Matt Crowley/The AS Review
It wasn’t a usual Wednesday night at the Underground Coffeehouse last week, as some of the best bands Bellingham has to offer converged in one place to compete for a special prize: $150 and a spot with the band Wheedle’s Groove in an opening show before the free AS Productions Pop Music concert featuring The Head and The Heart on May 25 in the Performing Arts Center Concert Hall.
After sifting through dozens of entries, Underground Coffeehouse Coordinator Megan Housekeeper and others whittled the list down to six bands: The Cat From Hue, The Royal Sea, The Bad Tenants, Learning Team, Lamppost Revival and The Prime Time Band. All six bands were given 15 minutes to play, with 15 minutes in between sets to set-up.
Even before the 7 p.m. start time, the coffeehouse was near capacity. Finding a couch to sit on was out of the question, let alone a chair. Most of the crowd was relegated to the floor in front of the stage, a common sight at some of the Underground’s popular shows. Not long after opening contestant The Cat From Hue left the stage, people were lining up outside the outer door in the pouring rain, waiting for someone to leave to open up a spot in the crowd.
In the end though, two favorites won out. First place went to The Cat From Hue, and Lamppost Revival took runner-up. Both bands will play the May 25 opening show in the PAC plaza. The winner was decided by a panel of judges, including figures such as What’s Up! magazine’s Brent Cole and Wild Buffalo House of Music owner Craig Jewell, as well as an overall audience vote.
The Cat From Hue and Lamppost Revival were clear favorites heading into the competition due to their established positions in the Bellingham music scene, but they weren’t about to run away with the grand prize without a fight. From the sun-kissed surf-rock of The Royal Sea to the Beastie Boys-esque rapid-fire quickness of hip-hop group The Bad Tenants, each band brought something different. In the case of Learning Team, it meant bringing a group of exuberant fans, who goaded everyone into getting up off the floor and grooving to the group’s folk-rock repertoire.
The decision came as little surprise. The Cat From Hue’s polished sound has earned numerous appearances at shows inside and outside of Bellingham since the band formed a couple years ago. Now, band members Nikko Van Wyck (guitar, lead vocals), Wes Williams (lead guitar, vocals), Jase Ihler (drums, vocals), Matt Olsen (keys, vocals) and Evan Downey (bass, vocals) show no sign of stopping. Even in the relaxed surroundings of the Underground, the Camano Island-based group’s strengths still show through.
As 2009’s “The Forgetter EP” demonstrated, The Cat From Hue has mastered the art of turning the chaos that can only be created by five different instruments into a lush, synchronized soundscape. This quality really comes to life in their live shows.
The band lists Modest Mouse as one of their influences, something a lot of bands in the Northwest tend to do, regardless of sound or genre. But in this case, you can really hear the similarities. The combination of Van Wyck’s elegantly buzzing vocals and Ihler’s constantly shifting drum patterns certainly sound like a Modest Mouse throwback. It doesn’t take much to warm up to The Cat From Hue. Their music is easily accessible, without being tired or dry, and the nature of their songwriting keeps you on your toes, whether you’re enjoying them in-person or in the comfort of your own room.