As the darkness gathers and restless spirits stir this time of year in Southeast Alaska, local music duo George and Bridget Kuhar are once again lighting a torch to serve as a guiding light to any wayward souls looking for a reflection on life, death, and great live music. The Kuhars will be bringing their band, Juneau’s premier rock group Playboy Spaceman, along with other groups to the stage for the “Skull Party,” a special show this week on Halloween night in Juneau.
The Skull Party, being held at the Rockwell Ballroom, is sponsored by KXLL Excellent Radio and High Tide Tattoo.
This marks the fifth show the Kuhars have played together around Halloween in various venues, genres, and configurations. For two years, they performed live soundtracks alongside silent horror films “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and “Nosferatu” — a special style of movie event they helped popularize in Juneau, and which are now routinely put on at the Gold Town Nickelodeon with various musical accompaniments.
Last year’s “Festival of the Three Skulls” show on November 1, a Day of the Dead-inspired musical celebration, featured a lively performance by Playboy Spaceman (and was documented in the band’s hyper-local music video for their song “Right in Front of You”).
In addition to being the Kuhars’ favorite holiday, and a time they see as an important one for reflection on life, death, and spirits, George Kuhar said that he also reflects on his own mortality, which he was forced to face at an early age.
“I kind of have a heavy trip about being genetically designed to die … by the age of thirty, and yet I’m still here,” Kuhar said.
Kuhar lost his kidneys to a genetic kidney disease at 27, and was on dialysis for eight months. He and Bridget were a new couple at the time. They found out that she was a perfect match for a transplant, and she decided to donate one of her kidneys to George. Their performance of the live soundtrack they created for “Nosferatu” in 2008 was the first time they had played since the successful transplant. Bridget Kuhar said that they found connections to life, death, rebirth, and their own ordeal in the film.
“It was a time when we were really aware of that, that feeling like [George] was dead and I brought [him] back to life … which is in a weird part of ‘Nosferatu,’” she said. “It was our story somehow.”
The pair also reflect on the natural processes of death at this time of year in the north, with the trees losing their leaves, the grass dying, the days growing short.
“It’s the death of the Earth,” said Bridget Kuhar.
George Kuhar sees music as a natural conduit of processing the cycles of the body, mind, planet, and universe through sound.
“Making sound is a very important part of an experience … especially difficult experiences,” he said. “It helps you fully experience that experience, plus letting go, you’re not holding onto it. Let it loose out into the world; you don’t have to carry it with you. You’ll have to release it at the time of death.”
Playboy Spaceman will be playing music from their 2014 “One Heart Army” full length album, as well as new songs, some of which will appear on an album the band is currently working on wrapping up for release, along with some other surprises.
The Kuhars will be joined on stage with Playboy Spaceman bandmates Jason Messing on drums, Simon Taylor on bass, and Nickolas Wagner on electronic percussion. Kuhar said that each member brings something special to the quintet, such as Wagner’s role as the group’s mystical binding agent.
“Nick is like our spirit gravy,” Kuhar said. “In the South, gravy … takes a good thing, and makes it very nice. Gravy is made out things that have escaped the meat during the cooking process … Nickolas makes sure none of the pure essence is lost.”
Playboy Spaceman will be joined on stage with two other groups, Sitka-based Silver Jackson and Scorcher Soundsystem from Juneau.
Silver Jackson, the stage name of Tlingit and Aleut multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Galanin, is returning from playing shows through New York and Germany, and travels in Japan. Galanin, as part of a two piece band at the Skull Party, will be performing some tracks from his second experimental album, “Starry Skies Opened Eyes,” which was released earlier this year. (Also in this issue, George Kuhar reviews that album.)
“They’re really amazing; they really have some great harmonies,” Kuhar said. “They make some really interesting sounds.”
DJ Taco Todd (Todd Mace) of Alaskan Scorcher — regularly heard Tuesday evenings on KXLL — will be also playing a couple of sets, with an amalgam of genres on vinyl ranging from garage rock to soul to world music.
“He really has a style he’s honed,” Kuhar said.
Mace also designed the poster for the Skull Party event, which features a graphic by tattoo artist David Lang, owner of High Tide Tattoo in Juneau.
The Skull Party with Playboy Spaceman, Silver Jackson, and Alaskan Scorcher will be held at the Rockwell Ballroom (109 South Franklin Street, upstairs) on Halloween night, Saturday, Oct. 31. The doors open at 8 p.m. and the event is 21 and over. Costumes are encouraged. Tickets are $15 at the door. For more information, go online at www.facebook.com/events/1495007497462895.