Fugazi’s Brendan Canty and director Christoph Green have been busy filming the likes of Wilco and Bob Mould these past few months, but luckily the lads have made some time to return with the much-revered Burn to Shine series, this time set in grunge’s cradle and grave: Seattle.
The musical landscape has changed since Kurt offed himself to escape stardom and Courtney, as flannel angst has been replaced by pop’s cautious optimism. For this fifth installment of the series, Canty and Green were lucky enough to have the assistance of Mr. Indie Pop himself, Ben Gibbard, in amassing Seattle’s star-studded Burn to Shine lineup. Rather than rely on Seattle label Barsuk’s entire roster (though let’s be honest, there’s quite a few Barsuk alumni to be found), Gibbard gathered a large swatch of Seattle sounds. Sure, Emerald City is no longer thought of as a hotbed of musical breakthrough, but Burn to Shine’s Seattle installment may in fact change that perception.
Before going further, we should recap BTS’ credo for anyone unfamiliar with the series: Gather local bands in a specific house, have those bands setup and tear through one song each, capture the home’s demise, end film. For the Seattle location, the series is blessed with a home setting unlike any other BTS installment, and it occurred to me more than once that this house didn’t seem destined for the same fate as the jalopies and fixer-uppers of BTS past. Of course, Seattle is in the midst of burrow gentrification, so any house essentially has a bull’s-eye to ambitious condo contractors.
Spook the Horse has the distinct pleasure of inaugurating the set with “Another New Year,” which is a good bar room rocker from a good bar room band. One-hit wonders (and Seattle wunderkind) Harvey Danger follow with “Little Round Mirrors” from their largely ignored ‘comeback’ album Little By Little. It proves to be a shaky showing, with the fellas looking quite nervous in front of the cameras.
It’s about this time when the show would seem to be sinking, if it were not for the heartfelt and stripped-down beauty of Jesy Fortino (a.k.a. Tiny Vipers). Similar bare performances begin to take over. Dave Bazan breathes passion into “Cold Beer and Cigarettes” with a flurry of awkward facials to drive home the nonsensical tale; Gibbard contributes “Broken Yolk in Western Sky,” which may be half of a song, but it’s the best half; and The Cave Singers — Seattle’s latest buzz — deliver the dark pall BTS has been waiting for, with their dirge “Called.” Eddie Vedder, however, provides the star-powered cherry on top, as he does his best one-man show with his ukulele during a frenzied performance of “Can’t Keep.”
Although Seattle’s BTS thrives as a bare-bones operation, the kicks in the ass it receives from Blue Scholars, Kinski, and Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death are enough to push the DVD over the edge. Blue Scholars are Seattle’s best kept secret: there’s hip-hop in them there green hills and Space Needles. Meanwhile, Kinski transforms their usually-methodical performances into a giant ball of early ‘80s Sonic Youth energy during “Crybaby Blowout,” as Triumph of Lethargy prove that, while Seattle has transformed into a kinder, gentler music metropolis, there’s still plenty of angst and rage to be found with the blistering beats and primal screams of “Big Bed.”
BTS: Seattle finds the series flexing its muscle. It’s a blend of big names and local favorites, but it’s the pacing of the performances (kept in chronological order) that captures how far Green and Canty have come since Burn to Shine’s inception. What was once a series built around a simple, yet interesting idea has transcended its scrambled beginnings to become a cohesive and inspiring staple.