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Big-Time Blues 

by JEFF ECHERT & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & C & lt;/span & onfession time: I'm new to Spokane. Things that seem mundane and pedestrian to you amaze me: to wit, snow. Despite having been here for nearly six months, I've only begun to discover Spokane's hot spots -- Empyrean merely a week ago, and the Caterina Winery shortly after. Being a self-professed music critic, especially one with leanings towards independent music, these are exciting finds.





Attending a triple bill at Caterina was a low-key experience -- I arrived in time for the opener and a glass of wine. It's a nice place, full of laidback ambience and interesting art on the walls, including a felt-tip color-it-yourself unicorn. Bonus points. Daydream Jared, first on the bill, was a bit of a charmingly nervous mess on stage, still noticeably excited at the prospect of performing for other people. He played fairly standard singer-songwriter fare, with the addition of delay effects enhancing the show, as well as a delightful cover of Animal Collective's "Winter's Love." The set was occasionally halting, but Jared was clearly thrilled to be on stage, disarmingly innocent and unpretentious.





Next came Lions and Eagles, who -- like Daydream Jared -- braved the snow to come from the Tri-Cities for the show. Modest Mouse-like guitar trills were a nice touch, and the band was solid. Unfortunately, the mix was off -- Caterina isn't the best venue acoustically, especially for louder acts, and the vocals were heavily overpowered by the guitars. The best songs in the world can't save an act from poor mixing -- and Lions and Eagles sadly suffered as a result.





But nothing could have adequately prepared me for the sonic assault that is Zac Fairbanks and the Booze Fighters. I mean this in the most complimentary fashion possible -- Daydream Jared and Lions and Eagles were pleasant but not jaw-dropping. Fairbanks, though, is blisteringly good at what he does.





And he does the Blues. Capital B Blues. Some musicians play the blues, the street-corner woman-left-me blues. But Fairbanks (whose sister Karli is an extremely talented musician as well) plays the goddamn Blues, with skills that most studio musicians would be hard pressed to match. The Booze Fighters are able to match him, a feat worthy of note. Special attention should be placed squarely upon the keyboardist, who really set the band apart from other blues bar bands.





I asked Wayne Patrick, a local musician in attendance, about Fairbanks' possible influences -- specifically, Stevie Ray Vaughn. His answer? "Yeah. Zac's hero." Fairbanks and the Booze Fighters aren't pioneering new ground by any stretch (the set consisted entirely, apparently, of covers), but they're doing what they do extremely well, and that's a commendable feat on its own. Fairbanks never hit a sour note in the entire set; he's obviously an expert on his scales. It's a funny feeling when, as a critic, you realize you have absolutely nothing to criticize. But there's really nothing bad to say. The band is tight, it's high-energy, and Fairbanks is an amazing guitarist.





The Blues, with its rhythmic structure and heavy tension, along with its lyrical emphasis on romantic longing and rejection, is best equated with sex. It's a psychological substitute for sex, particularly the frustrating aspects of the act. It's an outlet. But if we imagine the Blues as a woman (as opposed to being primarily caused by one), she's pleased by technique and experience rather than na & iuml;ve fumbling. She demands real skill; many will try but few will satisfy. After Saturday's show, the anthropomorphic Blues muse was smoking a cigarette on the veranda and wondering when Zac Fairbanks and the Booze Fighters would be ready to go again.
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