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Originally published Friday, June 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Night Watch

C'mon, America, the Saturday Knights are a hip-hop marvel

"i have no idea what kind of music this is but whatever it is it feels gooood. " — Comment posted at Stereogum.com by Undie Rock, May...

Special to The Seattle Times

"i have no idea what kind of music this is but whatever it is it feels gooood."

— Comment posted at Stereogum.com by Undie Rock, May 22, 2008

America can't handle the Saturday Knights.

In Seattle, though, we can't get enough. If we had to pick a musical mascot for the city, consensus would likely be the multi-culti trio of a certain age. Since the band's four-song EP came out in early 2007, every local publication — large, small, print, online, alt, mainstream — has lathered the band in praise. Doesn't matter if you're into hip-hop or pop or punk or funk (all of which TSK twist like balloon animals into something bright, funny and bouncy as hell) — their unabashed positivity and cool-kid smarts are disarming and dangerously infectious.

DJ Spencer and MCs Barfly and Tilson are guys you wanna pound beers with and bring home to Mom (they love moms). Seattle has been hanging with the Knights long enough that we consider them bros, homies, dudes from around the way. All of which they are. And they make really fun music.

The rest of the country has no idea. This is a problem. "Mingle," the full-length album whose release they celebrate tonight at Nectar ($10, doors at 9 p.m.), should be a huge summer hit. Nickelback/Alan Jackson/Celine Dion huge. All 13 tracks are winners; tunes like "45," "Count It Off," "Dog Park," "Motorin'," "Patches," "I Go" and "The Gospel" are straight-up champions. The Dap Kings, the true-school soul band from Brooklyn that usually backs Sharon Jones, makes an appearance. So does former Soundgarden axe-wielder Kim Thayil. Jack Endino, Sub Pop uber-producer, plays drums on a song. Through it all, the music crackles with personality. There's mass appeal, and yet the band never panders. It's a sugar-rushed pop culture smorgasbord a la the Beastie Boys or Beck, but it's totally unique.

But again, that problem: That comment from Undie Rock is the most articulate thing said about the Saturday Knights outside Seattle. It was taken from a post on Stereogum — a popular music blog based in New York — that's one of only a handful of mentions the band has received in national press. Pitchfork, an influential music Web site based in Chicago, had another. A March news item dubbed the Saturday Knights "Seattle rap goofballs." Ahem.

They're just not getting it — literally. The Knights have never left the Northwest (except for a jaunt to Austin for South by Southwest last year). While Seattle supporters do everything they can to spread the gospel, there's a limit to how far word-of-mouth can go. This fact is especially true for a genre-flouting, personality-driven outfit like the Knights. As much as he might want to, Tilson can't sweet-talk female fans over MySpace like he can in person. Something of Barfly's debauched panache is lost if you've never seen the guy.

Nobody's more aware of this catch-22 than Matt Sullivan, owner of the Saturday Knights' Fremont-based record label Light in the Attic.

"I don't know any group like this," he said in a recent phone interview. "It's not even a group, it's a lifestyle. How'd they come together to make this music?"

Sullivan went on to describe a Saturday Knights appearance at local rock station The End last year. "The whole time, Tilson was giving out his phone number on the air — 'Call me up, I'd love to talk with you.' He had 100 voice mails at the end of the day. That's their thing — forget the middleman, forget the media, they just wanna get out there and meet people. There's a personal quality that's so unique. As a label, that's the frustrating thing. How do you show that to the world?"

The answer Light in the Attic has found so far: by matching creativity with creativity. In April, when it came time to present local press with promotional copies of the album, rather than mail generic CDRs, Spencer and Tilson personally accompanied reporters on a listening drive around the city in Tilson's Land Rover. National media types were recently sent "The Luxury Pamphlet Coloring Book," an absurdist press release packaged as a 12-page coloring book; TSK-branded, tree-shaped air fresheners; plaid elbow patches (the key to sophisticated, sexy appeal as described in the song "Patches"); and a TSK-branded in-flight meal tray, stocked with a TSK barf bag and towelette, a bag of peanuts and a spork.

The idea is to package the band with the same witty, offbeat charisma with which they package their music. Hopefully it inspires tastemakers to do the one thing that will, without fail, sell them on the music: Listen to it.

Other must-see shows this week:

Saturday: One of the most puzzling lineups in recent memory goes down at the Tractor Saturday, when Seattle drone-metal behemoths Earth open for Seattle alt-country mystic Jesse Sykes. Expect aesthetic whiplash ($12, 9:30 p.m.).

Tuesday: One of the most intriguing voices in Seattle belongs to Grand Hallway bandleader Tomo Nakayama, who also plays percussion in the Maldives. The eight-piece chamber-pop group is joined tonight at the Tractor by the ever-alluring Jamie Spiess, whose solo acoustic project is called "Husbands, Love Your Wives" (8 p.m., $8).

Wednesday: The Tractor continues a killer week with saxophreak Skerik's maverick collective Critters Buggin. Useless trying to describe their spazz-jazz sound; it's never the same twice (9 p.m., $18-$20).

Jonathan Zwickel: zwickelicious@gmail.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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