This is the worst concert review you’ll ever read. The band is the Maldives (pronounced Mall-deeves), introduced by a guy in the crowd as “the best band in Ballard.” Ballard being a Seattle neighborhood of about forty thousand people and more taverns per square mile than any other Seattle neighborhood, that’s saying something. I’d heard a few people talk about them and read some good reviews, and saw in today’s newspaper they were going to play the Ballard Seafood Festival tonight, so I walked into downtown Ballard to have a listen.
A beautiful day, a little cooler than the last couple where the thermometer hit nearly 90F, but still warm enough; an outdoor concert sounded better than staying home and watching the M’s lose again to the Yankees. (The M’s won, as it turned out.) A small crowd had gathered in the streets blocked off to car traffic; all the plastic chairs were taken so I pulled up a curb close to the stage and a little to the side, where I had a great view of the guitarist, drummer and banjo/accordion player. The Maldives appear to be part of a musical trend here in Seattle often referred to as “beard bands,” a mix of rock, country, and a little bluegrass played by guys in their 20’s and 30’s with lots of facial hair. Only the one guitarist was clean-shaven, from what I could see. Well, maybe it’s like Samson in reverse for him, because he was good. Supported by another lead, rhythm and bass guitars, fiddle, banjo/accordion, and some fine drumming, this guy made his guitar sing and rumble and twang and growl and soar.
But because this is the first time I’ve ever heard these guys, I don’t know the names of the songs on the playlist. Can’t tell you what they played, especially since being an outdoor show the sound from the vocal mics was a bit mushy, and the first couple tunes they had to fight through some feedback and competition from the beer garden and seagulls looking for anything edible dropped by the crowd, and festival goers looking for the arts and crafts booths.
I can only say they started with a nice ballad, moved on to a real rocker, shifted it up to country, mixed in a sweet love song, rocked again, did something lovely and aching, made us all want to go back to Virginia, and the last two songs were marathons of pure musical joy, moving from rock to country to aching to love to loss to beer and back again, and then they came back for an encore, and the lead singer/rhythm guitarist did a “solo,” by which he meant he played and sang and two others sang harmony, a real rich sweet three-part harmony that silenced the gulls and wandering festival-goers, and then the whole band did a tune that moved along to the same kind of rhythm as a train rolling down the tracks, and the crowd was dancing (polite Seattleite dancing, but still), and it was just the perfect summer evening right that minute.
As good as the music was, though, something else will be my favorite memory of the show. You’ve been to these little community festivals, and know the set up, with the stage in the street open to anyone and anything, bands playing to people from age two to age eighty, some people with their dogs, some just finding a place to seat and eat their alder-smoked salmon. Not much security to speak of. People can wander right up to the stage, and they do.
Tonight about midway through the second tune I notice a guy at the edge of the stage. He looks about in his thirties, hard to tell for sure, but he has the obvious features of someone with developmental disabilities. Awkward movement, clothes that look picked out by someone else, that impression of being a child in an adult body. And he is dancing, not polite Seattleite dancing, dancing born of love of the music and complete lack of self-consciousness. Turning and pointing at the crowd, with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. And the band grooves with him. They smile back. Jeez, they give this guy the spark and inclusion you might see another band give the gorgeous groupies in the front row. And in my heart, so do we all. We’re all dancing with him, losing our own self-consciousness in his joy.
My apologies to real Maldives fans who know the name and lyrics of every song they played tonight, the name of each band member, and all the other stuff I should’ve put in here. My thanks to the Maldives for a really effing great summer show. Go here to find out all about them, and buy their music.