Shows! Caught Shelly Short, Aqueduct and Boat at Mississippi Studios. Opener Shelly Short was humbly spellbinding in a calico dress, evoking a kind of matter-of-fact down homey quality that carried through the set. With her effortless sense of humor and graceful, unhurried stage presence that only someone truly comfortable in their own skin can possess, she held us transfixed, both by herself, and when accompanied by a friend on the banjo. The cheerful ease and major-keyed chord progressions belied the sad and wistful lyrical content of the songs, which she was constantly apologizing for, in a self-effacing manner that somehow didn’t suggest a lack of self-confidence, merely a charming brand of modesty that allowed the songs to speak for themselves. The best proof of this was that she had enraptured a rowdy Saturday night crowd into captivated silence, in a town renown for people talking through shows as if it were a mere backdrop to a party instead of the ostensible reason we’re all there. I don’t think a person in the room wasn’t in love w/ her by the end of her set.
Aqueduct were up next: musically they started out promising, with the first three songs standing out as good, high energy flirtations with indie-pop (which is a genre they self-apply, but my impressions from this set alone, I think they are more of an indie-label band making pop music than the grandchildren of C-86) but later in the set, the songs devolved into more Phishy-w/out-the-jams sounding, (big 70’s riffs, smoothed out a bit with some synth plus some unconventional chords placed in a rock paradigm) which, while deeply talented, I somehow fail to find deeply touching. All I can do is talk about my emotional reaction to the music, because ultimately that’s all that really matters to me. Technical musicality is something I’ll leave to others who will write about music for music’s sake. I’m more into music for life’s sake: make it the soundtrack to my life, that adds a bit of meaning or provides a quick time-out, rather than the dense tome I need to study. Perhaps it speaks to my simplicity, but The Ramones will probably always mean more to me than Vivaldi, though I can see the appeal of both. Life is complicated enough; I want music that grabs me by the throat and holds me suspended over a bridge, I want music that ties butterfly wings to my back and allows me to soar past spires, lightening rods & wind-strewn rocky aretes, I want music that laughs with the unfettered joy of a surprise or music that holds the box of tissues and carries the pieces of my heart over to the desk to be super-glued, duct-taped and safety-pinned back together. I don’t want music that forces me to squint into the sun without getting something for it, or drones on at the pulpit or lecture podium. Most of all, I want music that isn’t picking on or bullying anyone, but asks you, either directly or indirectly to be a better person.
Forgive me, I’m getting a bit carried away. This isn’t meant as a simple polemic. Aqueduct are a good band. They are deceptively complex. A song like “Growing Up With GnR” displays this pretty nicely, since at first listen, it’s full of platitudes and tropes which I find uncomfortable “Oh baby, you were looking foxy tonight” (puke) and “there’s something about the way you act, you will be crushing my soul and you won’t be paying me back.” Without any sense of irony, these are both vapid and misogynist, but there’s more going on here. It’s a sentiment of heartbreak, riddled with objectifying and accusatory language, but one done ostensibly in the manner of Axl Rose, who is alluded to in the song title as well as lines “I’ve been walking the streets tonight, just trying to get it right” (far and away the best part of what is otherwise a tedious and interminable song: “Patience”, which is exactly what it requires to make it all the way to this section…did I just dis Guns & Roses? 12-year-old me is gonna be waiting for me outside with a chain & a lead pipe & some Tanya Harding plans). The song then shifts to feel-good cliched nostalgia and talks about being 12 & “damning all to hell, I was feeling fine, hearing Axl Rose, on the radio, singing ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’. Whenever, whenever, whenever you fall apart; forget her, forget her, forget her she broke your heart.” It’s as if to say, “I’m not actually seeing the world through these eyes, I’m seeing things as I did then, when I was a 12 -year-old so influenced by the heartbreak, self-aggrandizement and misogyny of Axl. So even though I’m feeling this way, it’s not actually me that’s saying it.” But still, I walk away from this, feeling uncomfortable.
Why? In short, couching misogynist sentiments in allusive bookends does not make either the source material or the allusion any less problematic. It’s merely deceptive artifice for sentiments that should be called-out on, instead of celebrated.
There were several lyrics in other songs, which made me equally uncomfortable, but none which left as indelible an impression on me as the song I just discussed.
I know, I must be a ton of fun at parties, with all of my self-righteous Feminist & Socialist opinions about things that are “just supposed to be fun”. I refuse to feel bad about this. This is what we are here for, to experience, think about and discuss what the experience of being in the world is.
I should also add (and it’s impossible for me to erase this from my mind, so in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll share it with you, dear reader), there were two tall “bros” at the front of the stage who were dancing around like awkward suburban white kids at an underground hip-hop show. One was a bearded gent in Dockers, looking like it was business casual Friday & he just closed the Higgins account so it’s time to “bro down, dawg!” and the other gent who had a hat on backwards and was wearing sunglasses like he was Nelly at a Florida nightclub. Unless you’re vision-impaired, sunglasses on indoors is, of course, **never** a good look. But I refused to believe this was sincere. We’re in Portland; who dresses like this? This has to be performance art, of the highest order. A stunning indictment of mainstream “bro” culture, executed with the flawless sincerity of an Andy Kaufman. That has to be it, right? This pair knew the words to every song, and danced along with such devil-may-care joviality, hi-fiving with such frequency that they somehow managed to find a way to interrupt a HI-FIVE TO GIVE ANOTHER HI-FIVE, that even if it wasn’t a put-on, there was still something so incredibly charming that they brought a sincere smile to my face, even if, should we all be placed in a room together under different circumstances, I fancy we should have precious little to talk about. I must admit, it did take me a moment to warm up to this. “Are we at the Barracuda? The Barrel-Room? Some other nightmare downtown establishment where the bridge-and-tunnel denizens come out to inflict regressive patriarchal norms upon each other under the guise of ‘having a good time’?” The last part of that sentence being the real reason as to why I take such umbrage to people displaying all the trappings of that environment. Yet, as silly as this lot came across, they still managed to be respectable, and this allowed their enthusiasm to be entertaining instead of off-putting. As long as it doesn’t cause anyone else harm, people experiencing joy is a thing to be celebrated and encouraged. Oh, and where did this podium come from? Allow me to step down and get to some music; that *is* why we are here, isn’t it?
Next up were Boat, on uber-cool local Portland label Magic Marker Records. They’ve got some amazing bands on that label, not the least of which is noise-pop group The Faintest Ideas, who I think are beautiful. Well, I have no idea what they look like1, actually, was just willing to go anywhere for that pun, but if their appearance is commensurate with their music, they must indeed be Adonises. Also on the label is “All Girl Summer Fun Band” which is the most perfectly named band ever, (although “All Fun Summer Girl Band” would be equally accurate, because they are in fact **all** fun!). And while we are label-worshiping; you *do not* want to get me started on how much I adore Tullycraft! Seriously: don’t do it.
Boat have a very 90’s type of indie-jangle that Steven Malkmus is ground zero for. Boat reminded me of the best parts of Pavement without any of the fetishistic excesses that could sometimes devolve into indie-jamband-ism when Pavement started feeling particularly indulgent live…oh, who am I kidding, it happened at times on wax, too. Their lyrics, from what I could make out, seemed decidedly more straight-forward than Malkmusy musings as per Slanted & Enchanted. They brought Shelly Short back on to sing a few songs with them, and then pulled Martyn Leaper of The Minders out of the crowd & on stage for a pair of songs, one with Shelly and one without. I got the feeling that the 2nd song was a bit of a surprise for Martyn & he rolled with it in good humor, albeit with a slightly quizzical expression on his face that seemed to betray his surprise. Fans in the crowd threw confetti at regular intervals, creating an oddly circus-like atmosphere. Apparently, it is a frequent occurrence at Boat shows. The singer made note of this, saying, “I hope you brought your brooms as well! Not sure the good people here at Mississippi Studios were ready for us. Oh, and there’s carpet there. That’s gonna be rough to get out.” The sound was great, as is to be expected at Mississippi Studios, which, along with the Doug Fir, consistently produce the best-sounding rooms in town. Despite a few minor misgivings, a really good night out.
1: until I just now found & linked that video.