In early August at the Crocodile, the Whore Moans gave their fans a little taste of what to expect musically at Bumbershoot, playing new songs along with a few from their first two albums—Watch Out for This Thing and Hello from the Radio Wasteland!—and throwing in a sweet version of the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" to boot. The song was appropriate, its big beat adding a bittersweet mnemonic to what was a synchronistic show, as Willy (Mink) DeVille, the king of soul punk, had died the day before. You could hear DeVille's masculine mojo shuffling between the Whore Moans' screechy speed changes and spontaneous jigs.
That night, the Whore Moans revealed three new tunes written for their upcoming Bumbershoot extravaganza, "The Whore Moans Present: The Black Atom!" The new material is more melodic and less frenzied than the earlier, more hardcore-influenced rock of their first two albums. But the Whore Moans' plans for the festival go way beyond some new songs.
At last year's Bumbershoot, the band staged a spaz-patriotic set that was already pretty conceptual, featuring girlfriends on roller skates, a pal dressed as Abe Lincoln, and a flag-twirling celebration on the theme "The Bush era is fucking over!"
Singer/guitarists Nikki O and Jonny Henningson, bassist/singer Ryan Devlin, and drummer Jason Kilgore have been playing together as the Whore Moans for about four years. They originally hail from Tacoma and Olympia, but they now live together in a house in their beloved new hometown, Seattle. Nikki O, Henningson, and Devlin all work as bartenders; Kilgore works for a needle-exchange program and runs sound at the Funhouse.
Backstage at the Croc that night, the band members offered a variety of mystifying, sometimes inchoate descriptions of what the Black Atom! might look like—hell, they might still not be entirely sure themselves.
"The Black Atom! is sort of a theatrical soul revue, garage-rock extravaganza," Nikki O says. "With girls, and dances, and we also have little spiels we throw out. We're trying to do something like an old Depression-era event where you would have like six artists performing and Booker T. would be the backing band for all of them."
"We've got a couple of pretty girls from the Cute Lepers, Prisilla Ray and Duffy [Meredith McGuire], doing backup vocals to help us out," says Kilgore. "And we have our friends Jordan [Lock, keyboards] and Mike [Tyler, sax] from the Hands coming in, too," adds Henningson.
"We really don't know how to describe this, because we've never done it before," says Nikki O. "It's going to be big, and we're only going to be able to do it once. Honestly, I don't know if we're going to be able to pull it off."
"It's probably the kind of thing you'd only like to do in your hometown," adds Henningson. Devlin adds that the band wanted to bring something special for Bumbershoot, because otherwise "people are paying $35, $40 to see local bands do what they normally do."
Soul-punk with expanded lineups has been the thing off and on since at least the mid-'90s, probably creatively sparked by the aesthetics of Make-Up but also recently intriguing more wacko/macho forms of garage-punk, such as King Khan's various garage-rock groups. But it sounds like the Whore Moans are shooting for the Stones' Rock and Roll Circus maybe, or even a punk-metal the Last Waltz.
The punk-blues songs they've been writing for the show, some of which should appear on a third album they've just started working on, are about lives fucked up by both the past year's economic depression and personal failures. "It's like dealing with the effect that politics has on everyday life, the way we're forced to do things," says Nikki O. "Like, how do you deal with the fact that so many people are out of work?"
For all their preparation (Devlin says his pile of notes and sketches for the production have "become the kitchen table" of their house), the Black Atom! will actually be the Whore Moans "mostly just flying by the seat of our pants," according to Henningson. It might end up a mess—but even if it does, odds are it will be a blazing-hot one.