The bands earnest eclecticism is a little more Hamilton than Kendrick Lamar.
The band's earnest eclecticism is a little more Hamilton than Kendrick Lamar. Courtesy Safe & Sound Seattle + Danny Ngan for Dan's Tunes

On a dusky Saturday evening under the roof of the cavernous hangar at the Museum of Flight, the Marshall Law Band's frontman Marshall Hugh descended the stairs from the world’s first Boeing 747 with Big Rapper Energy. He wore aviator shades with a third eye lens preening on his forehead and joined a stage crowded with keyboard, saxophone, six-string bass, drums, guitar, and two more vocalists.

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Over the next hour and change, the normally six-piece band configured with eight members played through most of its debut album, 12th and Pine, which distills the Seattle protests that were raging a year ago today. The band says the album is under consideration for a Pulitzer Prize for Music. The awards will be given out on June 11.

Consideration for such an accolade cements the meteoric rise of the local funk-hop outfit. They found themselves in the right place at the right time when they resolved to provide an impromptu jam session soundtrack from a makeshift stage on 11th Ave across the street from Vermillion and Annex Theatre. That corner was one of the protest’s de facto HQs and aid stations, with teargas and flashbangs blasting just a block away. After the Seattle Police Department abandoned the East Precinct, they played CHOP itself and surfed the post-protest wave from the S.S. Jellybean, a trailer float they bought from the Fremont Arts Council. The Jellybean has provided the stage for mobile concerts across the city for the last year and this summer is posting up for regular Thursday night gigs at The Collective in South Lake Union and a Friday night residency at LTD Bar and Grill in Fremont.

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Courtesy Safe & Sound Seattle + Danny Ngan for Dan's Tunes

While the band made its reputation by jamming in the streets on makeshift or mobile stages, they seemed just as at ease headlining a show at a ticketed venue with professional sound and lighting. Hugh even executed a costume change partway through the set—no easy feat in the middle of a protest or on the back of a moving trailer. The formal concert setting allowed ample room for Zach Olson to shine on the keyboard, Josh Richins to noodle on guitar solos, and bass player Evan Robertson to flick his long mane back like a rock god.

Marshall Law Band’s Pulitzer consideration for 12th and Pine sits in an obvious shadow: Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. The first recording that was neither classical nor jazz to win a Pulitzer, DAMN. was a watershed moment for popular music. And while 12th and Pine performs the admirable task of resuscitating some of the hopeful idealism in the Seattle protests’ early days that fizzled out during a summer of destructive discontent, it can come across as overly earnest.

As Marshall Law Band shuttled from the folksy Americana twang backing “One Reel” to the blues rock-inflected “Mercy” to interludes where Richins shredded like he was in Van Halen to a Jawaiian reggae interlude with heavenly guest singer J. Moe da Bird, I couldn’t decide if the band had an identity crisis or just an impressive range. My podmate finally put his finger on it: The Marshall Law Band comes from the “Hamilton” generation, and Hugh’s lyricism channels the Lin-Manuel Miranda school of telling a story through music across genres.

That theatricality made for a sharp contrast with the sparse punk riffs from opener Tres Leches. In their first post-pandemic live performance, core members Alaia D'Alessandro and Ulises Mariscal showed no signs of rustiness as they shared a stage with James Bonaci and Meg Hall from Bellingham’s Beautiful Freaks. Tres Leches debuted a new song written during lockdown, “Bad Kids,” and cycled through other favorites like the charming earworm “Nieve” and the lowball fee call-out “Everybody’s Gonna Get $250.”

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Courtesy Safe & Sound Seattle + Danny Ngan for Dan's Tunes

D’Alessandro prefaced the latter by assuring the audience that the show’s promoters, Safe & Sound Seattle, had paid her band a respectable gig fee. Fair wages are just another check-plus for the promoter, who earn credit for pioneering the return to live music in Seattle with this outdoor, distanced series amidst the airborne behemoths at the Museum of Flight. The novel venue choice is yet another necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention moment as the pandemic winds down, but undeniably a keeper that should become a permanent home for concerts in the warmer months.

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Pioneers take risks, however, and not all of them pan out. While Safe & Sound launched with The Black Tones in late March, they fizzled for their second show and scuttled BEARAXE frontwoman Shaina Shepherd in the wake of poor ticket sales. (In a DIY triumph, Shepherd admirably cobbled together a last-minute show at Jimi Hendrix Park, yet more evidence that the park has found its footing.)

Even Saturday night’s show had a few empty seats at an already reduced capacity event. So much for a frenzied, cathartic return to the precious in-person gatherings we abstained from for 15 months. We are a far cry from New Zealand, where local live music has been thriving for the last year, according to a new episode from KEXP’s Sound & Vision podcast.

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Courtesy Safe & Sound Seattle + Danny Ngan for Dan's Tunes

With indoor club shows still not returning en masse until around September, it will take venues like the Woodland Park Zoo and Marymoor Park to help local audiences relearn the muscle memory of showing up for live music. I attended a few DIY concerts during the pandemic and rented a cheap PA twice to host my own, but none of those bootleg operations compared to the first guitar riff that crashed over me like a Phil Spector Wall of Sound at the hands of a professional live production.

Take off your headphones, turn off Spotify, get out of the house, and go. It will be worth it.