In a city where residents can simultaneously be too quick to self-congratulate and wear their shortcomings and bitterness like a talisman, I must approach a year-end summary of Tacoma's music scene largely with optimism, but also a necessary pragmatism. In my opinion (three words one should strongly remember in the reading of this article), this was generally a pretty good year for Tacoma music. While there were setbacks like the seemingly permanent dissolution of the Peabody Waldorf, for instance, there was also the rising of newer venues like Dorky's Arcade and the Space. While the Nightgowns have gone on an indefinite hiatus, newer bands like Not From Brooklyn have begun to establish themselves in town, while the Night Beats have established themselves internationally.
There are always going to be ups and downs, but I am of the tentative opinion (there's that word again!) that we are moving away from a one-step-forward-two-steps-back model, and actually starting to gather some semblance of momentum. Stalwarts of the Tacoma music scene have remained strong in 2011, and the new school of venues and bands are beginning to make themselves visible and vocal.
It is with this point of view that I approach this admittedly modest rundown of the people and things in Tacoma music that really stuck out in 2011. I encourage others to share their favorite things, as well as further reflection on what they mean to the shaping of Tacoma as a whole. 2012 can be something special, so long as our tenancy for stagnancy is shunned in favor of forward motion.
So, without further ado...
Best Zeitgeist-y Tacoma Moment: Vicci Martinez
Vicci Martinez is as good a place to start as any, when reflecting on the year Tacoma had. For those who live under a rock or were too cool to take notice, Tacoma's own Vicci Martinez had a remarkable run on the NBC singing competition, The Voice. Martinez eventually landed in the top four, just short of taking the whole thing. This is notable for a number of reasons, most obviously because of the pride we have in our own, and the deftness with which Martinez handled her performances over several weeks on national television. We couldn't have asked for a more charming, talented and humble representative of our neck of the woods. Despite not taking the top prize, Martinez took full advantage of what was really a several-week-long audition for anyone who was watching, and has since received a record contract.
In considering the best live performances I saw over the course of 2011, it's quite difficult to narrow down the list to just one (or even just four, which is what I have done). Every band brings something different to the table - a show-stopping song, an all-encompassing energy, an embracing of the uniqueness of a live performance. The bands I have chosen are merely the ones that stick out to me upon first reflection.
Mikal Cronin: An associate of Ty Segall, as well as a uniquely gifted musician and songwriter in his own right, I had high expectations for Cronin when he came breezing through Tacoma. He surpassed all of them. A high-energy set, culminating in a crushing rendition of the Who's "A Quick One While He's Away."
I Will Keep Your Ghost: Dance music with jagged edges. I Will Keep Your Ghost closed out an already pretty sweaty show and still managed to hype everyone the f*** up, filling in the area at the front of the stage where Tacomans fear to tread.
Paris Spleen: Performing on the same bill as IWKYG, Paris Spleen made a triumphant return. It actually felt like it had been forever since the band had performed, and they seemed hungry and alive to be back on that stage. In between chugs of vodka and removing of shirts, Paris Spleen blew the roof off the place.
Battle Stations: I've remembered Battle Stations ever since seeing them way back in January. The band left quite an impression. A sci-fi dance-punk outfit from Seattle, there was something so entrancing and unusual about the herky-jerking drive of the music, and the strange assemblage of characters performing it.
Best Local Album I Heard
Derek Kelley and the Speedwobbles, Bourgeoisie Marmalade
I've said it before, and in greater detail, but Bourgeoisie Marmalade is not only the best local album I heard all year, it's one of the best albums to come out in 2011 - period. A super-group of sorts, the Speedwobbles are made up of members of Wallpaper, the Vells, Abraham, the New Faces and the Brite Futures. I don't know if we'll see another release from the Speedwobbles, but it's encouraging to hear so much local talent on one record. 2012 really will be something special if these guys stick around.