diver behind the confident lead of Jessica Dobson – smoking hot in black mini skirt – fills in the shoes easily. The band hails from Long Beach apparently, which must have a great scene, what with Cold War Kids being from there and all.
There were two guitarists including Jessica – who played a mean guitar, not wielding the axe for mere support at all – a bassist and Jessica would occasionally play keyboard. For a few songs there was a three-piece string section that rounded out the sound nicely. They even did a cover of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. I’ve seen Ween do it better, but it was a great sound just the same. Her songs on the keyboard reminded me most of Fiona Apple, a building melody on one song sounded like an Arcade Fire b-side and the presence Jessica had along with the bluesy rock vibe they were maintaining made it feel like an American PJ Harvey act.
This band and that presence at the front of it are going to be a band to watch and enjoy again and again. I’m glad they’ve made their way to Seattle from Long Beach, we’re lucky to have them. Jessica has been good enough for the likes of Beck and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and she and her band deserve all that’s coming to them.