In the last week I’ve been lucky enough to see Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs twice: headlining a bill at Raw Space in their hometown of Ellensburg, and playing a free show at Hiawatha Community Center in West Seattle. Two completely different venues, audiences, atmospheres. (Fortunately, no one at Hiawatha needed to be bounced out for throwing drunken punches at other audience members; on the other hand, at Raw Space I was not concerned that rampaging five-year-olds would stomp on my fingers or toes as they chased bubbles or popsicles. Each venue has its dangers.) Now the band’s on its way to play PJ20 Destination Weekend, Pearl Jam’s festival in Wisconsin; and that’ll be another world, too.
Here’s what both shows I saw had in common: great solid bluesy rock and roll, songs that take you on joyous, sad, riotous, inspiring trips, and a band who gives the music and the audience everything they have. You’ll probably see bands with more polished “patter” between tunes this year; you might even see bands who never have glitches in the sound mix, who don’t have to fight to keep a guitar in tune. You’ll never see a band who is easier to root for than this one.
Star’s voice gets a ton of press, deservedly. When she walks to the microphone without her guitar, I get goosebumps, because I know what’s coming – she’s going to launch into “For When I Go,” and I’m going to think Janis Joplin is back, only (don’t tell the mainstream writers) I think Star’s a little better. And no matter how many times I’ve heard it, the title song from their new album, “Alone in This Together” makes me cry. I can’t help it. I don’t try.
But don’t miss what’s going on around that knockout voice. Justin Davis’s lead guitar is like a voice of its own, and it’ll take you places if you let it. The addition of Ty Bailie on keyboards last year rounds out their sound with soul and a kick of fun. Keith Ash’s bass and Travis Yost’s drums never let the rhythm slide or drag. Davis is also contributing to songwriting on this disc – “Shine” is a standout, and “High Water” – well, I have the kind of voice that sounds great when I’m alone in the car, and only then, but when I sing along at the top of my lungs to the chorus of “High Water,” damn if I don’t imagine I sound okay… it’s that good a song.
Folks who’ve been following Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs seem to agree they are poised to take off, and the PJ20 festival might be a turning point for them. I wish them all the success they want – but mostly, you know, it’s not fame or riches I hope for them (sorry guys). It’s the chance for more people in this world to participate in the joy their music creates – don’t know about you, but I think music heals, and this funny old world of ours can always use more of that.
Congrats to Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs, we’re all rooting for ya.
(The embed code from YouTube works in preview but not in the “real” post – so click here to watch Alone in This Together on YouTube.)