The Dead Kenny G’s
The Pour House
June 23

Tempos, grooves, and volume levels went in all directions as Seattle-based punk-jazz trio The Dead Kenny G’s plowed through two sets of wild original material on a balmy Wednesday night. Only a few dozen attendees assembled in front of the Pour House main stage around 10:15 p.m. as drummer Mike Dillon, bassist Brad Houser, and tenor and baritone saxophonist Skerik took their places. Many in the audience had no idea what a crazy musical ride they were in for.

Standing at stage left, the shaggy-looking Dillon opened the set with a spooky, slow-pulsing intro on his vibraphone with light accompaniment from Skerik on what turned out to be the song “Death Panel” from the band’s new album Bewildered Herd. Dillon dissipated the final vibe chord with a wah-wah pedal before crashing into the first loud accent of a grim and heavy groove (in 11/4 time). It was the first of many sudden transitions that rattled and excited the hippies, jazz cats, and previously indifferent boozers in the room.

The size of the crowd increased as the dynamics of the set swelled. The trio pushed ahead with vigor and ‘tude through mostly instrumental pieces from their new disc, sneering and laughing at each other along the way. Switching between vibes, drum kit, and the timbales and tablas to his right, Dillon was the most animated (“I’m pumped up on coffee and ready to hit it,” he hollered after the first tune). Pacing between his vintage electric piano, his customized box of electronic effects and pedals, Skerik created some of trippiest, nastiest sounds of the night, at times simulating distorted guitar or organ by way of his reeds. Anchored in the middle of the stage with a five-string electric bass, Houser provided a calm balance, bridging the extreme musical mischief from either end of the stage.

The Dead Kenny G’s shifted gears all night, sometimes with stunning precision, sometimes with amusing recklessness. The proggiest art-noise moments resembled the complicated stuff of King Crimson (from both the Red and Discipline eras), John Zorn, and Frank Zappa. The deepest funk moments related with some of what Galactic and Medeski, Martin & Wood have been up to. The nastier “punk” moments aligned with the more experimental mayhem of the Minutemen (with their studio man Spot on horn), Tortoise, The Specials, and Shellac. Altogether, it rocked gruesomely. 

(Video footage by Joshua Curry)

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