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Up on the roof

Three excellent bands to perform in the summer evening air

Sporty Lee will bring their psychedelic pop to the roof of Alma Mater. Photo credit: Facebook

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On Jan. 30, 1969, the Beatles got together to perform publicly for the last time. At the time of the concert, it had already been several years since the band had performed in public, having long since devoted themselves to studio recording after the pressures for performing for an increasingly rabid audience proved too much to handle - screaming fans effectively rendered concerts unlistenable, both for those in the crowd and for the musicians onstage. John Lennon has been quoted as saying, "We were the best live band in the world before we were famous."

So, it was naturally a surprise to many when the Beatles climbed to the roof of Apple Corps headquarters on that January day to play some songs off of Abbey Road and the upcoming Let It Be, a cobbled-together artifact that would be their final album. What confounds me most about this iconic performance is that it ended up being stopped by police concerned about the noise and the traffic obstruction, proving that even the most popular band in the world can have their house show shut down by the fuzz. The Beatles couldn't even play for an hour before getting their concert ruined by noise complaints.

This Friday, three other bands will also take to a roof to perform and, while only time will tell if this concert proves to be as legendary as the one the Beatles staged, it will certainly be a treat for those seeking to access that magical aura that occurs when summer and music become intertwined. Alma Mater, a new music venue and art space housed in the old Carpenters Building in downtown Tacoma, will be opening up their roof to Widowspeak, Sporty Lee, and Ben von Wildenhaus. While these three acts are sufficiently diverse, they each share a kind of dreaminess that's perfect for drifting through a summer evening's air.

Widowspeak got a lot of attention in the indie music world a few years ago, thanks to a solid debut LP and a sultry cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." Formed by Tacoma's own Molly Hamilton and Michael Stasiak, but based in Brooklyn, Widowspeak has recently returned to Tacoma. Now consisting solely of Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas - who I recently saw perform a very good solo set at the New Frontier - it would be safe to assume that Widowspeak has now been stripped down to its most basic form, which would align well with a band that thrived on haunting melodies and gauzy distortion.

When I wrote about Sporty Lee two years ago, it was still nominally a project of Jason Heminger's, a sort of anthemic folk-pop that got a lot of mileage out of smart songwriting and enthusiastic performing. Recently, Heminger hooked up with Nate Daley (A Leaf, Motopony) and Nicholas Hartzell (Going Shopping), and Sporty Lee began to move into more of a psychedelic pop direction. Their forthcoming album, Modern Sailing, was produced by the extremely talented Phil Ek, who's produced albums by the likes of the Shins, Modest Mouse and Fleet Foxes. While only lead single "So Jung" has been released in anticipation of Modern Sailing, it seems to confirm claims that Sporty Lee is modeling itself after indie rock giants like Grizzly Bear and Tame Impala.

Closing out the show is the idiosyncratic Ben von Wildenhaus, joined by Professional Band and Amanda Bloom. It's nearly impossible to describe von Wildenhaus, but if you imagine Tony Clifton making soundtracks for ‘60s beach movies that only exist in the dreams of a man with crippling social anxiety, you're halfway there. It's the perfect note of surreal, wistful energy to wrap up a night of beguiling music up on the roof.

Widowspeak, Sporty Lee, Ben von Wildenhaus, Friday, July 22, 7 p.m., $5, Alma Mater, 1322 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma,

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