“Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he sacked the famous town of Troy.”

 

Last night, I hit the streets for Volume: Inlander Music Festival in Spokane, Washington, and like any festival, Volume makes you feel like a character from The Odyssey. With 100 bands spread across nine venues (over two days), you see a little bit of everything at Volume—from blaring sirens to underground spirits—as you float from venue to venue, acquiring new stories as you go.

While Spokane is the headquarters for Behind the Setlist, I would hesitate to call it a music city. It’s definitely no Nashville or Los Angeles or even a Rochester, New York, who has a festival almost every other weekend throughout the sunny months. But last night, you could’ve fooled me. Having recently spent time in Nashville—where I stumbled into Heidi Burson’s incredible album release show—last night I often felt as if I was doing the Nashville walk on Broadway.

Leave the Big Dipper, stop in Terrain, pop into Red Room Lounge, circle back to the Bartlett. Sure, the venues are a little more spread out, but it’s really not that bad of a walk, especially with the weather as nice as it’s been lately. The time in between gigs also gives you a chance to cleanse your palette.

Deer @ the Big Dipper

Deer was one hell of a surprise. The up-and-comer instrumental band from Spokane had a little bit of buzz going into their Volume performance, mostly from word of mouth. In true small-town fashion, if you want to hear Deer, you have to catch them live (no recordings that I know of). In all honesty, I did not plan on seeing Deer. I was walking to another venue and heard the music, so I turned around and popped in.

Deer offers a terrific blend of technical guitar work (think Teppei from Thrice) with more traditional rock-rhythm chords, but the secret sauce rests in their compositional structure. What first feels straightforward, their songs quickly shift into territories that catch you off guard and leave you somewhere unexpected.

If Deer has one fault, however, it’s that they sound like a band whose lead singer didn’t show up. Long sections of bland power chords demand a melody on top. The mix at the Big Dipper didn’t favor these moments; it is possible there was more happening than I could hear. That said, add a singer to this fertile music landscape and Deer might have something really special. 

Kori Ailene @ Terrain

Kori Ailene is a Spokane-based folk singer-songwriter who had the unfortunate privilege of playing at Terrain. Terrain is a very big and old industrial building that has been repurposed into a multi-use art space. The space is incredible, but not a good fit for a quiet folk singer. The acoustics in that room (really a hall) amplifies the audience chatter, bouncing it off the hardwood floors to the brick walls and back again.

I’ve been to Terrain for other events and they had previously sectioned off areas of the hall, which aided acoustics, making the giant room feel small, more personable. Why they didn’t do that this time, I don’t know.

Ailene, however, did her best to win over the room and I’d say she succeeded. Opening with Gillian Welch’s “Everything is Free” was a nice touch and a proper way to introduce the type of artist she is. Following with “My Sister’s House,” a highlight track from her debut record, Ailene found her rhythm. For me, however, the modern, stylish venue with subpar acoustics continued to distract.

The South Hill @ Red Room Lounge

The South Hill is a new Spokane-based rock group with soaring vocals, a cellist/keys/tambourine player, and a whole hell of a lot of ambition. Long cuts with complicated structures, layered harmonies and a driving, dirty blues guitar, the South Hill is a total throwback. One part Allman Brothers, two parts Fleetwood Mac, and a dash of Thin Lizzy, for good measure. What makes this band special is that they manage to keep one foot forward, with a contemporary indie-folk sound.

When we talked to the band, we asked them how they create their setlists. Band member Phil Lamb responded, “A great setlist can have so many factors and is an ever-changing machine. Some of our favorite components in making each setlist is to have each song build on each other and flow from one song to the next, driving emotion into every listener in the audience that captivates them from start to finish and leaves them thinking about it for days after.”

Despite some complications from the sound mix—an unfortunate issue that’s common with festivals of any kind—the South Hill has definitely left me with much to think about.

Sir Coyler & His Asthmatic Band @ Mootsy’s

The last time I was at Mootsy’s I was kicked out. This may make me sound like a giant asshole (or a total badass), but the truth is much less compelling. I had ordered my Washington driver’s license and in the meantime I was trying to use my passport to buy a beverage. No go. 

Last night was my triumphant return to Mootsy’s and I will say this: Mootsy’s is one hell of a bar. It’s eclectic, punky, grungy ambiance is just right, complete with an endearing mini-library for the stag music journalist. It’s classic Spokane. It’s also the perfect place to catch something like Sir Coyler & His Asthmatic Band, a punk trio from Seattle.

Sir Coyler is not for everyone, but for those who dig what I call “street punk”—they call it “big-beat, punk blues”—you can’t find much better in the Pacific Northwest. It’s as if someone dunked the “Tequilla Song” in a vat of acid. And I mean that in the best way possible. Sir Coyler is simply fun, grungy punk that’s meant to be cherished between beer gulps.

Bonus: The singer, we’ll just call him Sir Coyler for now, was wearing a SloDoCo t-shirt. SloDoCo, if you don’t know, is the best donut shop in the world and is located in my hometown of San Luis Obispo, California.

Small Million @ the Bartlett

The contrast between Sir Coyler and Small Million couldn’t have been greater. One band is purposely rough whose performance errors only work to serve them better, the other band is clean, glossy and very buzzworthy. In fact, when I arrived at the Bartlett, the first thing I noticed was how full it was. All of the shows so far had been fairly light in attendance, but Small Million was playing to a big crowd.

Performance errors for Small Million, however, did not serve their sound like it does for Sir Coyler. The music that lays a foundation for the vocals sounded great—dark electronic textures reminiscent of the XX—but the vocals were off and quite frequently out of key. I’m no Simon Cowell, but if you’re going to build a sound that so completely relies on the vocals, I would hope that the artist could deliver live. Maybe it was an off night for the very hip Small Million, but with so many artists performing, I couldn’t justify staying.

Goddamned Animals @ the Big Dipper

My night ended with a shot of adrenaline that would keep me up for hours. As I walked back to where my night had started, the Big Dipper, I could hear Goddamned Animals from over two blocks away. They are a band I had recently discovered from our preview article, and while hardcore music doesn’t do much for me these days, there was something special about Goddamned Animals that made an impression.

Perhaps it’s the accessibility of their music, which is amplified at their live performance. Strong vocals over memorable metal riffs with drums that rarely take a left turn inside straightforward compositions that don’t meander. In other words, Goddamned Animals is goddamned efficient. That I could appreciate, especially at the end of a long journey.

Part two of two of Volume: Inlander Music Festival happens tonight. Read our Critic’s Picks here. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s review.