Sxip Shirley looked like a composer. He wore a suit that was more professional than extravagant, and the wiry gray curls of his hair and
beard protruded majestically. He took the stage and fiddled with a
flute covered in tape.
Shirley isn't your average musician. Where most
people see toys as playthings, he sees them as instruments.
He creates sound effects and sountracky pieces without touching a
laptop. Stuffing a microphone into the end of a flute and using a
reverb pedal, he summoned images of wind, dragons, dark forests, and
black metal bands. He taped five music boxes together, all slightly out of tune
with one other, and used them as the melody and chord progression for
"Rain on the Roses," a song about Ireland with the sound of soft rain
in the background.
He also performed a piece about his neighborhood
in Brooklyn, which he described as including a Jewish bakery, a Hispanic church whose congregation
always sings out of tune, a mosque, a place for Muslim people to buy
live chickens, a reggatone-loving Jamaican population, and a raw food
hippie commune that makes its money selling foot fetish porn. He played
whistles, shakers, and harmonica into the feedback loop using pitch
shifters and reverbs. As he layered sounds, the neighborhood came
clearly into view. The reggaton beat pulsed under klezmer melodies, evoking a busy, multi-ethnic Brooklyn. He used the same approach to sonically describe Istanbul later on. Shirley left Webley with a big act to follow.
Seattle's punk rock accordion superstar, commanded the stage. Shy,
soft-spoken and easily flustered in person, behind the microphone he's a masterful
storyteller, charismatic performer, and a powerful singer. He played
furiously, his signature hat perched high upon his head, and he slide around more with every pump of the accordion. Sometimes he played so
aggressively his hat slid off his head, exposing his long hair, matted with sweat. As he sang, his face contorted with enthusiasm. His music
sounded dark, mysterious, and whimsical. His voice was gruff, yet
beautiful. Webley plays music for pirates, gypsies, and gutter punks.
Live, Webley always had a lot to say. He'd
start into a song only to stop at least once so he could continue talking to
the audience. He insisted the audience sing along, teaching the crowd the
words to a drinking song, or dividing up the audience to fulfill the
necessary orchestration (violins and trombones) for one of his songs.
When people wouldn't play along during his drinking song, Webley asked if he needed to get everyone drunk. They answered "Yes," and new
Webley friends probably anticipated a free round for everyone. But
seasoned fans knew what was coming next. He instructed the crowd to stick their fingers high in the air, stare and
their hands, and spin around 12 times. The trick works every time, getting people "drunk"
enough to hook arms with one another and sing along at the
top of their lungs.
By the end of the show, people were also drunk
off of the accordion, heavily satisfied from a night of excitingly eccentric
and excellently crafted music.
Personal bias: At the beginning of Webley's set, a girl
dropped her beer right by my foot.
The glass shattered everywhere and my shoes (made of cotton) and socks
got completely soaked. I spent the entire evening with soggy feet.
Kind of puts a damper on the things. Hey girl, if you read this, you
ruined my shoes--I want some new ones!
By the way: The Days With You EP is available for sale on Webley's website.