Kirkland Performance Center presents...
Uncle Bonsai: 35th Anniversary Show
- Friday, November 18, 2016 – 8:00PM
- All Seats: $30
“A folk-pop trio from Seattle, performs funny original songs whose exquisite musical detail and subtle needling wit attain a level of craft not often seen in pop” – Stephen Holden, NY Times
Now in its 35th year, Uncle Bonsai continues to perform and record new material. The group has eight recordings and, in mid-2013, released its first ever “bedtime book for grownups,” The Monster in the Closet/Go To Sleep. This fully illustrated, reversible, hard cover book for parents, features two popular Uncle Bonsai songs, with artwork by members Arni Adler and Patrice O’Neill, and includes a recording of the songs. The group is currently recording a new cd, tentatively titled: “The Family Feast: The Study of the Human Condition, First World Problems, and the Lasting Physiological and Psychological Effects of Eating Our Young,” due for release in November, 2016.
“Singers Ratshin, O’Neill and Adler are pitch-perfect in their delivery of often complex harmonic arrangements. And if there were an Ella Fitzgerald Award for Exquisite Elocution in Song, they would surely get it. The trio officially bills itself as a “folk” outfit, but has none of the naiveté that label might suggest. These are nicely edgy, sour-sweet songs, written for grown-ups.” – Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times
Imagine what might happen if Tim Burton hijacked the Andrew’s Sisters en route to a Stephen Sondheim festival with The Beatles and Tom Lehrer in the sidecar; you’d get Seattle super-harmonizers Uncle Bonsai. With just three voices and an acoustic guitar, Uncle Bonsai presents an often dizzying vocal array of intricate harmony. Their songs, dark and hilarious at times, just as often delight with moments of great insight and beauty. The trio aligns itself with the under-achiever, the dejected, the outsider, the black sheep. Densely-packed lyrics fly by in a whirr at times, and take a skewed stance on topics such as first-world problems, the creation of the universe, the afterlife, and, of course, holidays with the family. Uncle Bonsai’s acoustic folk-pop songs are almost one-act plays or short stories, resisting strict pop, folk, or singer-songwriter categories. Their songs focus on the passing of time, the passing of genes, and the passing of pets – the truth of everything seemingly buried somewhere under the family tree.
Now in its 35th year, Uncle Bonsai continues to perform and record new material. In mid-2013 the group released its first ever “bedtime book for grownups,” The Monster in the Closet/Go To Sleep. This fully illustrated, reversible, hard cover book for parents, features two popular Uncle Bonsai songs, with artwork by members Arni Adler and Patrice O’Neill, and includes a recording of the songs. The group is currently recording a new cd, tentatively titled: “The Family Feast: The Study of the Human Condition, First World Problems, and the Lasting Physiological and Psychological Effects of Eating Our Young,” due for release in November, 2016.
“The group has achieved an almost cult status…their music ranges from irreverent to ironic, from satirical to sad. And despite the folk tag, their music defies categorization as it incorporates elements of jazz, pop, broadway, reggae, and classical.” – Associated Press
Uncle Bonsai formed in 1981, when three recent graduates of a tiny college in Vermont migrated to Seattle and found each other in the want ads. Though strangers on the campus of only 600 students, the three quickly came together when one of them put out a call for a folk group to sing sea shanties.
Instead, Andrew, the group’s guitarist and primary songwriter began writing new songs for the trio, creating a sound that soon became the trio’s trademark: high soaring and intricate harmonies, (often biting) humor, and poignant, unflinching portrayals of life, love, and an everyman named “Doug.”
The first “show” — busking outside the gates of the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle – amassed seven dollars apiece, enough to cross the gates onto the grounds in 1981. A year later, Bonsai opened for Firesign Theater, the first of several Bumbershoot and other festival appearances across North America.
When Seattle’s KEZX radio played Bonsai’s first recording, “Suzy,” sold-out houses in the Pacific Northwest followed. Over the next eight years, Uncle Bonsai motor-homed its way around the national folk circuit for club, theater and festival engagements, frequently playing at New York’s The Bottom Line, DC’s The Birchmere and San Francisco’s The Great American Music Hall, among others. The trio received accolades from national press and released three critically acclaimed recordings, A Lonely Grain of Corn (’84), Boys Want Sex in the Morning (’86), and Myn Ynd Wymyn (’88).
Uncle Bonsai’s acoustic folk-pop songs are almost one-act plays or short stories, resisting strict pop, folk, or singer-songwriter categories. Consequently, in the ’80s the trio paired with a wide range of artists — Bonnie Raitt, Suzanne Vega, Loudon Wainwright III, Tracy Chapman, They Might Be Giants, The Persuasions, The Bobs, and Robyn Hitchcock — reflecting a diversity of categorization. In addition to their regular appearances at clubs and festivals throughout North America, the group stretched the boundaries of “folk” music, appearing in a number of theaters, including a run with the improv group None of the Above, for shows at Seattle’s A Contemporary Theater.
In 1989, Bonsai the group decided to take a break, but not before performing one final show, a benefit concert before an audience of 8,000 at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
Eight years later, the trio reunited for one night only, to perform and record the “Doug” release and, following up on the success of that evening, which sold out within hours of being announced, started performing bi-annually, writing new songs and winning over new fans. Just a year later, the group recorded a series of live concerts that became their eighth release, “Apology.” Performances throughout the Pacific NW region, and a number of concerts in favorite national clubs, convinced the group to start touring again.
In 2007, Patrice O’Neill joined original members Arni Adler and Andrew Ratshin, and three years later, Uncle Bonsai released The Grim Parade (2010), a collection of live and studio performances of songs focused on the passing of time, the passing of genes, and the passing of pets — the truth of everything seemingly buried somewhere under the family tree.
Genre Tags: Folk