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Smoky cajun flavor 

In the post-Fort Spokane apocalypse, bands found themselves with fewer places than ever to play, fans had one less club to patronize and things looked bleak. Then, out of the void, a voice was heard. It was the voice of Delbert's Rick McQuesten boldly posing a question heretofore unposed. A question that resonated throughout Spokane with an air of impeccable timeliness and -- what's more -- common sense. It went something like this: Why not have shows at THE BAYOU'S FAT TUESDAYS LOUNGE?

Yeah, most people said. Why not?

Why not indeed. It's a nice room, specifically designed to host music events of moderate size. And curiously, it's remained chronically underutilized for the last few years.

"I went to [the Bayou's management] with a proposal in mid-December," says McQuesten. "I said, 'Hey guys, look, this is your chance. The Fort Spokane closed down, and people are looking for a good venue. It could be a benefit to both you and the local music scene.' They were agreeable, but it's been kind of tough because they didn't decide until after the first of the year to do this. Finally, they said they were ready to do it for February and see how it goes."

And so, the booking began in earnest. But the question remained -- would the Bayou commit to making live music in Fat Tuesdays a long-term deal?

"They're excited to do it. And they have been promoting it. I guess the bottom line is the numbers. But most of the bands that are coming in are playing for the door so [the Bayou] has nothing to lose except maybe the cost of a few employees."

As far as live rock goes, it might take a little while for people to place the Bayou on the top of their list of must-check outs.

"The room has just been sitting there. No one thinks about the Bayou right now because they haven't had anything. There's been no reason to just stop by."

Now there is. Starting with the crazy Civilized Animal/Five Foot Thick New Year's bash and the well-attended College Road triple CD release party a couple weeks ago, McQuesten has lined up an impressive month of shows featuring some of the best musical acts Spokane has to offer. Upcoming shows include Sweet Fancy Moses and Jupiter Effect (Saturday night), 10 Minutes Down and Skalami (2/16) and McQuesten's own band, Delbert (2/17).

But locals will be stepping aside this Friday night for the arrival of the terrific Seattle-based band, LEFT HAND SMOKE. This young five-piece infuses its revved up blues-based rock with more than a little soul. These guys aren't jumping on a bandwagon so much as building one of their own -- from the ground up.

Raised on a steady diet of Stones, Stax, Dylan and Motown, grade school chums Ben Mish (vocals, keyboards) and Ronan O'Mahony (guitar, percussion, backing vocals) launched the band in late 1997. Soon, Ben's older brother Will (lead guitar) signed on. After a number of bass and drum changes, the band settled on drummer Andrew Cloutier and bassist Andrew Scaglione to take them into the studio to record their latest CD, So Many Faces. Their rise to local prominence has been swift, and the national buzz that is beginning to form around Left Hand Smoke is getting so loud it must be getting hard for these guys to hear themselves think. Don't believe me? Figures. All I'm saying is that once one of your songs (in this case, "Blue Eyes Shinin' ") lands on an extremely popular network television show (in this case, ER), some form of mega-stardom can't be far behind. Check out Left Hand Smoke while they're still cheap.

Meanwhile, with one successful show after another sliding under his belt, McQuesten is confident that the Bayou management will soon decide to continue its commitment to live music in the hall after the end of February, adding a fine "new" club to the depleted Spokane scene.

"It's a great room," says McQuesten. "It is the kind of place people like to go. And they will go. If they know about it."

Left Hand Smoke plays at the Bayou on Friday, Feb. 9, at 9:30 pm. Cover: $5. Call: 484-4818.

Lucky Numbers

What started out as a basement project has turned serious for the guys in local band, 13. Guitarist Mark Anderson, drummer Chris Lyon, bassist Lee Stoker (filling in for the exiting Joe Oliver) and singer Pete Harless have recently completed work on a carefully crafted, guitar-heavy but soulfully rocking four-song, self-titled EP. Now, organized like a crack military squad, they're hitting the pavement, lining up shows and showering local media drones with high quality swag -- goodies, free stuff. On the day Anderson and Lyon stopped by the paper, they were armed to the teeth with CDs, posters, even a T-shirt fitting my physical specifications. It's all about becoming visible, getting noticed.

"We're trying to be as professional as we can," admits Anderson. "With business, people put you off, you know. So you just have to ride them, that's what I'm finding. Be polite but stay on them."

Sure, a little self-promotion is never a bad thing. And sometimes, the only way to get people's attention is to box their ears or kick them in the backside (figuratively, of course). But it's not just local audiences that 13 is vying for (although you can check them out on Saturday night at Boomerang's), but those in the lands that exist beyond the Inland Empire. Yes, these guys have set their sights on bigger and better things -- but they're certainly not about to just sit around and wait for something to happen. They're much more about free will than manifest destiny.

"Obviously the big dream is to get signed. But trying to make a demo and send it to people doesn't work anymore. You need to have a following. You're more appealing to a label if people see that you're doing a lot of things yourself and you're creating a buzz. People will hear about you and that's what you want."

The way Anderson and his compatriots see it, creating that "buzz" involves more than one band rising to local prominence, then on to national acclaim, its about building an entire local community of musicians and live music supporters.

"There's a ton of great bands here. And the attitude is starting to warm up to where bands are realizing that they need to help each other out because we can all see that people here don't go out and see bands. It's not a huge live music scene. What I want to do is just get bands to -- for the lack of a better word -- unite and get more friendly and support each other as best they can."

It's up to the bands to believe in the scene and almost pretend there is one before you can convince audiences to come out and support it. Build it, and they will come.

"All these bands -- our whole goal is to be looked at -- we obviously need to work together because nobody else is going to build the scene. It's kind of like software. Things need to be bundled to be attractive any more. You can't just market your band, you need to put on shows with a bunch of attractive bands together. If one band makes it out of here, there's going to be attention brought to Spokane, and we just need to be ready for it. Bands like the Mayfield Four can open things up. And that's great, that's what we want."

13 plays with Blood Red Zero at Boomerang's on Sat., Feb 10, at 9:30 pm. Cover: $5. Call: 994-7476.

Open and Shut

Fans of the local duo CASE CLOSED will want to be on hand next Thursday at The Shop for a performance and recording shindig. Case Closed is the acoustic team of Lyle Morse (on guitar, vocals and mouth harp) and Doug Porter (lead guitar and kalimba). The group's set list is a mix of original material and obscure and/or unusual blues that they've culled from various musical archives. Their original material is highlighted by Porter's jazz-influenced lead guitar flourishes and Morse's soulful, polished vocals. Case Closed has one CD to their credit (Midnight on the Road), a collection of original tunes.

Live recording sessions at The Shop always seem to feel more like a "happening" than a tense, time-sensitive and overly structured affair. That's because the technical side of the recording process largely disappears and is sent to its room (concealed behind a wall) allowing the performers and the performance to dominate the proceedings. And the audiences become a vital component. So come on down (or up as the case may be) and get in on the act.

Case Closed plays The Shop on Thursday, Feb. 15, at 7 pm. No Cover. Call: 534-1647.

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