The Spookies, Death Songs and The Shaky Hands at The Know 10/20/12

Got there quarter past 10.  The show was listed at 8, figured it’d start at 9.  I wasn’t far off; they started at 8:45 because the neighborhood noise curfew makes it so bands have to knock off by 11, even on a Saturday. Fuck. That. Noise. (literally, apparently)

I’m a fan of The Know.  Usually a punk bar; maybe the only real one in town1 they still manage to get in acts of all stripes.  Last time I was there, I saw The Kissing Party (headliners from Colorado), Shadow House (PDX) and Lubec (PDX), who just released a split 7” with a track entitled “The Theme From Lubec”.  It’s not bad, but the real keeper is the B side: a track from local group Sundaze, who are tapping into this really great low-key synthpop vibe, a bit like if someone gave Ian Curtis a bit of tea with honey & he decided to pass on watching “Stroszek” & put on a New Order album instead that he anachronistically borrowed from Doc Brown and his velocity somewhere north of 88 MPH…something about disappearing & possible universes and all that.  In short, the song is dark but neither maudlin nor hopeless, giving off an effortless vibe of sedate cool.  Somewhere out in the city, a club is playing this music to a dark and mostly empty room and I want to sit inside this room with a beautiful girl, trading knowing non-expressions until it is time for us to leave on our Vespas, past neon billboards and rats scurrying in the streets.

Lubec, and Shadow House, put on decent shows to a less-than-packed house, but The Kissing Party really kicked it up a notch.  The sound wasn’t there & the band was making a few mistakes, (the inevitable stresses of the road, sleeplessness and unfamiliarity perhaps getting to them) but what was missing in pure sound was made up for and then some by the sheer enthusiasm of the band.  They had brought tambourines2 which they spray-stenciled their name onto that Deirdre Sage danced around the room handing out.  She would stop and pull anyone and everyone into a light-hearted, enthusiastic-yet-respectful-of-space indie dance.  The crowd was awesome and caught her enthusiasm.  Especially cool was that it seemed to be that this took place without any of the creepiness that can happen when a lady just wants to dance and have a good time and some clueless guy gets the wrong idea.  It seemed everyone in the room (all 20 of us, maybe) got it, and that each dance she offered to everyone was somehow both flirty and chaste in the most charming way.  It was impossible not to be taken in my how much these guys loved what they were playing and doing.  The Kissing Party really is the perfect name for them because they seem to hover in that 11-year-old enthusiasm when you get to kiss your crush in a game of spin-the-bottle.  But this review is about tonight’s show; not the awesomeness that is The Kissing Party.  I’ll just leave off saying I BOUGHT ALL OF THE MERCH EVER from them.

So, in my incorrigible tardiness, I missed the band I was most excited about seeing, namely The Spookies and their particular brand of garage-y pop fuzz mixed with 60’s-styled harmonies, which is actually not an unfitting description of their parent band: The Shaky Hands – though a bit more power pop & a bit less garage.

I walked in with only 3 songs left in Death Songs’ set.  Nick Delffs had his guitar & stood in front of a keyboard, a lady whose name I couldn’t track down (despite various queries from the internet; oh internets, why hast thou failed me?) stood in front of another keyboard and a set of floor toms which she was rocking out on & the equally sans appellation-ed drummer was in front of a trap kit.  Their sound was good and heavy indie, with a slight drone-y feel, but more lively than that.

There was a check-in for timing left with the sound guy (who looked like he was all of 14 & auditioning to play the role of Prepubescent Ramone in yet another bloody Ramones cover band…I do say that with ALL of the love for the Ramones, though, especially being someone who dresses like Johnny Ramone more often than not…though I need for the record to show that my politics are those of Joeys, of course.) & they got the go-ahead, despite some equipment problems that may have radically altered their sound.  I suspect this explains the split up of the drums & the minimal (nonexistent?) use of the keyboards.  This last song really jumped with enthusiasm despite whatever issues they may have had.  Nick threw the mic on the ground with a jump and a punctuated “WHOOP!” and the band really laid into it.  The he picked up the mic & then used it percussively against his guitar.

I didn’t know what they were supposed to sound like live or how much of a deviation from this it was due to those sound issues, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Also, I really love seeing shows at The Know.  I like to stand in the back at shows out of deference to my height and the many people that has the ability to interfere with, but with my back to the wall, it’s still almost like being right up against the stage.

The crowd was really diverse as well; people from all kinds of social circles. It seemed like ladies outnumbered the men, which is nice to see for a variety of reasons.  Going to shows can be such a dehumanizing and sexist experience, due to a lot of the attitudes of a lot of the men: some overt, some just merely the unintentional product of an unexamined set of values or behavior.  The degree to which a guy is unaware of this has no bearing on the effect however, which is the same to the women on the receiving end of this.  Shows can occasionally seem like a locker room filled full of guys who would get beat up in an actual locker room and so have recreated the same structure with lesser consequences wherein they get to place themselves at the top of this jock heap, excluding whatever uninitiated group to earn whatever imaginary cool status there is to be had & keep their scene pure.  Not always, of course, but this kind of sectarianism tends to be more severe the more specific the genre identity is.  I know I’ve seen it in the hardcore scene and the metal scene, very often with “the exception to the rule” girl reinforcing some of the very problematic male behaviors to ingratiate herself to the people she’s attracted to.  It’s important that those of us with a sense of social responsibility make sure we call out bullshit when we see it.

It was very pleasant to see the crowd, and how together and respectful they all were, without being either sober churchmouses or dull no-fun-havers.  There was a lot of dancing, yet also without a lot of bumping and personal-space invasion, which is a hard line to walk in a room that packed.  One guy in particular, with a beard that would make a Civil War re-enactor proud, was dancing like a Charlie Brown character, punctuating his moves by shaking his hands at the band in some sort of gesticulatory play-on-words.

The crowd had punks, indie kids, women with North Face & Columbia jackets over otherwise formal skirts, many guys in flannel & one gent who had a beard that would give Rip Van Winkle pause.  In the middle of all this were the best-dressed couple of the night: a tall redheaded lady exuding an understated elegance in her simplicity of dress: a solid-color sweater and some jeans, and her date, an equally-tall, well-dressed gentleman with a tan Bogart trenchcoat and a jaunty haircut, standing next to the punk with a Mohawk and the hand-painted leather jacket.

Looking at the sheer social diversity of the crowd at that moment, I felt like I was in the right place in Portland at the moment, as the Shaky Hands moved from a slower, groove-based piece to a jumping one, full of a punk-y energy without that inevitable sense of reckless destruction that to me seems to separate punk from its various similar styles, such as post-punk etc.  There was a reserved-ness that spoke to me of the balance of the responsibilities of adulthood while still burning with the fury of youth in all its desirous vigor.  Maybe I’m speaking more of my own situation perhaps than the music, but if so, this band was still the perfect soundtrack for the night.

-Mr. F.

1: Though with Jeff Trune (of Straitjackets and Chemicals fame) at the East End now, that’s no longer true.  On a side note to a side note, Jeff is one of the nicest people on the planet, so if you’re in Portland and like punk, come on by the East End, say hi to him at the upstairs bar, then go down below & catch what most likely will be an awesome show. Plan B also gets some punk shows, but really tends to cater more to the various stripes of metal that still somehow seem to be the genre du jour, in Portland…or maybe I just have too many friends who are waaaaaaaay too into it.

2: Apparently if there is the word “Tambourine” somewhere in your band name, I am going to love the EVERLIVING FUCK out of your music: Black Tambourine is of course amazing –how could it not be with Papa Slumber and Pam Berry in it?; new UK crash-pop band The Black Tambourines, full of the best kind of garage-y fuzz-y goodness and The Tambourines (both the UK band from the early ‘90s with a bit of LA Paisley Underground feel to it and the current indie-pop-with-a-shoegaze-bent one with Henrique Laurindo and Lulu Grave – what a great, Runyonesque name, BTW.  I picture her as the lead in some great 60’s Tiki Zombie camp horror movie, wearing grass skirts and saying “zoinks!” a lot) and rock band Tambourine from Illinois.  Hell, I even like Scotland’s The Green Tambourine, doing a fun noise/psychedelic/drone thing that I’ll bet The Dandy Warhols even at their best moments are still kind of jealous of.

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