The Doug Fir is one of my favorite venues in town, and along with Mississippi Studios and The Know probably constitute somewhere around 90% of my concert destinations. So, I couldn’t pass up the offer to get some comp-ed tickets to see a show there, even though the bands playing are just a bit outside of my musical wheelhouse.
Opener Hannah Georgas was super polished. Had a midi box she was adding vocal effects to, and was looping over her own vocals for the chorus in a song to powerful effect. There was a keyboardist as well, a very understated guitarist w/ a nice array of sounds that were never muddy & rarely sounded like anything I’m used to a guitar sounding like. The drummer hit very hard & provided a real driving backbeat. This was very tight, very professional music.
That all said, there was something a bit too polished about what they were doing, although it was still very heartfelt (which seems to be lacking from a lot of more polished acts), there was still something in the air about them that said they could be playing The Bait Shop or The Bronze or The Peach Pit instead of The Doug Fir. I get the feeling some Hollywood exec would be drooling to make her the “it” gal du jour were it 1997. While the performance was great, nothing really stayed with me and haunted me the way that those transformative musical experiences do. The second-to-last song came close though; she prefaced it by pointing out that it was a song she had written for her mother in memory of her father & even without knowing that, the emotion flowing through the music was palpable. She possesses a unique voicing that almost makes it seem as if she has an Eastern European accent. She doesn’t: the band is from Canada & she might be as well. (No tell-tale “hoser”s or “take-off”s or “aboots” or “eh?”s…not even a mention of hockey)
Husky is an Australian band (which of course means there’s an 85% chance I’m going to LOVE them, if track record is any indication) fronted by the diminutive namesake Husky Gawenda who is svelte w/ a closely cropped beard & an easy stage presence, if not a natural storyteller. I’m sure with his shy and unpremeditated delivery, no one will ask him to fill in at an open mic comedy night, but that wasn’t necessary as the tender sincerity & enthusiasm for the place he was in was fairly contagious. It is always to a musician’s credit when they allow the songs to either carry the crowd or not, rather than making the experience dependent on their personality.1
There were stellar harmonies from the keyboardist and the bassist, something right out of some glitzy 70s Steely Dan album to the point where I almost wondered if they were lip-syncing. These guys are vocal machines! Actually, Husky was a bit more reminiscent of a lightly prog-y, Aussie Paul Simon than the Steelys.2 A folky tinge pervaded everything. It was the slightest of timbres, but blissfully free of that American twang that I can’t seem for the life of me to separate from the Red States that carry it as a musical flag.
I left early, since the crowd was getting me down. Two girls at the front were very young & very flirty, dancing very suggestively & frankly totally out of tone w/ the music. They really needed to be at a nightclub like the Barracuda instead of here, but here they were unique, instead of just another nameless 21 year old dancing suggestively for attention. Three hopelessly awkward & oblivious bros stood to my right, talking loudly all over the music. I get the feeling some kindly hotel clerk or well-meaning relative told them “that when you visit Portland, the Doug Fir is the cool place to go”, and here they were. Fine, that’s fine. I’m all about being inclusive, just PLEASE DON’T FUCKING CARRY ON A CONVERSATION OVER THE MUSIC, especially if YOU WANT TO STAND RIGHT NEXT TO THE FRONT OF THE STAGE. It’s a real low-ambition request, or so I thought.
I was a bit tired anyhow and so I figured I’d remove myself rather than make enemies with any of them, although I might have politely & respectfully made my case for either minimal conversation or relegation to the back of the venue had I been more excited. The music really was good & well-executed; it just wasn’t exactly my thing, and after listening to as much indiepop as I have been lately, what with a 3½ minute song qualifying as “a long one”, these 6, 7 & 8 minute songs seemed symphonic in length.
I did take a poster home for the wall of fame. There’s something entertaining about an ad for Husky featuring a dog that was decidedly not a husky.
1: I know, I *know*, “BUT YOU’RE A MORRISSEY FAN!”. Yes, I admit this. There is no shortage of bands in my pantheon of favorites who compel the listener to pay as much attention to the persona of the performers as the music, but in my defense, I’m pretty discerning about what I care for and what I cast off. For example, Morrissey is a racist and an unrepentant fat-shamer, not to mention a solipsistic megalomaniac, who like many others in the public spotlight, with his success he has either managed to inoculate himself from any criticism or else just patently refuses to listen to any. I see all of this. This colors what I think about what he has to say as well as what I think about him as a person, but the songs that are great (and there are SO MANY OF THEM) are snapshots of a moment, and while that moment may be created by the person who possesses all of those unlikable (dare I say “unloveable”?) traits, they also exist as they are themselves, bound only by the parameters of what they actually say. Some horrible people make great art, and it’s just as much of a mistake to dismiss the greatness of the art as it is to fail to point out the horribleness of the creator when warranted.
2: And Elisabeth will tell you with Graceland, it’s not allowed to be, but we know it’s everyone’s favorite. And I *hate* Graceland and don’t really care too much for Paul Simon, but after hearing Allo Darlin’, I LOVE Graceland & Paul Simon, if only just the idea instead of any actual execution.