So there were shows at three venues that caught my interest this eve: Modern Lives and The Suicide Notes (Petie from Pure Country Gold & Howie from Howie & the Hot Knives & ex-Mean Jeans) at Rontoms; Therapists, The Whines and Still Caves at Club 21; and Supersun, The Be Helds, The Eeries & Au Dunes at The Know. From the headline of this post, I trust that you, dear reader, have already put together which show your humble narrator opted for.
True to form, I showed up fashionably late due to a last minute grant writing project I caught earlier in the day that put just enough cash into my hand for door, a 12”, & a 7”. This is a no-no at The Know (HA!), since they start their shows early and do their best to run a pretty tight ship because of the abominable curfew.
I missed Supersun, which was particularly vexing, since I was unable to find any information during the most cursory google search (being tight on time, I didn’t go to any heroic measures) and consequently have NO IDEA what they sound like. I’m sure I’ll catch ‘em soon enough. I’m around frequently enough, that’s for damned sure.
I walked in as The Be Helds were a song or two into their set. Checking out the one song that I heard online, I was expecting to find a female lead singer, but instead was confronted with a tall & wirey guy on guitar & a curly blonde-haired drummer (who reminded me a bit of the guy they all call “Beefy Jake” from Pure Country Gold.) who was pounding the ever-living hell out of a trap kit. The two-piece belted out great harmonies & seemed to be having more fun than is humanly possible. The crowd was a bit more sparse than the last time I had been there & seemed a lot more dude-heavy, but the people that were there were LOVING the music and just having as great a time as the band, it seemed. Four people in particular were really just dancing with wild abandon, arm-in-arm and shoulder to shoulder, kicking up their feet and tall cans spilling a bit with wild enthusiasm. On a personal note, at that very moment, I really felt privileged in an awesome way to live in Portland, where a show like this could be taking place at such an intimate venue, with people in such good spirits and free from any unpleasant attitudes. It was just one of those great moments when you feel that you’re exactly where you are supposed to be and I cherish the hell out of that.
It was around this point, the second song that I was there for, where the drummer picked up a 2nd guitar and managed to play that and the drums & still sing somehow, all at the same time that I realized why the name sounded so familiar: I had seen them before at Mississippi Studios, September 19th of this year, opening for Vice Device (who I ADORE! Their punchy dark wave really grabs me.) and the Swedish band Holograms, who played a synth-heavy version of pop punk, just like you might comically imagine if someone were to tell you to envision “Swedish Pop Punk” & you allowed your mind to drift to the most laughable stock image you could muster. Before the show, I remember taking some notes by myself up in the balcony where there’s seating, where one other person was also taking a respite before the first band when I heard a giggle from behind me in the upstairs band-only hospitality section. I turn around to see a fully nude man with brown hair (IMPOSTER! You *can’t* be Swedish. Kidding, kidding.) dancing somehow both shyly and outlandishly. The other person didn’t even bother looking & it only warranted a snicker from his mates, though I think I unleashed a startled guffaw. Anyway, I personally found that little incident more memorable than the music and I left halfway into their set.
Anyhow, I suspect that The Be Helds might have been a last minute replacement at that September show for Dangerous Boys Club, who either didn’t play, or else (far less likely now that I’m currently not drinking at shows) just weren’t that memorable. What I remember about The Be Helds was that same sort of matter-of-fact reckless abandon with which they were playing. They mentioned that they had just gotten off work & were almost late to the show; I got this odd, made-up feeling they both worked at a gas station and just threw off their greasy work shirts into the back of pickup truck where they had their gear stowed for the gig & drove to the show, humming a tune & not worrying about a damn thing. I got the feeling that they really loved Buddy Holly & knew that things like computers & CD players existed, but really had no need for them (not in some sort of Kipling noble savage sense, of course, just a mere aesthetic preference), that’s how evocative of a bygone era they were. A staunch air of the well-intentioned, lovable ne’er-do-well permeated the music and their general aura, as if they were the perfect gang of kids to go driving a car real fast in a rural town on a Saturday night, yelling “woooooooo!” into the night for no good reason, but without any of the bullshit fratish machismo associations that kind of image can conjure.
In short, I really liked this band & bought a 12” from ‘em. Got to talk to Jordan, the drummer a bit. He was being asked by a guy that he just met if he “wanted to step outside and come meet my dog. He’s just right nearby.” I’m not sure if this guy was really talking about his dog, or if it was some kind of code for going to smoke a joint or something, or just some kind of joke from earlier in the conversation that I wasn’t privy to wasn’t clear, but it seemed kinda weird. Jordan politely demurred. The fact that this guy was there with what appeared to be his girlfriend who seemed sane and normal made this guy seem a little less odd, but not by that much. I really do think he was probably just a little high. I guess what caught me was that his wording about “going outside to see his dog” just struck me as a “Stranger Danger” kind of situation, even though it was clearly just harmless weirdness.
Anyway, I talked to Jordan & mentioned I saw them play at Mississippi where they had said they were from Montana. He said, “yeah, good memory” & then informed me by way of Austin, TX. I know everyone and their mother just adores that city, but I think so damn poorly of Texas that I just can’t get past that. Even the inevitable follow of “Yeah, but Austin *isn’t* really Texas,” rings out to me like “Yeah but the Dillinger Four isn’t *really* a Fat Wreck Chords band.” I know it’s true; it’s just not true enough for me. (That said, I actually *like* the Dillinger Four and I LOVE The Lawrence Arms, who are also on that NOFX-y label.) Bye-bye, Indie Cred. I’ll miss you. Write me, maybe?
Next up were The Eeries from Philadelphia, a great 3-piece super-poppy pop-punk outfit, with an awesome raw garage-y sound (though it’s East Coast city style, so I guess basement-y would be more fitting.) The guitarist looked a bit like Billie Joe (and a series of histrionic playing expressions -unintentionally, I’m certain – heightened this). He broke a string two songs in, borrowed a guitar from the kindly lead guitarist of Au Dunes, and continued on, unflappably. The crowd had dispersed considerably, but the band was unmoved by this & went out & put on a hell of a show for the 8 or so of us still in the room. The bassist had a thick beard with closely-cropped hair that gave the general impression of Leonidas from 300 trying out for a high school football team. The drummer had a great curly long black mullet going with a ‘70’s mustache & a metal shirt: all of which just reeked of a screen-door slamming & a shout of “Hey ma, I’m just comin’ in for a cold one. I’ll be out front, workin’ on the Camaro. When I get that thing runnin’, it’ll be BITCHIN!”
“Oh Harold, must you cuss?”
“MA! I told you, it’s ‘Snake-eyes’, now.”
The thing about it all, is that it didn’t seem purely sincere, necessarily, but it sure as hell wasn’t the sneering irony of Brooklyn…or how people (erroneously, I’d say) think of Portland. Philly is New York’s hardworking, straight-shooting younger sibling, who will never be more well-known, but will be far more well-liked by anyone who gets close enough to really get to know them. The style was a winking nod-&-a-smile, instead of the I’m-sizing-you-up sneer, & both the band and their music were instantly likable. I picked up a 7” & wished ‘em good luck on the rest of their tour.
The last band of the night, Au Dunes, was a band of four with a very low-key, dark Americana vibe, without any of the twang. I got the feeling that they really really liked the Violent Femmes based on what I assumed to be a lyrical allusion & similar line-reading of “that could change with this relationship” from “What Do I Have to Do?”. Also, a song later in the set sounded like it was mining a lot of similar effect as their “Country Death Song”. The lead guitarist had a really big-sounding reverb-y style that seemed as if it were coming from some giant and forgotten Appalachian underground hall. He was also quite adept at utilizing the highest notes, playing nearly past the fretboard to effect a real shimmering, ethereal quality. It’s always impressive to see artful restraint in a guitarist & this guy really had it. The bassist had a truly magnificent beard that I was half-expecting to see a nest of birds pop out of. It seemed that it had started growing before he was born, a testament to both his youthful appearance and the length of the beard. He was rocking a big Thunderbird bass that had a great sound to it & while the rest of the band played with a somber sense of gravitas to the gathered crowd of 5, the bassist clearly decided that he was gonna have fun & a few laughs & hammed it up a bit. The lead singer had a bit of a Randal McMurphy vibe to him, & seemed a generation older than the band. He had a pretty warm voice.
I really love seeing women behind the drumset, since there was such a…I guess “glass drum-riser” would be the term, to describe how both ill-thought of and discouraged-from-becoming women were from getting behind the kit. That not only was the drummer a lady, but a lady-of-color made me happy to see, and she was also great, to boot. She was playing the most stripped-down trap kit I’ve ever seen: just a floor top, a ride cymbal and a snare with a towel over it. She used a drumstick on the snare & hit the floor tom with a maraca, imbuing every song with a bit of that same kind of flair Sonic Youth bring to “Bull in the Heather.” I felt bad that more people weren’t here to see these guys, but I was also incredibly glad to be in the room.
After seeing the awesomeness that was these bands playing at The Know I was still pretty pumped up. Since it was 11:00 & still early (due to stupid noise curfew thing…could you imagine such a thing in Chicago or NYC?) and the show at Club 21 started at 10, I thought I’d drop by & check it out. I haven’t been there since it fell under new ownership & was curious to see what it’d look like now that they were occasionally booking music. Looking online, I thought the opener Therapists were a little too testosterone-laden for what I was in the mood for, based on the singer’s bro-y voice, but I was interested in what I’d heard of The Whines. In the song I found, “Detroit Fun”, the lead singer, Karianne Oudma displays a complicated and unique voice that I found pretty compelling, playing over some flange-y indie pop guitar lines. I was on the fence about headliners Still Caves (in my notes from my show journal I had just written “maybe”. Real elaborate, I know.) but “free” for a show was a price I just couldn’t turn my nose up at.
The car traffic around Club 21 should have told me exactly what I was in for, but I was in disbelief, especially after how empty the previous show was, & thinking how everyone was probably recuperating after this weekend’s pre-Halloween festivities, or else saving up for the mid-week event itself. Nope. Packed house. I almost didn’t recognize the place after sneaking in through the back. A band had just gotten off & both the expansive smoking patio and the inside were wall to wall with people. About half the crowd seemed pretty hip, but there was also a lot of sideways hats and rampant bro-y-ness. It looked like it’d be a while till the next band went on; I wasn’t sure it was The Whines & I suddenly & oddly found myself feeling a bit less than my usual social self & felt disinclined to ask or wait around & make new friends. I decided to call it a night, very satisfied with the music I had seen & experienced.