Fri Feb 8 at Sunset Tavern My FIrst encounter with Fastbacks bassist/singer Kim Warnick was at a show, where she left an impression that would come to define not only our friendship, but her as a figure in the Seattle music community. In a nutshell, the distinctively coifed woman repeatedly raised her Budweiser in the air and yelled louder than the band played. When the singer threw a T-shirt out into the crowd and I caught it, Warnick reached over, ripped it out of my hands, and unapologetically claimed it for herself. "That's Kim," shrugged my companion, as if no further explanation was needed.
As I stood by the side of the stage at the sold-out Sunset Tavern last Friday night, it was clear that Kim Warnick is a woman who does as she pleases. And she is admired wholeheartedly for it, whether or not her willfulness sometimes makes things inconvenient.
Week before last, her band of 22 years was left stunned by her announcement that she was quitting the Fastbacks, for no reason other than that it was time. The final Seattle show featuring Warnick would have to be the date at Ballard's relatively small Sunset Tavern, because the singer didn't want to play some planned-out farewell event. That's not her style.
"I don't want to be one of those bands like the Posies that keeps doing their last show every other week," Warnick said the day after the Sunset show, chuckling to herself because, well, she was once married to a Posie.
The Fastbacks were born out of Nathan Hale High School in the mid-'70s, where Warnick, Kurt Bloch, and Lulu Gargiulo were students, although they didn't actually play together until after graduation. Their first show was at the Laurelhurst Recreation Center, and the irony of beginning and ending her Fastbacks career at small clubs does not go unchecked by Warnick, who ticked off her most memorable shows for me: "Opening for Joan Jett in 1981 at Wrex [later the Vogue]; opening for the Ramones in 1983 or '84 at the Eagles auditorium; the shows in Japan with Seaweed and the Supersuckers in 1993; and all the Pearl Jam dates in 1996, where we went as far as Istanbul and we finally realized our ultimate rock and roll fantasy. Seeing the enormo-domes of the world and playing them was killer."
Though the crowd had gathered at the Sunset to celebrate the Fastbacks, more than one audience member wondered aloud why Warnick didn't just take a break rather than call it quits. Several folks wrongly assumed she quit in favor of her new band, Visqueen.
"I recognize that most of my friends do play in more than one band at a time," the singer explained. "But what it finally came down to is that I don't want to put all my energy into something that isn't making me completely happy anymore. It's not fair to me or the people I've been playing with for half my life.
"The Fastbacks has done everything a band could possibly do for me. It's saved my life, it's taken me around the world, and I've gotten to sing those songs, which are some of my favorite ever written. But as much as those songs mean to me, I've just grown tired of having to be a singer in a band." (Bloch wrote all the music and lyrics for the Fastbacks.)
Speculating on the future, Bloch comments, "No one likes an old band with a new singer, so I can't imagine just getting a new singer and proceeding like nothing happened--rock history has cast its vote on that issue! I can, however, imagine spearheading a new outfit. It wouldn't be exactly like the Fastbacks, but I wouldn't go out of my way to make it not, either."
One fact is certain: The Fastbacks enjoy the respect of Seattle's notoriously tough music scene. Every single person at the Sunset was there because they were fans. Members of bands as disparate in style and age as the Fallouts, R.E.M., and Minus the Bear were paying their respects. As Visqueen singer Rachel Flotard noted, Warnick's past, present, and future were in the house.
On that future, Warnick has this to say: "Being in Visqueen is brand new and exciting. I've been really happy just being the bass player and not having to shoulder all of the singing. I didn't pick between one and the other, I just picked what would make me happy." On her last show with the Fastbacks, she was contemplative: "I have mixed emotions. I was sad and a little blown away. The whole night was overwhelming--seeing people I hadn't seen in 20 years, it was hard to remain focused, but it was probably one of the most fun shows I've ever played. I'm sure I'll miss it. I can't imagine Kurt will stop doing what he loves, and I'm sure the songs we were working on at the end will come out somehow, some way. And I really want people to hear them. And I want to have them."