by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he MySpace message Tony Brown sent The Inlander wasn't desperate, exactly. Rushed, sure. It was the last week of June and he needed to put together a show at Mootsy's by mid-July. "I figured with your vast knowledge of the blossoming Spokane music scene," he said, buttering us up, "you could give me some pointers. I need originality." He also, we assumed, wanted artists who sound like him.
That last part was tricky. Playing under the nom-de-experimental-ambient-string-music Palms, Brown isn't much like other bands in town. His is an ethereal mix of fingerstyle guitar, keys and the occasional creepy vocal composed and sequenced in real-time onstage. Faced with that, we made valiant suggestions -- some noise, a little shoegaze, some live-built beats -- but nothing stuck. James Pants, a big fan of Brown's work, could've spun a wicked set of new agey, droney weirdness, we thought, but Pants is off conquering Europe again.
Brown had done his own research and come up dry, too. "I found a bunch of people who are making similar music," he says, "but no one plays shows." He particularly likes a loose band of teenagers making digital music in South Hill basements. He asked a girl named Helen, who goes by Echo Cola on MySpace, to recreate her dreamy, down-tempo but still strangely spry compositions live. She turned him down. He did the same with Brennan Chambers, who builds electronic music around archival audio and found sounds under the Paperfilm monicker. "I tried to get [him] to play a show," Brown says. "He just e-mailed me back question marks, like, 'Uhhhhh, we don't do that.'"
"I'm ready to start playing more," says Brown, who's been on a self-imposed hiatus of sorts since moving back to Spokane. The last resort was to call in some favors from out of town.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & F & lt;/span & irst moving at age 15, Brown has lived here on and off ever since, drifting from scene to scene, but returning to Spokane every few years. "I always seem to come back," Brown says. In the past, he'd felt fidgety here, anxious to be off again. Since returning in 2005, he's felt more at home. Hearing Brown's stories of childhood and adulthood, this move back almost feels like the first time he's been at home anywhere.
Palms began during his most recent walkabout, to Chicago in 2001. He and his brother Jon began playing what he calls experimental bluegrass -- sequenced beats and keys under walls of fingerstyle guitar, banjo and other artisanal strings. The duo hooked up with a label and released an album in 2002. When Tony returned to Spokane, he took the Palms name with him. He's progressed down the path he and Jon started, he believes, though much of what was recognizably bluegrass has become more muted and almost Middle-Eastern in sound.
Jon went in a different direction, experimenting with tropes in folk and black metal as Verhexen. Tony characterizes Jon's sound as "ethereal spookiness behind fingerstyle guitar." When he went in search of bands to fill the Mootsy's date, Tony ultimately turned to Jon.
The other Brown has recently decided to move back to Spokane as well. Once he does, the brothers intend to collaborate once again under the Palms banner. The show Saturday, then, will be a chance to see the elements that will compose the Palms of the future.
Live, Tony's pieces are built organically and bit-by-bit, creating walls of sound by looping instruments and drum tracks through effects pedals and amps and sequencers. "This either turns into something listener-friendly or a total train wreck," Brown writes in an e-mail, "usually depending on how many gin and tonics I have."
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & ony Brown daylights as Mizuna's head chef, and is always on call. "My phone is always on so I can field bizarre questions about organic produce and food allergies," he says. The hope is, after Saturday's show -- and certainly once the brothers begin playing in earnest -- Palms' live creations will get the town's other musician/composers thinking about taking to the stage, and they'll start calling too.
Palms with Verhexen and Any Means to Many at Mootsy's on Saturday, July 19, at 9 pm. $5. Call 838-1570.