Friday, October 31, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Night Watch / Tom Scanlon

'Happy Death Day' with Jason Webley

Have you ever walked deep into the heart of the woods at night without a flashlight?

Have you ever dared yourself to spend half a night in a cemetery? Or forced yourself to sit in that scary room — you know the one — with the lights out?

Have you ever followed the procession behind Jason Webley, wondering where the heck you're going?

Webley is that accordion specialist and globe-trotting troubadour who is a weird — very weird — concoction, some sort of cross between Tom Waits, Big Bird, Edgar Allen Poe and Karen Finley.

Every year on Halloween week, Seattle's oddest musician culminates a year of performances with a "death" concert.

When last we checked in with him, he was naked, tied to a tree — the coup de ghoul of his Halloween '02 performance, which started at the University District's Paradox Theatre (R.I.P.), and ended deep in the Ravenna woods. Typically, the finish of his fall shows are really just the beginning; when the music and story-telling ends, his crowd of fans/disciples follow him in a procession, until he stops somewhere (the location divulged to only a select few beforehand) and does death-oriented performance art.

"Happy Death Day" is the theme-in-progress for Webley 2003. Taking quite a financial risk, Webley has rented the spacious Town Hall — 1119 Eighth Ave. — for an all-ages concert Saturday (8 p.m., $9). He will be joined on stage by a dozen other performers: strings, brass, horns, puppeteers, dancers.

Where will he lead his followers, after this Pill Hill show? Webley is tight-lipped about that, as he is about many things, reveling in the cryptic, the ambiguous, the mysterious.

As for the concert itself, this will be by far his largest Seattle show, and he has built expectations with his increasingly over-the-top shows; yet he says he tries not to try to top himself. "That's a bad game to get into. What I try to be is responsive to what's going on inside me.

"Bigness can work against you in a lot of ways."

On one of his increasingly rare stints in Seattle, Webley strode up University Way in the University District the other evening, light brown hair flowing out from under a fedora, past his spindly shoulders.

For much of the year, Webley has been a solo artist, traipsing around the world. He spent two weeks in Russia, then hit Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium before England's massive Glastonbury Festival. Then he came back here to perform at the Oregon County Fair. And then Burning Man. And then the Fez and CBGB, in his first Manhattan performances.

"I'm in another world almost every day."

For all of his tomfoolery, his odd fascination with carrots and feathers, his habit of interrupting concerts to read children's stories, masks and singalongs, for all this and more, it is sometimes easy to forget that this curiosity is one of Seattle's most talented musicians, a singer-songwriter with a rare gift for crafting timeless songs that approach Waits and Leonard Cohen territory.

Webley says he will be performing some of the 12 new songs that he debuted at a spring performance, and perhaps a few other songs that have yet to be heard by the public. While he is one of those people the word "impromptu" was invented for, this big-band show will likely have him in one of his most structured environments.

"When I play alone, I end up talking a lot," he admits, pausing from an Indian food feast in the U District.

Wearing a green T-shirt with a carrot (of course) on it under a trench coat, he looks like an art student, or perhaps a theater student. Which, by the way, is what he was a few years ago — studying theater and music at the UW.

Asked if that joint education has contributed to his highly theatric musical career, he answers, sardonically and mysteriously, as is his wont, "I think I'm doing what I'm doing in spite of that."

He loves to travel, experience new worlds and meet new people in new cultures. Yet he has no plans to leave the Northwest, home: "This place is in my blood."

For more, check out the Web site (

• The far-more-mainstream troubadour Pete Yorn plays the Crocodile on Saturday (10 p.m., $14).

Carissa's Wierd, one of the quietest — and best — rock bands to come out of Seattle in recent years, is splitting up. ... This should be no surprise, considering CW's last album was called "Songs About Leaving." The Elliott Smith-meets-Cat Power act of Mat Brooke and Jenn Ghetto will sing farewell to their adoring fans with two shows at the Crocodile on Sunday, all-ages at 6 p.m., 21-and-over at 10 p.m. ($10).

• Former Candlebox crooner Kevin Martin sings from his solo album "The Possibility of Being" at the Crocodile on Tuesday (9 p.m., $18). The album is a peck of pickled power pop.

• Icelandic fuzzy-guitar rockers Singapore Sling makes its Seattle debut tonight at Graceland (10 p.m., $8).

• The Ex Models, that post-Devo noise band from Brooklyn, screeches into Graceland on Thursday (9:30 p.m., $7).

• The Fun House — taking over at the closed Zak's — makes its debut tonight, with Mea Culpa headlining a punky lineup (9:30 p.m., $5).

• From slam to glam: Club Medusa hosts an "Erotica Ball" tonight (10 p.m., $25), with DJ Princess Superstar spinning house for the costumed crowd.

Tom Scanlon:

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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