Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

Or, The Jason Webley Quartet

Jason Webley Urkelizes your ears.
Jason Webley Urkelizes your ears.

The accordion has long been the butt of jokes, looked upon as an Urkel-esque black sheep of the music industry. Except to those in the know. Jason Webley is one such soul.

Webley is the kind of man who has no problem defying convention as someone who left his real job to scrape up a living as a busker on the streets of Seattle. While most musicians in the city were still regrouping after the death of grunge, Jason Webley picked up his squeezebox and stood on street corners beckoning passersby with a musical cocktail that transcended genres and crossed, illegally perhaps, cultural borders.

What followed could be described as genius or, as some genetically panic-stricken folk decreed, the birth of a dangerous cult leader.

But Webley laughs off that notion. “I don’t think so," he says. "Less of a dangerous cult leader over time, anyway. It probably comes from when I would do this dying thing on Halloween.”

Every year on Halloween, until 2005, Webley would symbolically die and leave Seattle to tour the world, returning to the Northwest in the spring. The symbolic deaths involved elaborate and dramatic departures. The first such “death” saw his fans following a woman with a tomato puppet into the woods. He was stripped by some nice ladies who then shaved all his hair off. His clothes, hair and the tomato puppet were burned, and he was placed in a coffin and carted off in the back of a van. He was once also rowed across a lake by a siren. (Can you blame him for quitting his day job?)

While he no longer ritually dies in such a theatrical manner, his latest album is a bit of a death, or at least a departure, from his previous releases.

His fifth offering, The Cost of Living, is infused with more rock ’n’ roll than his earlier albums but is truly Jason Webley at heart. The accordion is there, but it takes a backseat to culture-spelunking lyrics. “It’s kind of a rock album. There is a full band. It’s darker; a bit more rocking with a gypsy-punkish sound.”

With Jherek Bischoff (Xiu Xiu, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and The Dead Science) on bass, violist L. Alex Guy (Laura Veirs and The Degenerate Art Ensemble) and drummer Michael McQuilken (composer of Broadway’s Nickel and Dimed score), Webley departs even further from his solo act. He admits defining his new musical niche has been a challenge. “The guy who made my MySpace page had to choose three terms. I think they were folk, punk and experimental, but I’m a singer-songwriter. I’m an accordion player. My music switches genres.”

Expect penetrating music, a little storytelling and, maybe, some audience participation when The Jason Webley Quartet plays The Curio (1451 12 th Street NW) on Monday, Oct. 22. Oh, and of course the accordion. Ribbons, Led to Sea and Quilken will also perform. All-ages, $6 cover.