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Friday, August 23, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Night Watch / Tom Scanlon

Automaton drummer goes with Plan B, for now

Seattle Times staff reporter

Most of us have a fallback, also known as Plan B.

"Fine, if they're going to expect me to show up on time, I can always go with Plan B and go back to waiting tables ... " "If I don't get a call-back, I can always try ... " "Pay the rent, or go to Mexico? Well, there's always the parents' basement ... "

But what do you do if Plan B actually becomes more attractive than Plan A?

James van Leuven might face that choice, at some point. He's pretty well-known around Seattle as the drummer for Automaton, an indie-rock band that has developed a solid audience over the past six years.

Now van Leuven has released "Like a Ship Sailing," the first record by Plan B, on which van Leuven is pretty much a one-man band — percussion, bass, guitar, keyboards, all sorts of computer stuff. (His day job is managing the computers at the Stranger.)

"Like a Ship Sailing" is quite a treat, a delightful, bursting-with-ideas record with low-key drum-and-bass beats, quirky samples and mesmerizing loops.

"It's just stuff that's been brewing in me for a while," says van Leuven, who grew up on the East Side and went to Newport High. While he's still in Automaton, and will be recording with the band soon, "I'm focusing on Plan B now, trying to play as much music as possible."

Plan B has been getting one show after another in the past few weeks. With van Leuven DJing via laptop, backed by live musicians and a video/light show, Plan B performs at I-Spy on Saturday (9 p.m., $8). FCS North, another Seattle act that mixes live music and DJ beats and samples, is also on this excellent bill, headlined by Ninja Tune Record's Fog, the alias of DJ/producer Andrew Broder.

Hell's Belles bowing out

• Seattle's favorite tribute band turns out to be more Bon than Brian; this isn't to imply that they're choking on their regurgitation, but that they are living fast and dying young, à la Bon Scott, as opposed to hanging around like a Brian Johnson.

Hell's Belles, the all-female AC/DC cover band, is hanging it up, even at the height of its success. Led by soulful singer Om Johari, who brought a tomboy snarl to the testosterone rock, and spectacular guitarist Amy Stolzenbach, Hell's Belles was an instant hit around Seattle from its first show, back in 2000. The band has also been extremely successful on the club touring circuit, but Johari decided to go out on top.

"Hell's Belles sort of had a shelf life, and it might be time to pack it up, open up the can and put it away ... move on to other stuff before you get botulism," she said, getting a little swept up in her metaphor earlier this week.

Johari is the only current Belle from the original lineup, and constant lineup changes have been a drain — there have been a dozen members in two years. "It's been great playing AC/DC, but I need to get my focus back and start playing my own music," Johari said.

Happily, Hell's Belles was never a camp act, but a group of serious musicians who blew audiences away with their dead-on renditions of "Back in Black," "Highway to Hell," etc. With Adrian Conner now on lead — or "Angus" — guitar, the band's final Seattle concert will be at Chop Suey on Saturday (9 p.m., $10). The crew also plays Michael's in Port Orchard tonight, the Fairhaven in Bellingham on Sept. 6 and Hell's Kitchen (appropriately) on Sept. 7, the last planned Hell's Belles show.

Also playing:

• It's not quite on the level of John Coltrane's cosmic exploration of "Favorite Things," but the way the Prids tackle '80s synth-pop is quite invigorating — even if (like this writer) you hate '80s synth pop, you might enjoy this charged band from Portland.

The Prids use the Smiths, the Cure, Depeche Mode, et al., as a starting point, and then take off in all sorts of directions from there. With a nice male-female singing dynamic, the Prids can sound Goth-y here, pleasingly ragged garage guitar there, and then suddenly slam away. The band's new "Glide, Screamer" EP is a splendid little recording, and Portland's alternative press raves about Prids concerts.

The Prids, who moved to Portland from Nebraska two years ago, visit the Paradox on Saturday (8 p.m., $10).

Mike Johnson finally has an official release show for his stunning new Up Records release, "What Would You Do."

Johnson plays his beautifully somber, neo-Leonard Cohen songs at Chop Suey tonight ($7, 9 p.m.).

Tom Scanlon: 206-464-3891 or tscanlon@seattletimes.com.

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