Seattle's Bakelite 78 mixes vintage classics with tasty originals at The Pink Door on Tuesdays.
It’s a bit like that scene from “A Night at the Opera” where the Marx Brothers and assorted guests all stuff themselves into a very small stateroom: Seattle’s Bakelite 78 may only have six members, but it’s an incredibly tight squeeze for them on the tiny stage at The Pink Door.
Still, the crowded quarters don’t seem to cramp the band’s style.
Bakelite 78 is the Tuesday house band at The Pink Door through the end of September and perhaps beyond. Led by singer-guitarist Robert J. Rial, members are quite a sight to behold.
Rial, in shiny gray tux, bow tie, burgundy cummerbund, silver shoes and towering top hat, has a voice that goes from sleepy-balladeer tenor to a neo-Tom Waits growl with the turn of a phrase.
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He can certainly belt it out — but he can be silky-voiced, too, as he lilts his way through musical fare that ranges from New Orleans-flavored ragtime to gypsy tunes to Depression-era classics (“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”). And there’s a gleefully macabre edge to some of his original tunes.
“I took her on the Ferris wheel/And out for her last meal,” he croons in “The World’s Fair Hotel,” a song inspired by Seattle author Erik Larson’s true-crime best-seller, “The Devil in the White City.” In another number, “What the Moon Has Done to Me” — about a werewolf haunted and confused by “bloody thoughts I can’t escape” — Rial’s poker-faced delivery adds to the fun.
Rial is also a song archivist a la Ry Cooder or Thomas Lauderdale (of Pink Martini), digging up both well-known and obscure ditties from the early 20th century and lending them his own maverick touch.
He gets nicely tonic harmonic backup from his wife, singer-songwriter-accordionist-pianist Erin Jordan, and solid grounding from the heavily tattooed Austin Quist, an affable giant of a fellow who looms over the rest of the band with his double bass and ceiling-scraping sousaphone. (Quist is co-writer with Rial on one of the group’s best new originals, “Dark Spots.”)
Steven Baz lays down a lazily swinging/swaggering beat on the drums, while Ashley Komoda does duty on clarinet and alto sax and Erik Reed delivers some knockout solos on the trumpet.
All six musicians dress for the part in a setting that, with its candelabra, multiple mirrors and backdrop curtains, looks a like the parlor of a Victorian brothel squashed into a corner of the Pink Door bar.
Bakelite 78 was originally Chicago-based. Rial’s new Seattle lineup is scheduled to record a CD in September. At a break in the show, when I asked Komoda how the band keeps it together on such a minuscule stage, she joked that performers and instruments occasionally fall off it.
And when I asked how Rial, flanked by two lit candles on shoulder-high candlesticks, manages to avoid setting his guitar neck on fire, she wisecracked, “That’s the finale.”
Note: There’s no cover charge, but the idea is that patrons should avail themselves of the Pink Door’s bar and tasty menu while listening.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org