It’s a few minutes before 11 p.m. on Saturday night and Krist Novoselic is backstage at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard. The 52-year-old former Nirvana bassist is gearing up to play the album release show for his new group, Giants in the Trees, and jokes about texting his fictitious life coach. “He’s telling me things like, ‘You can do it’ and ‘You deserve it,’” Novoselic smiles.
Saturday is the first time Novoselic has played the Sunset. “But I’ve seen a show here before,” he offers as guitar and drum techs move around amps, stringed instruments and cymbals. It's also the first sold out show for this band, he says. There was a healthy buzz leading up to this night, and the venue—historically an important stepping-stone for new and promising local groups—is packed with fans old and new, curious about what the legendary musician has in store, and treated to opening sets by by Seattle rock bands Dirty Dirty and Electric NoNo (playing their 200th show).
Novoselic takes up most of the doorframe under which he stands backstage. Clad in a black top hat, black slacks, and a white collared shirt with a black dragon graphic crawling up the side, Novoselic is ready for the set to start. Having already graced local stages like Slim’s Last Chance and The Blue Moon Tavern, Giants in the Trees are embarking on the grind, the beginning of a possible future as a regularly performing and recording outfit. But right now, the focus is their album release.
The subject matter on the band's excellent 12-song self-titled debut ranges from nature, to loss, to the pastoral Wahkiakum County in Southwest Washington where the band members first got together (after responding to an open call for a jam). With soaring vocals backed by heavy rhythms, standout tracks on the album include the dark carnival “Center of the Earth” and the lamenting “Moving Targets.” But, in some way, the record is more than a debut—it’s proof that the band is ready to show off its unique voice.
As the hour strikes, Novoselic and crew take the stage under dark blue neon lights. Many of the people in attendance are seeing the band and hearing the music for the first time, and listen intently as Giants’ frontwoman Jillian Raye kicks off with the banjo riff that opens the first song on the LP, “Sasquatch,” its video amassing some 140,000 views on YouTube since its July debut. (The band also recently released their second video here for “Seed Song.”) When Raye’s voice hits, the energy of the evening shifts, moving from a “Wow, that’s Krist Novoselic up there!” to “Hey, this music is pretty damn good!”
Raye is a banshee vocalist and the men surrounding her are skilled and versatile. Novoselic switches between bass and accordion while Erik Friend holds the powerful beat and Ray Prestagard plays lead and steel guitar along with harmonica. The crowd hoots, howls and chirps along. “Quite the menagerie here,” Novoselic laughs, his head almost hitting the room’s ceiling. And while he may be used to playing sold out shows and being in front of rabid audiences, it was his first such occurrence with Giants in the Trees. Through the jokes, through the music, through the dark club, Novoselic above all else offered gratitude. “Thank you, Sunset,” he says at some point. “And thank you, Seattle.”