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Friday, September 23, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Night Watch

Weapons of mass neo-grunge appeal

Seattle Times staff reporter

In the very-late 20th century, "grunge" was a dirty word around Seattle. If you went up to a band around 1997 or '98 and said, "You guys are so grunge!," you might have walked away with a fat lip. Or, at least, the protest, "No way, we're speed metal," or, "You're crazy, we're totally punk!"

Part of it might have been denial, partly that grunge was by then in its post-Cobain death throes. By the early 21st century, that low, sludgy, eerily intense sound had been almost entirely replaced by the higher-end, far brighter music that came to be generalized as indie rock.

But you know how it is in music: Like in fashion, things tend to come around again ...

So now, while indie- and pop-rock approaches a saturation point, there are signs that grunge is creeping back into Seattle. Neo-grunge, it might be better called. Post Stardom Depression has a very-Soundgarden sound. The Valley, playing with the Emergency at Fremont's High Dive at 10 p.m. Saturday ($7), play garage-punk rock with a strong Mudhoney accent. (Threeimaginarygirls.com review: "It contains all the buzzy, chugging, Rainier Beer and sticky rock-club floors of Seattle Rock of the past, and I can't help but love it.")

The best of the neo-grungers just might be the Weapons. The Seattle band's new "Formula for a Fight" EP is powerful, low-end, delicious sludge. A few of the songs — "Numb" and "40 oz." — sound like they could have been Nirvana or Alice in Chains B-sides.

This is not a bad thing, mind you, as a song could do far worse than to be compared to a Nirvana B-side. Theo Prince's lyrics reinforce the Cobain/Layne Staley echoes, with the likes of "I don't care if I die" and; even more creepily:

"I'm just alone with my forty ounce

Wishing that a gun wasn't in this house"

The Weapons are not a grunge knock-off band, and they come at things from interesting angles. Like Nirvana, this band is a trio, with Prince playing guitar, writing songs and singing in a Cobain-ish voice, Dan Wrenn on bass and Erik Schultz playing some electrifying drums.

Perhaps putting my safety at risk, I walked up to these three the other night and said it: "You guys sound grunge."

They kept their hands at their sides, rather than doing me harm, and laughed.

"I love grunge, and I'm influenced by a lot of grunge bands, and I hear that enough that it must be true," said Prince, a lanky 28-year-old with shaggy dark hair and disarmingly bright eyes.

Prince split his youth between Los Angeles and the Bellingham area. Wrenn and Schultz came to Seattle from Eastern Washington.

Inside the band's rented rehearsal space in a Sodo converted warehouse, it becomes clear that the band's influences stretch back beyond grunge to what the early grunge bands were listening to — Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, even the Beatles.

"I never write here," Prince said, after the band played "Fade to Gray" at the rehearsal. "I always write at home — always on acoustic guitar."

Like most bands, the Weapons love to play their new songs, so they let loose with a few songs that Prince wrote after the EP was recorded. "My Favorite" sounds very early-Cobain, as Prince shares that catch in the voice that suggests hesitancy as he sings:

"With my eyes closed, the end draws near next to you ... "

"Anything for You," which the unprepossessing trio plays next, frollicks in Sabbath-y sludge. Then, before playing "Sing It Again," Prince introduces it as "kind of our slower, more-different song." It turns out to be on the epic side, long with wide spaces for Schultz to fill with some virtuoso drum playing.

Added to the five songs on the band's exhilarating EP, this suggests that the Weapons have a growing body of work that deserves an audience. Indeed, though still largely unknown, this band is gaining some momentum. Prince took some time off to get married, but now things are happening for the band, which was included on KEXP's first "podcasting" compilation, along with the aforementioned the Valley, the Emergency and a dozen other young Seattle bands.

The Weapons play 10 p.m. Wednesday at Belltown's Rendezvous ($5).

• A handful of Seattle's most talented bands play at Fremont's Oktoberfest this weekend ($20 per day).

The gypsy funk-rock of Kultur Shock and twisted lounge of Dudley Manlove are the draws tonight (music starts at 5 p.m.).

Saturday is a big pop-rock night, with the Cops (7 p.m.), the Divorce (8:30) and Harvey Danger (10) on the main stage.

A handful of bands will be playing on two stages on Sunday, starting at 10 a.m. and going on until just before 6.

For ticket outlets and other information, visit www.fremont oktober fest.com.

• Big-ticket show of the week: Rickie Lee Jones at the Triple Door, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday ($48.50 advance, $50 day of show).

Tom Scanlon: tscanlon@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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