Holy hell, Portland, I am in *love*. Head over heels, smitten, twitterpated, gonzo, head-on-the -wheel, arrow-through-the-heart & the object of my affection is called The Boom Bap. It’s an auto body garage converted into an art gallery/music venue, yet you can almost still feel the exhaust in the air & see the oil on the ground. The only distinguishing feature on the outside is a small frame A-sign. The entry is through the former business office, which serves as the ante-room to the garage/venue where various canvases of inspiring beauty are hung. Once past that and inside to the large garage space, tented aside to create a venue, I arrive to find the first act, a solitary artist performing under the moniker of Hugo Berlin, already on stage, playing in front of a a screen that’s manipulating her image to hypnotic effect, without being overtly 60’s psychedelic. It took me all of 20 seconds to decide that this is now my favorite music venue in town, edging out the still wonderfully beloved Valentine’s (where I wound up later that night, after the show).
Hugo Berlin’s songs are melodic guitar meanderings that are still focused and tuneful over her live-looped guitar, but with a light and shimmering quality instead of the drone that you might imagine coming along with looping. Just as the screen is offering us various double images of the performer right in front of us, splitting the reality of her presence in front of the larger simulacra, so does her live playing over the just-recently played live-looping. (Baudrillard would have a field day thinking on it!)
As she finishes her last song, she looks up with a sheepish smile that is also full of confidence & rightfully so. She had just played an amazing set & knew it. We all did.
The next act is The Ghost Ease. I had to see it in writing to get it, because spoken it sounded like “The Ghosties”, which I then realized could also be “The Ghost Tease” & now I’m picturing a character from a Veronica Falls song being flirtatious in a Vaudevillian manner (maybe inside a Victorian manor?). I then realized these puns were probably EXACTLY what they were going for, so: good one!
As I hope my questionable-at-best photo skills demonstrate, this group is a two-piece that write songs with extreme & forceful dynamics, from loud, tubey reverb Crazy Horse bombast to such tender & delicate poise, hovering with patience, letting the song develop. Her voice is somewhat reminiscent of Cat Power – while still being wholly unique – when she sings in her lower register (which is most of the time) & there are timbres of PJ Harvey in her intense and rousing falsetto. The drummer is also highly tuned-in to these sonic fluctuations, creating the dynamic that makes this band so appealing. She is able to hit as hard as anyone during the open crescendos, yet is so cautiously attentive of the tender nuance the quiet parts so longingly call out for. She answers with a world-wise grin & an effortless rhythm that make this group just spellbinding to behold.
The second song begins a bit more swimmingly than the first, which seems to be ballet dancing on broken glass, barefoot & feeling no pain.
“There’s an intensity knob on this” the singer says, in between songs, surprised by a double-entendre on the PA unit. Someone in the crowd cries out, “Turn it up!”. There’s no need: this band has the musical intensity ratcheted-up to redline.
3rd song opens with big distorted sound, which gives way to a sweetly picked broken chord verse, before delving into a meandering power surge, nearly mathy towards the end, then returning to the sweet & shimmering, dripping spring rain sound of that verse.
After the singer decides to toss a rose she had crocheted earlier in the day, with an effortlessly charismatic plea for crowd-sourced suggestions as to its non-matrimonial significance (won’t lie: TOTALLY wished I would have caught it, to bring home some souvenir of the eve, in lieu of the lack of availability of any tape or vinyl I awkwardly inquired after in that laughable unintentionally-brusque-due-to-being over-caffeinated manner that seems to mark all of my interactions as of late. I blame this for coming in the mail recently, making it IMPOSSIBLE to stop at just one cup. Holy hell 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters, you are The Bee’s Knees. Though, since it’s cold up in Canada, maybe cool beans is the oh-so-peachy-keen turn of phrase I’m looking for?), the last song opens with a picked, & angular start. It’s just the calm before the storm…really gives in to mathier tendencies while still keeping the dreampop vibe.
The band ends without any fanfare, informing us of their next show, which is Jan 19 at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (never heard of it! Looks like real Portland artsy fun!) at Killingsworth & Interstate w/ Genders – a band I’ve been wanting to see for quite some time now, ever since I heard they had come into existence, rising from the ashes of the recently departed & much enjoyed band Youth. I’ve been “near missing” their shoes due to some obligation or other for a few months now.
Happy to see so many anoraks in the crowd (I’m speaking literally of the jacket…if you don’t know what that is – & don’t feel bad if that’s the case: I didn’t until I started knowing what the difference was between a Bosco & a Bruno – picture Han Solo on Hoth). I do think it’s by chance rather than necessarily by design affiliation to a scene, because this doesn’t seem scene-based at all, just friends and friends of friends, dedicated to art and to music.
One thing that really pleasantly jumps out at me is how wonderfully diverse this crowd is, which is unfortunate that’s still a novel thing that stands out in this city rather than being a mere matter-of-fact of life here. The diversity, the novelty of the location, the calm artistic sophistication of the crowd: this may be the most Brooklyn-feeling experience I’ve had in Portland, yet all-the-while still being uniquely Portland. How is this not happening on a rooftop?
Next up is the touring act from Seattle, just a lone gentleman named Jacob Jaffe, going by the name “Younger Shoulder”. He plays acoustic-style songs on a clean electric, sold mostly by his humble and irrefutable charm, sung with a tender and plaintive voice that is blissfully free from any pretense. He is enchantingly self-effacing as evidenced by his claim that “in the other room there will be tapes & a poster of me wearing a nightgown…so…I’ll leave it at that.” It was really in the delivery. I would have picked up both a tape and a poster were it not for the post show-haste I found myself in to get to Valentine’s to catch more music & entertain a friend who had decided to join me.
The last song he plays is by a local musician friend of his named Cole & it’s a sweet song about just being good to other people & feeling compassion & honestly it feels like a well-needed dose of medicine to me, since it can be easy at times to forget to focus on making that the most important thing, though on a night like this, at a place like this, with a crowd like this it seems wholly impossible to feel anything other than a pervasive sense of joy at being a part of the whole “being a human” thing & it seems impossible to feel anything but compassion and good will.
Wild Nothing’s Gemini album is the set change music & as you can imagine I’m loving the everliving hell outta that.
Tender Age is the last band, comprised of 4 members: keyboards/guitar, guitar/vox, drums & bass. The guitar in front of the keyboard (gent w/ the Elmer Fudd-style hat on…there must be a name for that sort of chapeau, isn’t there?) is ODing on reverb in the soundcheck. As you can guess I LOVE THIS!
Tender Age look indiepop as all get-out & with the handclapped beginning of the first song, I realize I’m really in for a Twee-t! That opener has a great, surfy feel to it, nice echoey reverb vocals. I love seeing a standup drummer; it gives such a different feel to a performance, takes it away from that tired rock paradigm & brings it in to something more enthusiastic & freeform, somehow. 3rd or 4th song in has a really great bass run, mimicking the guitar line, yet unique painting around it. Steals the song. 4th or 5th song in, things took a turn for the darker/shoegazier with almost a bit of a Cure-being-played-by-Beach-House kind of vibe. Favorite song so far.
Next song is back to a more upbeat beach-at-night feel. 7th or 8th song has this Western guitar line driving across the song like a howling gale over a wind-swept mountain range in the Montana night.
The crowd is lively without ever being rowdy, & is deeply respectful while the bands are playing. It’s all ages & BYO. A few have solitary bottles of micros. It feels like wine would be wildly appropriate at this venue, yet I see none. I was told the venue was all ages, though I only see one under person who looks under 25: a cute little kid of maybe 5 (I’m no good at telling kids’ ages) who toddles her way through the crowd after the 1st set. One person in the crowd noticeably reeks a bit of weed smoke, but no one smokes anything inside, although you almost wouldn’t notice. This is a restrained yet aware crowd, literate, artistic & respectful. I guess it’s partially that sort of urbane balance that brings me rightly-or-wrongly to the aforementioned association with Brooklyn, from my long-ago-lived years there: mostly fulfilling job by day, artistic endeavors every night & a leisurely-sipped glass of wine or a solitary hit from a shared joint mixed European-style with some flavored tobacco. In other words, moderate & sustainable use of inspiration, be it media or intoxicant (or intoxicating media), steady dedication to art and relaxation, mixed with responsibility, curiosity and a sense of community. There is nothing truly “punk” about “punk rock excess”. “Getting wasted” time is exactly that: wasted time. We only get so much time to create what we want out of life. I only want just enough of a thing, be it drink, art, music what-have-you to COME ALIVE, not “get wasted”. (I hate myself more than a little for linking to that band, but the song is perfectly fitting my point). There are so many crowds for so many shows where beer is spilled and words are shouted & everything is done to forget what the day has done to us, the week, the month…This show isn’t like that, and this crowd isn’t like that, but neither is it stuffy or uncomfortable. In short, if I could dream up a crowd, if I could dream up some music to be played there: this would be it. It’s experiences like this that are exactly why I choose to make Portland my home. See, I *told* you I was in love. Boom Bap, I’m writing your initials on my notebook & drawing a heart around them!