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A heart-pumping concoction

Austin trio Honey and Salt creates progressive rock with an energy bordering on mania

Even the quieter moments of Honey and Salt just serve as the calm before the storm. Photo credit: Audiotree

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Is it possible for a musician to be too skilled at playing their instrument? I'll sometimes listen to a progressive rock artist, like Robert Fripp or the Dirty Projectors' David Longstreth, and become lost in thought about how many man-hours it must have taken for these people to get bored enough with traditional song structure that they end up making the compositions they do. It would be like if a juggler practiced every day of their life to master their art, long ago graduating past tossing around flaming chainsaws, and eventually arriving at a point where they deconstruct what it means to be a juggler at all: some musicians have long ago moved past the notion of what makes music palatable, and are now more interested in what music is capable of.

For my tastes, I'm more drawn to artists that are able to keep a healthy balance of approachability and experimental edge, which both Fripp and Longstreth, for instance, have shown themselves to be capable of doing. When ideally accomplished, this balance can allow a listener to be more easily drawn into a sonic experience that thrives on unpredictability. Austin, Texas, trio Honey and Salt strikes that balance, which is even reflected in the competing substances evoked by their name. The guitarwork shares qualities with Longstreth's, with the sense that the musician is racing to fit in as many notes as possible in a short time period, but Honey and Salt doesn't sacrifice the listener at the altar of experimentation.

On Honey and Salt's self-titled 2018 album, they make their three-person setup sound bigger than it has any right to be, with the guitar, bass, and drums working overtime to machete their way through a dizzying array of sounds, incorporating elements of hardcore, math-rock, post-rock, and pop-punk, with an energy bordering on mania. Opening banger "A Nihilist Takes Up Knitting" kicks off the album with a heart-pumping fervor that never really lets up; even the moments of relative quiet only really feel like the roller-coaster ticking up the tracks, with a free fall waiting just over the crest. With all the mile-a-minute complexity offered up by Honey and Salt, they never lose sight of how fun and exhilarating it is to connect with a great band.

HONEY AND SALT, all ages, w/ Subways on the Sun, Narrative, Newbrighton, 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 26, Real Art Tacoma, 5412 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma, $10,


Duking it out with Honey and Salt, on the very same night, just across town, is Bes, Tacoma's favorite precocious prog-rockers. Bringing their own rambunctious vibes, Bes is hard to beat when it comes to putting on a show. They'll be celebrating the release of their new album -- which, judging by the album art, appears to be called The Method. How do they sound? Think the propulsive rhythm of Primus, with the skronking saxophone of early They Might Be Giants and the wild ambition of King Crimson, with all the goofy music nerd moods that implies.

BES, all ages, w/ Crossing Crusades, Mister Master, Luke Stanton, 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 26, Alma Mater, 1322 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $15 advance, $20 day of show,, tickets at

The next night, in Olympia, we have something a little less discombobulating than Honey and Salt or Bes' wily prog. David Dondero, once proclaimed by NPR to be one of the greatest living songwriters (alongside Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Tom Waits), is a master of wonderfully textured narratives. While he found his start in the hardcore scene of the ‘90s, he soon found notoriety as a singer-songwriter, armed only with an acoustic guitar and his words. His acknowledgment next to Waits is especially interesting, as songs like "Bacon, Eggs & Beer" sounds like a song that might have come out of Waits' ‘70s troubadour output. His songs play like concisely evocative short stories.

DAVID DONDERO, w/ Generifus, Henry Wilson, 7 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 27, Octapas Cafe, 414 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, $7-$10, 360.878.9333

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