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Stalwarts of Tacoma

Mountain House presents three bands that bind the music scene together

Etchings, with their knotty math rock, embody part of what keeps Tacoma going. Photo credit: Facebook

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When I first started attending local music shows, I was intimidated by how chummy and established everyone was. The bands were elevated entities, but also fluidly mingled with the audience in boozy after-parties. Venues would spring up in unexpected places, only to invariably shutter after a little bit -- usually something to do with underage drinking, a lack of permits, an insufficient sprinkler system, or frequently a combination of all three. The scene was so punk rock and healthy, though, that everyone would simply move on to the next thing, comfortable in the knowledge that there would always be a next thing. It was a beatific time to be a young Tacoma music scenester.

As I would come to learn, Tacoma has an uphill battle it's always fighting, when it comes to the indie music scene. Bands break up, musicians move away, venues don't necessarily rise up to replace the ones that are gone, and audiences can be fickle about coming out to support the scene. Tacoma works in waves, with fallow periods being followed by periods of exciting activity, before falling back to quiet times. Recently, Tacoma's music scene has been experiencing a longer-than-average in-between stage, with several key players moving away, and everyone waiting to see the next class rise up and introduce some much-needed liveliness.

While everything can start feeling a bit unglued -- especially during the already oppressive winter months -- there are still stalwarts of Tacoma music who are hanging on to provide the community with some artistic enrichment. One such group of musicians is Mountain House Productions, and all of the associated artists who hover in that circle. In recent years, Mountain House has secured their own stage for the First Night New Year's Eve activities. On Saturday, three Mountain House-associated acts will be performing at the Airport Tavern, a recently revived venue in South Tacoma.

Coincidentally, the three bands playing the Airport Tavern on Saturday represent three genres that have been permeating the indie music landscape over the past few years: knotty math rock, ‘90s-indebted power pop, and ‘70s-leaning alt-country. First, we've got Etchings, who evolved out of the ashes of Fantastic Animals. Made up of Andrew Nalty, Joel Gronewold, Tom McKamey, and Colin Scott Reynolds, Etchings couches progressive rock ambitions in songs that more usually err on the side of catchy, rather than self-indulgently noodling. While Etchings has yet to release more than a single, their earlier output as Fantastic Animals shows a guitar-rock bombast that eschews prog-rock's sometimes highfalutin instincts.

Wells is similarly a band that's basically existed, in one form or another, for several years. Made up of Aaron Sweet, Jesse Goodrum, and Morgan Brown, Wells effortlessly approximates the sound of ‘90s alt-rock. This is the type of music that one might expect to hear in the dorm room of a ‘90s college comedy, drawing inspiration from Weezer, Pavement, and the Pixies, imbuing everything with a solid layer of fuzz, and embracing every Gen X slackerism on offer. The emotive songwriting also lends Wells the vibe of a band that would help you get through the sloppy end of a young relationship.

Lastly, we have the Silver Dollars, a dapper alt-country group of troubadours. Reynolds returns as lead singer, joined by Dylan Treleven, Levi Gosteli, and Paul Hirschl. They make the sort of warm, sun-dappled country that lived on the edge of outlaw country in the ‘70s. This is a band that desires only to make you happy; the same can be said of the rest of the night, which I highly encourage you to attend, if you join me in thinking that Tacoma needs a shot in the arm. Spring is coming.

MOUNTAIN HOUSE PRODUCTIONS, w/ Etchings, Wells, the Silver Dollars, 9 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 24, $5, Airport Tavern, 5406 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma, 253.212.0709

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