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February 4, 2014 at 1:45 PM

The intimate sounds of Rebecca Gates | Concert preview

Rebecca Gates

Portland singer-songwriter-guitarist Rebecca Gates plays Seattle’s Crocodile Back Bar Wednesday. Photo by Matt Kim.

Not many artists are equally comfortable sharing bills with punk rock icons and alt-country troubadours, but Rebecca Gates has done both in Seattle before.

In 1993, her group, The Spinanes, opened for Washington, D.C.’s seminal Fugazi at the Bellevue YMCA. Two years ago, she performed solo on a much larger stage, supporting Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Ryan Adams at Benaroya Hall.

This Wednesday, the Portlander returns to cozier environs, co-headlining The Crocodile Back Bar with local musician Chris Brokaw, formerly of ‘90s cult acts Come and Codeine.

To call Gates well-traveled is an understatement. “How much time do you have?” she jokes, asked about the making of her latest album, 2012’s “The Float.” Written and recorded over eight years and in six cities — including Chicago, Dallas and Montreal — it’s the most elaborate production in a catalog dating back to 1991, when she and drummer Scott Plouf formed The Spinanes.

The duo lacked the name recognition of its Sub Pop contemporaries Mudhoney and Built to Spill — which Plouf also played in — but remained a staple of the Seattle label until disbanding in 2000.

Their influence was subtle, yet lasting. Just last week, Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard tweeted excitedly about scoring a vinyl copy of “Manos,” their out-of-print 1993 debut. “Still sounds amazing,” he wrote. “One of my all-time favs!”

It’s easy to understand why. At a time when most indie groups reveled in aloofness, The Spinanes — like Death Cab later — overflowed with sincerity. They were versatile, too, the laconic guitar rock of 1996’s “Strand” evolving into something looser and mellower by their third, final record, 1998’s “Arches and Aisles.”

Though the band’s name has been retired, its songs live in Gates’ setlists alongside newer material. “The Float” marks her first release with The Consortium, an all-star cast of collaborators featuring members of The Decemberists, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks, The Sea and Cake, Tortoise and more.

The 11-track set is diverse, spanning jazzy pop (“Lease and Flame”), electric Americana (“Harlesden to Vals”) and dissonant sound art (“Slowed Lowed Lowered”), but Gates’ lovely, lived-in lilt keeps things fluid.

“While I was writing this album,” she explains, “I wasn’t sure the tone was consistent. But then I happened to put on a Neil Young record, and enjoyed how it went from full-on, raging rock to personal, quiet, acoustic songs. I was like, ‘Oh, wait, of course… you can do it however you want.’”

No matter the style, the emotional depth in Gates’ music is unwavering.

“That’s what I aspire to, and what I respond to. I like the idea of music that you live with over a long period of time… and can keep close at hand.”

Rebecca Gates, Chris Brokaw
8 p.m. Wednesday at The Crocodile Back Bar, 2200 2nd Ave., Seattle; $7 (206-441-4618 or

Comments | More in Americana, Rock/Pop | Topics: Portland, Sub Pop, The Crocodile


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