DAN ELLIS is a thirtysomething Spokane guy. Dan Ellis is a charter member of the live original music scene here and has played drums in several local bands including Belly Full of Lead and the Flies. Dan Ellis worked as a substitute teacher and for the Spokane Historic Preservation Office before helping to conceive, build and owner-operate one of downtown's coolest pubs, the Blue Spark. Dan Ellis has great taste in music. Dan Ellis hasn't been feeling too hot lately, and so his friends are throwing him a shindig (dubbed "Palapalooza") at the Big Dipper this Friday night featuring live music from three of the 'Kan's best bands -- The Bucket Riders, Seawolf and Burns Like Hellfire.
"This is a rally for Dan," says event co-organizer and local songwriter/performer Tiana Gregg. "The show is by private invitation only. And you can buy your invitation with a suggested donation of $10." (Those familiar with the dynamics of the live music scene in Spokane and frequent readers of "Sound Advice" will understand why the event is being billed as a private party.)
"It all goes to Dan," she adds. "It won't pay for his medical expenses or anything. But it's a chance for everyone to get together."
Downtown pub crawlers know Ellis as the friendly, excitable, wavy-haired co-owner and barkeep of the Blue Spark, ever willing and able to bend your ear with informed dissertations on beer, Spokane history, world politics and punk rock. Local musicians and rock club denizens know him as a friend, a comrade and a solid backbeat commander. He recently took a break from the Blue Spark and was getting back into teaching when he became ill with a condition that has managed to stump some of the best medical minds in town.
"It's a back tumor," says Ellis. "A round cell tumor. They're 99 percent sure. But they're not 100 percent. I'm in this study with 30 other people from around the state [with a treatment] procedure that hasn't been tried before.
"It's not like a guinea pig thing, though," he qualifies with a laugh. "You know, hey let's try it on this guy."
Though the treatments have got him a little on the ropes, Ellis remains typically upbeat and optimistic.
"I've been through one session of chemotherapy and I'm going to go on another one a week from today. I'm feeling good and I can't guarantee anything, but hopefully I'll be at the benefit. The best thing anyone could do for me is pray for me and just be positive around me. I'm doing well, I feel good and I'm being real proactive about it. It's been an ordeal, don't get me wrong. But I'm thinking positive and just thinking about when I'm gonna be done with this thing."
Palapalooza, featuring Seawolf, the Bucket Riders and Burns Like Hellfire at the Big Dipper, starts at 7 pm. Invitations are available for $10 at the Blue Spark, 4,000 Holes and the Elk. Call: 838-5787.
The Art of Everclear
If Art Alexakis of EVERCLEAR ever had any lingering doubts about the importance of having Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund as his partners in the band, those thoughts were erased once and for all with the recording of Songs from an American Movie, Vol. One: Learning How To Smile. Originally, the disc was intended to be an Alexakis solo album. But part way through the project, Alexakis himself realized something was missing.
"It's just one of those things that I can't explain," he says. "The drums and bass on [the tracks] were really good, but they just didn't have the fire. They might have even in some cases been technically beyond what [Montoya or Eklund] could do. I worked with some really good cats. But there just wasn't the fire there to inspire me. I think it made the songs exponentially less than what they could have been."
So Alexakis turned to Spokane native Montoya (bass) and Eklund (drums) to test record a couple of tracks. From that point on, Learning became an Everclear project and an album that should demonstrate once and for all that Everclear is a group in the truest sense of the word. The band plays Peakfest on Saturday at a venue that is still to be announced.
Of course, Alexakis says he's never underestimated the contributions of his bandmates.
"I'm definitely the driving force of the band. Everclear's my band. There's never been a question about that. But we are a band, and it's like the Beatles. If you took away Lennon and McCartney from George and Ringo, could you find a better guitar player or could you find a better drummer? Absolutely. But it wouldn't have been the Beatles. It wouldn't have had that chemical makeup. And I really feel like we are a band that has a real chemical thing that works like that. We play off each other. Greg half jokingly says, 'Art writes the songs and we make them sound good.' "
In an exceedingly rare move for a time when most bands release only one record every two years, Everclear released two CDs in the space of just four months. Vol.One: Learning How To Smile, released a year ago, explored a poppier side of the band's sound. Then, in November came the release of Vol. Two: Good Time for a Bad Attitude, a CD that returned the group to their familiar hard rocking, guitar-heavy sound.
While conventional wisdom might suggest that perhaps it would have been better to issue the CDs further apart, or release them as a double CD set, to Alexakis those options didn't make sense.
"It could have been done as a double album," he says. "That would have been the more industry cognizant thing to do and then just have rock hits and pop hits on the same record. But I didn't really think the songs belonged on the same record."
Indeed, the music on the two CDs is markedly different. With the first, Alexakis purposely sought to evoke the classic pop sounds of groups like the Beatles as well as the vintage soul music of the late-1960s.
"The main thing here was I wanted the vocals to be more prevalent. That's what used to happen in pop records. You listen to Beatles records and Beach Boys records and even R & amp;B records from the '70s, the vocals are way out front and the music's in the back. I wanted to bring the guitars down and use different instruments, make it intense and heavy, but not in such an obvious way."
By contrast, Good Time for a Bad Attitude is more reminiscent of the Portland band's three previous outings (World of Noise, Sparkle and Fade and So Much for the Afterglow). The album's rockers (such as "When It All Goes Wrong Again" and "Slide") turn up the volume with brash guitars and loud beats, without losing the catchy melodies that make Everclear a radio favorite.
"I think it's our heaviest record," Alexakis says of the second disc. "But I think compared to our early records, I've become a better singer-songwriter and a better producer and I think [the new songs] are more melodic. I think we're a better band. We know how to do more in a limited space. We know more dance steps now."
-- Alan Sculley
Everclear plays at Peakfest with the Mayfield Four, American Hi-Fi, Sprung Monkey and Flick on Saturday, Aug 4, at 4:30 pm. Tickets: $25. Call 325-SEAT.
Remember Lollapalooza, that fixture of the 1990s summer tour season that helped push alt-rock from the shadows into the forebrains of the national consciousness? Well, the AREA:ONE MUSIC FESTIVAL has a similar mission -- that is, to showcase performers on the mainstream fringe and in doing so, expand popular notions of what makes a music event like this work. The Gorge amphitheater opens its sun-scorched arms to Area:One this Friday afternoon. In addition to headliner Moby (in his only concert appearance of the year), Area:One's eclectic main stage lineup includes performances by Outkast, New Order, Carl Cox, the Roots and Rinoserose.
The festival -- created by techno-pop alchemist, Moby -- is a celebration of not only modern music but modern technology as well. And you can bet corporate heavyweight sponsors such as Intel and Ford will be at least as conspicuous at the festival as the musical acts themselves. Intel is hosting an interactive computing attraction allowing attendees to experience their favorite artists in "new and exciting ways." Meanwhile, over at the Ford Focus Area inside an air-conditioned tent, a specially constructed quad sound system will blast out the music spun by DJs Paul Oakenfold, the Orb and Timo Maas among others.
But there's an upside to all this flagrant corporate sponsorship. Thanks to Moby (who has a long history of environmental and animal rights activism), a significant portion of the festival proceeds will be donated to various charities and eco-friendly organizations including Greenpeace and Lifebeat, a national non-profit HIV/AIDS resource and awareness organization.
The Area:One Festival at the Gorge with Moby, New Order, Outkast, Rinoserose and The Roots is on Friday, August 3, at 4:30 pm. Tickets: $60.40. Call: (509) 735-0500.