Tag Archives: Live Show Review

Fine Pets, Landlines and Memory Boys at Valentines AND The Rotties, Boy Funk and Havania Whaal at Tube, July 24, 2013

A warm night out in Portland, the day1 after the full moon, and with the heat upon us, the nightlife has been LIVELY, even on otherwise dullish early-in-the-week weekdays.  Among other things, the Rigsketball 2nd round/ 8 band show was happening at Holocene this evening.  While I like the bands playing (especially Wooden Indian Burial Ground, who you’ve perhaps heard1 me talk1 about elsewhere in these pages) there was just too much going on this night for me to make it there to see those larger bands.

I began the night at Habesha2, where a promising line-up of four bands I never heard of before awaited me. There was a large crowd– as big of one as I’ve seen at Habesha– amassed outside on the spacious rooftop patio that one must walk by to enter.  A can of Ribbon later & it was close to 10 and the first band was still just setting up.  I was curious and wanted to stick around, but after missing Haste the previous night3, I wasn’t willing to take any chances, and headed over to Valentine’s, my favorite venue in Portland, planing to bounce between there and the good ol’ Tube, since there were some bands playing that I was legitimately excited about.

First up at Velentine’s was Memory Boys, a 3 piece, with a guy on an SG, another on the trap kit & and a gal alternating between keys/fiddle in addition to some vocals. Her synth is a tiny Casio propped up on a stand that seems artificially grandiose in comparison to the wee keyboard.
Memory Boys
Songs are low key but build up to janky crescendos, reminiscent of Pavement’s more shambling moments (& I mean that complimentary; I think Pavement’s finest moments are their most shambolic– hell, my favorite genre of music is often called “Shambling”). Perhaps it’s the looseness of the guitar or the trashcan-y-ness of the cymbal, but this group evokes a lo-fi charisma that I find appealing, even if one or two of the songs do go on a bit longer than necessary.

Next, across the street to Tube to catch Havania Whaal, a 3 piece playing poppy post-punk. The drummer is also the lead singer of a dark-tinged new wave band called Smoke Rings, that flirts with some of the best parts of Goth while avoiding all of the worst. Very energetic live show. Actually, I could be speaking about either Smoke Rings or Havania Whaal with that last description. Havania Whaal is more noisey and more poppy without being explicitly NoisePop.
Havania Whaal
Good, solid songwriting executed well, with great use of effects without devolving into hiding behind them. Really, this band is everything I want in a garage power pop band– though I’m curious as if my state of mind plays any part in thinking that, as I seem to have gotten a contact high from walking all of two blocks, past all the street kids smoking weed & the acrid smell of bacon cooking as VooDoo Donuts cook up some of their signature offerings (Yo, seriously, Blue Star Donuts like WHOA. VD is greasy kid stuff. Bourbon Basil Blueberry? Sign me up NOW.) No, it’s not the contact high; Havania Whaal are just that good.

Back to Valentine’s and next up is Landlines, a traditional 3 piece with a Tele, bass & drum kit, set up like a 1950s jazz kit. There’s no jazz here, but a lot of high energy old-style garage.
Landlines
Not too big on effects, just straight ahead proto-garage power pop & I’m loving it. Second-to-last song had a cool kind of Neil Young guitar counter rhythm thing that I really enjoyed. Last song opened with a big bass line that stole the song in a pretty rad way. One could tell that they are all strong musicians with various little playing flourishes, yet they displayed that rarest of musical qualities: restraint, since all of the flair was in service of the song, rather than a vehicle for showmanship. A very solid set.

The next act at the Tube was Boy Funk, a queer hip-hop artist, that was putting all of hir heart into some rhymes about getting high. Even though I frankly wasn’t in the mood for hip-hop (and it’s rare that I am, lately) I could still appreciate what Boy Funk was doing. The artist was very unique, all the way from beats to flow down to the wonderfully outlandish get-up, standing well over 6 & a half feet tall, w/ some Frankenstein platform boots & a Speedo. It’s always exciting to see someone stand genre tropes on their head, especially in as socially constrictive of a genre as hip-hop– although the manifold sung praises to weed did share some space with mainstream rap. It was a good and supportive crowd, too, which was really nice to see, especially in a part of downtown that has a reputation for being a destination for a rather closed-minded suburban set. But the Tube is often a breath of fresh air from the downtown bronados. You might say with Dixie & Dirty and The Barrel Room all a stone’s throw, Tube is the artsy eye of the Broicane.

Back to Valentine’s for the last band there: Fine Pets, a 4 piece with a guy on a hollow body Gretch-type, another gent on an SG & a gal on bass & a hard hitting drummer to round it all out.
Fine Pets
Raw and super noisey, great effects with a layer of jangle underneath, I heard a bit of Sonic Youth & Sebadoh meets Boyracer, with noise, heaviness and pop sensability all at once with occasional forrays into drone. Best band of the night, (though Havania Whaal is a close second) and completely reinvigorated me. The third-to-last song was really THE HIGHLIGHT of a really great set; a song called “Come Amphibious”. It had a bit of a Cure feel to it meets the very best and scary part of Exit, with strong basslines that built to an explosive crescendo. Really, this was a very exciting band to hear & I’m quite glad I caught them.

Last band at Tube is a four piece, The Rotties, who offer a dark power-pop meets punk with a bit of 1970s Stoner Metal thrown in as well.
The Rotties
Solid playing from the guitarist/backing vocalist, whose Telecaster playing both created the fullness of the songs and added nuance; rhythm and lead all at once.  The bassist had some frantic, intricate yet grooving lines & the drummer was a whirl of energy, but it was really all about the lead singer, whose forceful voice reminiscent of Cherie Currie coupled with a wildy charismatic stage presence, brought a bit of a stadium feel to the small room.  With tambourine playing so forceful, it almost felt like a weapon instead of an instrument.

A heavier-than-expected capstone to a long evening of good local music.

-Michael Feck

 

 

1: “Day” when meaning night, “heard” when trying to communicate “read”, “talk” when being on about “write”; I swear, this weather has just broken me. Never had a bad winter, never had a good summer. I really do need to feck off to Ireland or the UK. One day I bloody well will.

2: A pretty surprising place for a venue, since it’s an Ethiopian restaurant that makes near no mention of the fact that it hosts shows, and in a layout that’s far from naturally suited to such a thing. Some of the best small shows take place at this venue, as well as the Langano Lounge underneath Jarra’s Ethiopian restaurant. Seriously, what is it with Ethiopian restaurants and awesome music events in this city? Not sure, but I love it!

3: I thought they were headlining and shows usually do get started at Valentines later than most shows in Portland– yet another thing endearing that venue to me. T’was a very quick night that night. 3 acts, all done by 11:30. Very glad I got to catch Nora something-or-other. Never got her last name, but enjoyed her set rather immensely. A singer/songwriting writing solo noise-fuzz songs on her Gibson, with a lovely voice containing all of the best parts of Joanna Newsome’s voice without any of the worst. Her airy voice really served as a nice foil for the rougher fuzz textures & made for a wonderfully raw yet sedate moment amid the backdrop of the bustling downtown alleyway.

Youth Lagoon and Swahili at Wonder Ballroom 5/22/13

A dark and rainy Wednesday, full of the frustrated expectations of many a Portlander who had thought that Nature had relented precociously and yielded to the bluster of summer, hot on the heels of several 80 degree+ days in early May,  No, to the great dismay of most (and to the secret joy of your humble narrator, who prefers to listen to his Dufflecoat Records in Dufflecoat Weather), it was the constant downpour– large enough to be audible on my roof while in my bed at night– that provided the backdrop to this eventful day when Youth Lagoon also played the Wonder Ballroom.

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The show began with Swahili1. A very cool and poised opener, with a big sound. This five piece explores a churning psychedelia with a decided pop refinement that belies the reverby rawness found in their recordings, which alternate from sedate psychey musings to hyper-rhythmic drum-lead whirlpools of sonic tumult, suggesting ego-death and subsumption into some sort of collective expression of movement.

In short, the perfect soundtrack for a first year Anthro student to read Durkheim to.  A good opener for Youth Lagoon as well, setting the stage for the experience of the polished-yet-unfamiliar.

The lights of the stage turn a dreamy shade of indigo, affecting the feel of the moon at midnight viewed from behind the shimmering prism of a waterfall.  Trevor leads his group onstage to the cheers of a crowd whose enthusiasm is triple the size of their number, which is not actually a bad one, considering the wonderfully dreary weather outside and the fact that the show is on a Wednesday. The intensity of the lighting, the excitement in the room and the otherworldly feel of the music all conspire to create that feeling like a drug coming on.  I suspect that for many in the room, my analogy is no mere rhetorical exercise.

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It must be mentioned that Trevor affects the energy of a Jim Henson creation. He kinda has a puppet-y voice as well, which just lends itself naturally to the kind of ethereal space the music inhabits (I typoed “inHobbits”). It’s as if these songs are meant to be heard outdoors, surrounded by tall trees next to a sparkling body of water, like say a river…or stream. A brook? (Ok, fine. I’ll stop.) Don’t ya just love it, though when a band is just perfectly named? I mean some bands tell you nothing about what they are like in the name. (“The Smiths”, anyone?) And then others will just out-and-out lie to you, which is why I was dreadfully afraid to give a band called Acid House Kings a chance, until something awoke the slumbering summer in me and I discovered that they’re only about the BEST THING EVER IN THE HISTORY OF EVER, and have *nothing* at all to do with “Acid House” (which is also a genre I’ve warmed to).

Then there are other bands, like “Black Sabbath” or “Slayer”; I mean even if you just got evicted from underneath that rock you’d been receiving your mail at (SHIT I TOLD THAT FECKIN’ BANK TO ONLY SEND ME E-MAIL STATEMENTS. Srsly, planet’s not gonna save itself.) you’d still know exactly what these bands sounded like. Pearl Jam, though? You’d think it’s by hippies for hippies. And a band named Pavement should sound like the Jesus Lizard, or at least be on Touch & Go records. But Save Ferris? Sounds kinda like you imagine a 90s ska band named after a John Hughes movie should. Tricky?  Yes, well he is, isn’t he? Five For Fighting? NO! With a name like that, he should bloody well sound like Gang Green, not Jack bleedin’ Johnson.  (and *no one* should ever sound like Jack Johnson, even– & especially– Jack Johnson) But Beach Fossils? Yup: surf pop with some kind of sonic relic. Tennis? Yes. Sunny Day Real Estate? Yeah, but only because of irony. Tool?  Too perfectly named. Shit, that’s a fun exercise for another post: breaking down bands by what you expect them to sound like & what they actually do.  Any suggestions? Get at me in the comments.

Back to the show, Youth Lagoon drift pretty comfortably from quietly dripping crystalline reflections, to upbeat and nearly Polka-y jaunts across Eastern Europe on Molly. Ably backed by the drums, bass & a guy on a strat, the energy is all with Trevor, as he alternates between a forward facing synth, and two synths stacked on top of each other facing stage right, the lowest of which he occasionally kneels to reach and coax more feel from. Some of these songs veer into more indie rock directions, but are coaxed back from the more angular edges by dreampop smoothness.  Many of the later songs dip into quieter territory, nearly abutting the synth ballad, but always with a fantastical edge to it, as if this were music drawn by a hypothetical non-creepy Boris Vallejo were he to be more interested with fantasy natural scenes with flora and fauna instead of Heavy Metal-esque nudes and Conan the Barbarian stuff.

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What’s really exciting about Youth Lagoon is the way that these plinky and trembling slow dream sounds build up a head of steam like a tiny pebble that is rolled down a snowy hill in a Bugs Bunny cartoon that then becomes a giant snow boulder.  Both the song that they closed the set with and the encore (which I think was “Dropla”) really transformed from humble beginnings into booming crescendos, fit for a benediction, as if to say “now, run out joyfully into the world with this delicate and beautiful knowledge, hold it firmly enough not to lose yet loose enough to grow.  Let your growth be strange, and the strange will surprise you as it transforms in front of your very eyes into beauty.”

Ok, maybe I got a contact high.  Whatever it was, something beautiful happens when you let yourself go at a Youth Lagoon show and just give over to the curious suggestions of the music, and allow yourself to feel as if you’re a 5-year-old kid exploring a cave of fluorescent and incandescent multi-colored crystals.  The rain that came that night was unrelenting, but the dreams were beyond description.

-Michael Feck

 

 

1:  I won’t lie, the name (as you can probably imagine) is a little worrisome to me, seeing as it reeks of misappropriation and fetishisation.  That Swahilil is a go-to language that people employ when trying to explain impermeable otherness doesn’t make that any less problematic; in fact it is precisely these tropes that are so cliched they stand-in as shortcuts for actual thought that we must examine the closest, since they are seemingly the most invisible.

Bleached, Ex-Cops, Big Eyes and Guantanamo Baywatch at The Star Theater, 5/3/13

Ever have one of those nights that just starts out good and just keeps getting better till somewhere along the line something makes you take a step back?  You catch yourself looking around the room, taking in where you are and suddenly realize that you’re grinning wildly;  something makes you realize that somehow the night went from “good” to “great” and all without fanfare; without a single particular incident crystallizing it, but just everything conspiring together to make something awesome; to make the night into that thing that makes it memorable. It seems like you never quite know why, but you’ve got some good ideas.

Or maybe you do know why.  Like tonight.  Seriously, “Bleached” is all I need to say to know that I’m in for something truly amazing. Four bands total, and it started off *feckin’ awesome* and only got better from there.  But there’s something beyond the music, something ineffable that elevated this night into that rare space. Maybe the “why” will reveal itself in the details…

First show I’ve been to at the Star in a very long time1.  It actually started off a bit oddly, since I thought that the lads in beloved group Week of Wonders2 were playing tonight. Apparently, I had mistaken this eve with a previous one in Seattle, so I wasn’t on the list.  Fine.  Bleached are so damn awesome, I’ve got no problem at all shelling out some green to see ’em.  Just means the night started out a little unexpected.  There is always an element of the unexpected to those great nights…but that’s not what it is that made this one great.

I feel like a bit of a rubbish Portlander, since this is actually the first time I’ve seen the seemingly omnipresent Guantanamo Baywatch live. I’ve got tapes of theirs, (well, one tape) but not till now have I seen ’em. A standard three piece, playing surf-pop-punk-party music fit for dreaming about a beachside “Toxic Avenger” screening/kegger while stuck in class. Makes me wanna thumb my nose at my math teacher after drawing a sloppy comic panel on my half-finished HW & go ditch 3rd period to go smoke while calling things “boss” or “kookie”. Their stage presence is verbally reserved, but they explode into frantic movement with their set. The couple of times they do speak up (just the singer/guitarist, actually) it’s quite hilarious.

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“Hey, we’re just the 1st band, what does it matter? Were not even that drunk yet.” Perfect band for a zombie prom, they write tight yet technically-proficient upbeat ditties that never stick around too long to wear out their welcome. There’s something vaguely 1950s comic book about them, or maybe even 1980’s re-imagining of what a 1950s comic book would be like, a trait they share with all-around PDX fun time band Mean Jeans.

Next band up is another three-piece, Big Eyes, from Seattle & they put the power in power pop.  The singer/guitarist is in possession of such a strong voice that it seemed to anchor the music just as much as the drums.  Instantly catchy and memorable upon first listen.

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Big Eyes with big hooks, making music that’s dirty, raw and catchy. A bad recipe for sushi, but a brilliant one for rock.

Next up are Ex Cops from Brooklyn, although the keyboard player, Amalie Bruun (formerly of Captured Tracks band, “Minks“) is from Denmark. I didn’t find this last bit of information out until a few songs in & it was both surprising & not-at-all surprising. Surprising, because she spoke without any super-discernible accent; not-surprising in that Ex Cops have a very decidedly Scandinavian indiepop sound for a NY band (unlike the Real Estate or Beach House kind of sound that pops into my head when you say “East Coast indiepop”).

Led by the songwriting of Bruun and Brian Harding (of Hymns), they really showcase that characteristically Nordic sweet & super-polished dreampop in performance, yet without being glitzy or premeditated, in a way that’s brilliantly demonstrated by Acid House Kings or Burning Hearts or The Garlands or the band that is my pick for the blockbuster indiepop band of summer 2013: Alpaca Sports. I mean, the Scandinavian sound is just so earnestly sweet & yet so effortlessly together, the songs sound as if they have existed forever, and were mined like diamonds from the recesses of the earth, instead of written by humans.  Really, Swedish indiepop could run a marathon without breaking a sweat or ever looking like they were trying too hard & still win.  For their amazingly polished-but-present sound, Ex Cops should get honorary lifetime membership to the Swedish indiepop club.

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It was sorta strange how the room just cleared out entirely in between each band’s set, but makes sense, I guess with the first grips of the really warm season being precociously upon us here in Portland, and how those wild summer nights spent outdoors with a cold drink and warm company are the shining moments to remember and the reward for enduring the sweat-soaked vicissitudes of the day and its many demands.  That crisp breeze from out of nowhere, cutting the still, summer air; the crackle of the log on the firepit; the bright, cold taste lingering on your tongue from the bubbly IPA and laughter as effortless as the smoke rising from your friends’ fingertips: these are the moments to be kept and carried from those easy summer nights, where everything seems blissfully transitory, and for a moment, no interaction has any weight.

After two rowdy, fun-time party bands, the room didn’t initially know what to make of this more reserved and deliberate bedroom pop fivepiece and their clean, refined sound.  As the band went on, people continued to wander back in as Ex Cops launched into their set. There was a bit of head nodding, but this wasn’t music to spazz-out to with wild abandon, like the first two bands were.  For a few moments, there was actually a bit of head-scratching.  And this may have been the unexpected highlight of the night for me: to have watched a band work to win over a crowd, and to watch a crowd learn and respond in grand fashion.  They had me about 6 seconds in to the first song, but you all know how I wear my indiepop heart on my sleeve.  This crowd was a lot punkier (as testified by everyone in the crowd enthusiastically singing along to Bleached’s cover of The Misfits’ “Hatebreeders” later in the set), but by two songs in, a few were moving pretty visibly & at five in, the entire room was dancing in earnest.  It’s been a little bit since I’ve seen a band just out-and-out win over a crowd that clearly hadn’t heard them before.

They dedicated a song that talks about birthdays to Shannon, who is Bleached’s tour manager. There was also a pretty funny bit when Brian looked at a drink on the floor of the venerable and beaten-up stage, “Hey, someone get a coaster for this super swank wood.” A few minutes later, someone in the crowd walked up to the stage with a rather histrionically sheepish look and grabbed the drink, shoulder shrugged an apology and returned to the back.  It was such a charmingly comic reaction that I was left wondering if she was playing it up “in character” for laughs or if she actually felt a bit embarrassed.

As moody and sedate as some of their songs were, you could see them power through the two harder ones…especially the closer, which had a real lift and drive to it. They picked a good one to end on, and really showed a diversity of sound that has me very curious to see what comes next from this very talented group.

I’d seen Bleached a mere year ago at the Doug Fir, at a relatively sparsely attended show, opening for Veronica Falls.  What a difference a year makes! Veronica Falls, played the same room to a capacity crowd this March, and now Bleached is here filling out the rather spacious Star Theater, with a real buzz all their own, instead of some of the residual ash of high regard from their near-legendary previous incarnation as noise punk group Mika Miko

Before Bleached went on, after all the gear was set up & soundchecked, you could hear everyone singing happy birthday to Shannon, in the outside backstage patio area before the show. The band took the stage, all comfortable smiles and energy.  The drummer had broken his foot earlier on the tour (Vegas, I think he mentioned?) and was only a few days out of his cast, but you’d never know it from how the drums sounded.  Jennifer was pretty conversational as they opened with “Waiting By The Telephone” off of the “Ride Your Heart” album they’re touring on, prefacing things with a palpable expression of joy.  “Hey, so we all just got the best surprise: our very best friend from LA is here.  Black Chris!  I can’t tell you how glad we are to see him.” The crowd caught the infectious enthusiasm from the Clavins et al and started up a chant of “Black Chris, Black Chris”3 to Chris and the band’s visible pleasure.

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Things really kicked into an extra gear when “Searching Through The Past” showed up 4 songs into the set, followed up by a frenetic “Think of You” from their Carter 7″.  Jennifer invited the crowd to join her at Sassy’s after the gig, after telling us she got kicked out of Magic Gardens last time she was in town, but demurred on recounting the events that led to it. Then they brought out Chris to help them sing a cover of the Misfits “Hatebreeders”, which made me realize that I like the Misfits better when Bleached are playing them and I *love* the Misfits.

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The energy the band brought was palpable. “Thanks so much for dancing!  You all are dancing!” Jennifer offered incredulously.  Pretty big because crowds just don’t dance at shows in Portland, unless they are specifically dance shows and sometimes even then…no.  But everyone in the room was swept up in that bouncy feeling of joy you get when that last bell in June rings, and you run out the door, throwing the dull textbook in the trash on your way out to the parking lot, where all your friends are smoking and the car doors are all slung wide open; right there where the strains of Bleached are pouring out of those car speakers, right there where life is happening too fast to pay attention to fully, and you’re having too much fun to care, right there in that place; the intersection of Where You Want To Be and Where You Are Now, and you don’t stop to notice because you don’t care, you just want the wind in your hair and whatever it is that comes next.

Somewhere in the night “good” became “great”. Bleached really are the kind of band that will do that to you. Their pop hooks are cut with such power, with lyrics full of freedom and longing all at the same time, delivered in a way that is somehow both badass and vulnerable, like the way film geeks talk about Brando in “The Wild One”. Bleached are that gin and tonic you take your first sip of and all your friends take note of your peculiar grin, point and laugh, saying “you’re drunk!” even though it’s your first sip. I’ll gladly have another.

-Michael Feck

 

 

 

1: Caught Hazel & Moon Duo there & just missed PoBPaH (though caught them earlier in the day at a surprise show at the Doug.  Got to catch up with Kip, too, which was great because I hadn’t really seen him since a critical theory class we had together freshman year. I feel like I’ve lived a thousand lives since that time. I’ll bet he’s lived even more.)

2: Keep your eyes peeled to these pages for a long forthcoming review of this dearly beloved group of incredibly talented musicians. I think so highly of these lads and that insanely-catchy type of manic poly-rhythmic beach pop that sounds like Dr. Who showed up at Orca Team’s house with a bag of Molly & then threw everyone into the Tardis to take them to Cancun circa 1962, that I get a bit tongue tied when trying to translate these feelings into words. Soon enough, though; either a much need break in work responsibilities or a late night with a whiskey window ought to give me some time to get caught up there.

3: I’ll not lie, it made me very uncomfortable to hear a crowd of mostly white Portlanders chanting “Black Chris”. People do get to decide whatever it is they want to be calledA and I’m sure there are a lot of people named Chris; that said, there’s something that doesn’t sit well with me about using race as a means of differentiation, as if to imply that blackness is somehow aberrant from the “default” status or is odd in some way (e.g., “Chris” vs. “Black Chris”).B

A: Even though sometimes these things get decided by other people; for example, people often call me by my real last name and I detest it greatly, but it’s just too much effort to get people to stop & I don’t want to ruin the tone of an evening by going out of my way to correct someone every time they refer to me by my last name, and that’s with something that’s not even weighed down by concerns that are made more complex because of race. You might say that I am responsible for what people call me, and that’s true, but to pretend that there is not a social order that one risks upsetting for results that may occasionally be murky seems hard to ignore.

B: I just put a footnote inside of a footnote…how bloody pretentious is that?

San Cisco, Chaos Chaos at The Doug Fir, April 1 (For reals, though)

The weather has turned here in Portland; this past Saturday was the first real day of spring.   A palpable thaw seems to have wound its way through the city; through alleys, past  parks and backyards of old craftsman-style houses, past the sounds of goats bleating, chickens clucking, and the would-be prey of stalking cats, be they bird or rodent loudly forcing their way through new and tall brush amid the backdrop of deciduous trees still barren, save for the oft-instagramed cherry blossoms erupting their way throughout the city; these streets no longer stung with the briskness of the evening chill that still flirted coyly with ice, and yet would disappear at the end of the night– all of this fickle caprice finding its way into the steps, into the hearts of us all, and it seems somewhere, in some way, be it overt display or even an unused corridor in the minds of the dour, there is a beach somewhere in all of us. San Cisco is this beach. Or is the music for this beach. Or maybe I had it right the first time, it is this beach. Light, colorful and young, with a breeze implying the slightest hint of gravitas, instead of the flighty and light-hearted image the term “breezy” conjures.

But enough feeble attempts at poetry, there’s a show to talk about. I show up at 10 till & BS outside with Matty & John for a bit before heading inside, eager for a promising Monday night show.

Now for Chaos Chaos…or not. Seriously? I get here at 10:00 & miss the opener? I’m proposing Fecklight Savings Time which means all shows start 1 hour later than they’re listed. Wait, what? NO, WHY DON’T YOU JUST TRY SHOWING UP ON TIME!?!. Oh, wait, you do? Ok, my bad. Still…

So, San Cisco take the stage, all at once, instilling just the faintest air of rock & roll drama. Despite the approachability of the band, there’s just a slight touch of theatricality to them, but not in an obnoxious, pretentious or off-putting way.

Their sound is a light jangle, with two sets of keys, (in addition to the standard two guitars, a bass & drums) each helmed by the bassist & the guitarist.

Really great harmonies. Especially from drummer Scarlett Stevens who provides a driving edge as a foil and counterpoint to the more fey sunny tunes put forth by the stringed instruments and keys.

“Bleach” opens with an indie take on a stadium-styled beat, further echoing that sense of slight theatricality, yet intermingled with an earnestness that showcases the vast expanse between Western Australia and West Los Angeles, where even the most earnest have industry bloodthirst, and anyone with any kind of sense of integrity has long since fled. These are songs that are really meant to be heard over a beach radio in the blaring sun against the backdrop of the surf. If you didn’t know they were Australian, you might suspect it…that or Californian…but there’s the trick, no one from a place can write such yearning music of a place, unless there’s a time anachrony.

(I mean, a band can write a song about San Francisco, but San Francisco won’t come *through* the song unless the song gets picked up as a quasi anthem by the people of San Francisco or some group of people somewhere thinking *about* San Francisco and thus altering the meaning.

Or a group can write a song about San Francisco from San Francisco & have it really be of that, but …this may all be bullshit. Yeah, it is. Really. Just utter tossing nonsense. I’m leaving this in here so you all know that I at least occasionally have the good sense to quit when I’m doing the writing equivalent of talking just to hear the sound of my own voice…Also just realized that this band is probably named for having a laugh at a kid trying to say “San Francisco” and not having it go quite according to plan.)

“Reckless” (“about not being reckless w/ people’s hearts” whoa, what a DAMN GOOD idea) begins with a dream-poppy guitar line than turns a fast corner as the drums kick in and a synth line drives like an undertow through and past the bounding surface feel of the song.

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Almost feels like a steel drum could go comfortably into these songs & make the implicit tropical feel explicit. Yet there’s a sincerity to it all that other groups fetishizing the tropical seem to miss when their work gets diverted into camp. Perhaps this is what I was really trying to get at with my earlier bullshit paragraph: that it really is hard to sincerely just be *of* a thing without in some way *performing* that thing, and that the performance somehow alters the initial thing. The best articulations can only hope to acknowledge their swerve, and by doing so, allow their essence to separate from the camp. Or some quasi-academic bullshit like that.

Everyone leaves the stage save for the lead singer, Jordi, who remains to sing a song called “John’s Song”. It’s a moving paean to friendship with just the slightest hint of Springsteen. Takes real guts to pull this off in a town that’s as chatty as this one is during quiet songs, especially after such danciness preceding. Also, as the band returns, it occurs to me that this was one of the danciest shows I’ve been to in Portland where people WERE ACTUALLY DANCING and it not being explicitly *dance* music. What’s up, Monday night? Nice to see you, too!

The set closer is a song called “Awkward” which may be the sweetest-sounding song ever written about a stalker. In the middle of the song, two young women, dressed in awesomely outlandish indie glam come out and sang & danced with the band with wild exuberance. I’m gonna go out on a limb & guess these were two members of Chaos Chaos & if that’s the case then I *definitely* need to see these guys because that kind of enthusiasm is exactly what I’m drawn to in music. Go ahead and stand at the back of the room and look cool; I wanna hear from the people wearing their hearts on their sleeves and feeling their feelings in a way that’s un-fecking-afraid of what the hell anyone else has to say. It’s not your stoicism or sneering that makes you cool, it’s your enthusiasm. Anyone telling you otherwise is just trying to steal your lollipop & throw it in the sandbox for kicks. Feck ’em.

San Cisco. A late night beach party with new Australian friends, curious, at-ease and approachable. Summer music at the mere harbinger of spring.

Two Shows, One Review: Kim Baxter & Genders/Saucy Yoda & Kitty (Née: Kitty Pryde) Wednesday, March 20. Mississippi Studios & Backspace

So, one of the hardest parts of living in Portland is frequently having there be TOO MANY GOOD SHOWS on the same night.  (I know, you have it so rough, don’t you?)

Tonight was one of these nights. And And And, Minden, The We Shared Milk and the Ecstatics were having a pre-tour send-off  over at the Holocene & on any other night, I would have been there in a heartbeat.

Also, Japanther, French Horn Rebellion, The Cry!, Destroy Nate Allen, Brakemouth and Dumpster Burger were all playing at the (newly-reclaimed from the patchouli, reggae & jam band crowd) Mt. Tabor theater, which, despite my mistrust of the venue (I have NO PROOF that Bob Marley won’t come out of the PA speakers in between bands) on any other night, I would have been there in a heartbeat.

The Silent Numbers, Shadow House and a band called Sex Church from Vancouver B.C. were playing a house show.  Despite the worry about seeing a band I know nothing about that call themselves Sex Church, on any other night I would have been there in a heartbeat, for the first two *for sure* & keeping an open mind about the headliner, because what’s in a name?
“Words.”
“It was a rhetorical question.”
“You’re a rhetorical question.”
“Do you even know what a rhetorical question is?”
“Do I know what a rhetorical question is?”

Was it Teddy Roosevelt or Groucho Marx who said, “Speak softly and carry a big shtick?

Anyhow, as things would have it, Kim Baxter, Still Caves and Genders were having a show at Mississippi Studios and Sistafist, Saucy Yoda & Kitty (née Kitty Pryde) were at the Backspace (far & away the best all-ages venue in the city & just a fun place to be, show or not.  Fer feck’s sake, there’s a treehouse in the middle of the venue!) I began the night at the free show, sponsored by OPB at Mississippi Studios.

I was super excited to hear Kim Baxter, having heard a while back about “The Tale of Me and You” being released, but not getting a chance to hear it till now. Familiar with All Girl Summer Fun Band, I was a bit surprised by the new direction her music has taken, which is more mature and less breezy that the stuff I’m used to hearing from her, yet still possessing the humanizing lightness of her twee roots, even when dealing with heavier matters of the heart.  Strong, psyche-era keyboards drive much of the music forward, as do fuzzy guitar lines, calling to mind a marriage of 90’s Olympia-style twee, 60’s revivalism (without the indulgent jazz-solo wankery) and early 80’s Britpopgaze, before everybody knew what a Damon Albarn was or found Mancunian brothers to be charming whilst fighting about which one got to be John  & who Paul, but after Creation Records had scarred our ears with the most beautiful sonic tattoos ever seen/heard. (Mixing metaphors like it was pancake dough).

Songs ranged in dynamism from full-band rockers to a delicate one with just Kim and the keys, and we were all spellbound for the duration. I picked up the album from tiny and adorable label “Expect Candy”, if whose hand-scrawled donkey drawing doesn’t make you stop and go “awwwr” at the unbridled cuteness, you must be made of stone. The songs on the album have a bit of that element too, but there’s much more going on here, as the live show attested to. As much as I wanted to stick around for Still Caves, who I quite like, opportunities to see the rarest of rare: well-deserved internet meme fame this up close and personal don’t come around too frequently.

Much has been made of Kitty.  She’s been castigated as a pretender and either shit-talked or laughed off by the hip-hop cognoscenti, but the fact of the matter remains: she’s quite good.  (Though not everyone is hating Actually, I don’t have the audacity to think I’m going to top this very well-written article; I only hope to add a few minor observations).   She’s incredibly self-aware and loves the genre like only true believers do.  She’s good, she’s hungry and she’s self-aware.  She is Kurt in Olympia in 1986, or Sean Carter in Marcy Projects in 1989.  If you find this funny, think about why?

Is it youth?  She may be just old enough to drink; at the very least she’s older than 16-year-old Alex Chilton circa “The Letter”, whose rock bona fides was never called into question.  (There’s a reason I didn’t choose Silverchair.  Not because of merit, of course, merely because of critical acclaim…or it’s polar opposite, which I hope we all can agree is not a science and is ultimately of no consequence, and I type this AS A MUSIC CRITIC.)

Is it because she’s seemingly of suburban middle-class roots? Thankfully, I think most of us have moved beyond primitive notions of requiring a certain type of performative class authenticity (so easily feigned) to believe that an artist’s words have validity; on the offhand chance we have not, can we just say that the meaning exists external to biography.  Does Juliana Hatfield’s song “My Sister” mean suddenly less because she doesn’t actually have a sister?  Do you have to have a sister to enjoy it? If it touches a nerve about sibling ambivalence and mentor-ship  who cares?

Granted, hip-hop is a bit more initially murky, since it is so much of it has about relating the authenticity of personal experience, but with a bit of perspective. But since when has that *not* been the case?  The Lyrical I, and the attendant concerns about authenticity, is a concept dating back to Sapphic-era poetry.  All that has essentially changed has been our fascination with seeing artists perform this, or fail to, or refuse to. In short, Kitty doesn’t need to have shot anyone, or have been shot or have slung rock to be real.  The days when hip-hop necessarily had to be about a very narrow-defined set of things made by a select group of people trying to perform “toughness” in the guise of hyper-masculine thuggery is over.  The tide has long ago turned.

What she has to be is good.  And clever.  And fun to listen to.  She’s all of these things.  Now anyone can make hip-hop.  We’ve known this.  Now anyone can be good at it.  Known that, too.  What’s new, however, is that now we can recognize and celebrate people who are doing it their own way.  You can book your own musical life, thanks to the wonders of the internet, and ad hoc genre creations such as Tumblrwave (or the far more fitting appellation I just not-so-humbly coined: “Ponycore”….hoping/pretending for a moment that this isn’t an existing thing.  After a second thought, I’m actually a bit afraid to google it, and find out) will not just embrace it, but add it to the ever expanding musical library of Babel that the internet is.  (Sorry, am I Borges-ing you?  I don’t mean to Borges you…I hope you heard Bono in your head with that one.  And if you didn’t go back & listen to “Rattle & Hum” and hate me for it…until you get to “Heartland” and “All I Want Is You”.  LOOK, THEY’RE GOOD SONGS, EVEN IF THE LAD *IS* A BLOODY FECKIN’ WANKER).

The deluge of possible information to sort through is overwhelming, but rewarding to anyone with the patience to look, or the cleverness to seek out the right sorting device. Kitty’s website is so deliciously web 1.0, with its Myspacey flourishes that seem culled off of some Geocities web designers’ foray into eating mushrooms while drawing Lisa Frank designs and watching My Little Pony episodes.  Or just a 13-year old girl reveling in her 13-year-old girliness circa 2001.  Kitty takes all of this and plays with what expectations are associated with this type of experience and cleverly expands on it, while never denying that it is her experience, too.  She’s clearly fighting with how to view herself with confidence vs. a real and hard look at where she fails her own expectations, i.e. like anyone growing up ever.

Lines like, “So shawty yr a 10 I wait for your drunk dials at 3:30 AM I love them so call me sober when your ready, not going steady but babe I planned our wedding already” seem to showcase this, expressing admiration for a would-be beau, laughter at his clumsy attempt to meaninglessly hook up, a demarcation of basic respect (“call me when yr sober, not going steady”) and yet, behind it all, the dreamer that refuses to hide, planned wedding & all.  It’s not clear if she’s making fun of this person or is/identifies with this person or both, and that antagonism is compelling. Laugh at my grandiose accusations, but it’s the deliberations of a Hamlet on romance, instead of more dire matters, and yet coming to a far more sane conclusion.  “I want you, but I won’t let you walk all over me, so do right by me and this might happen and my hopes are dreamily high,” might be a more artless way of expressing the same sentiment. It might not be the most unique feeling, but it’s one that most, if not all people I know struggle with, and one that countless songs, (both great and less-so) have addressed.

In short, if you’re laughing at Kitty, then it’s who she is that’s getting you down.  That she’s a young woman with the attendant thoughts and experiences her intersectional location in the world has provided her.  If you find something inherently dismissable about that, then my reply is: you’re a dinosaur.  Time is passing you by.  Soon people that write-off other people’s legitimacy based on an eyeball-test will be things that we see on museum walls, or on tumblr pics made to look like them.

So I’m all about seeing the self-described Rap Game’s Taylor Swift with an open mind. Saucy Yoda is up first & is already on when I roll in through the front door, late from Mississippi.  She’s got the crowd in a bouncing fury; our own local Kitty, but with a more heightened appreciation of randomness and a little less relationship-y angst.  She’s got two hype women on stage dancing with her & the entire crowd is moving.  Kitty (aka Katherine Beckwith) sits at the back of the room, quietly talking to her DJ/brother, unaccosted by people who will soon be taking her photo, screaming for her and dancing.

Does no one recognize her?  I don’t believe that. Is it just that no one has anything clever to say?  I’ve lived here long enough to know that can’t be it.  Are we all hyper conscious of respecting artists’ personal space? I love and support that notion, but find it the hardest one to believe. Or is it just that there exists a divide between online experience, which is inherently more personalized and directly interactive in a way that print media just could not be, and regular life?  That how we consume media has institutionalized how we interact with the producers, even when they are right there in front of us?  Is it akin to a difference in social language?  This is nothing new, I see performers by themselves all the time, and wonder the same thing to varying lengths.  I guess what surprises me is that Kitty is so directly solicitous of social interaction in such a personal way online, and here she is sitting essentially alone.  Odd. Kitty steps on stage and shyly-yet-enthusiastically exhorts the crowd to get into it. Camera-phones pop out & flashes go off.  Kitty seems a bit uncomfortable with this, despite very clearly wanting this sort of attention. She parses out the distinction after the first song and says, “Listen, shawty, you can take my picture if you like, but only if you’re dancing.  I want to see you having fun! So, no photos if you’re just standing there.”

And that’s what it is.  She’s hyper-aware that she’s been (and is being) fetishized for her youthful good looks, and doesn’t want creepy people taking photos of her for any kind of weird reasons.  I wonder for a second if I was being addressed as part of that group, since I took some crappy phone pics for this site (I’ll put ’em up when I get around to it, but they’re wicked bad. Any savvy photogs wanna come see some shows with me?), but I realized that I had been doing my awkward indiepop shuffle (not exactly the coolest hip-hop move ever, but feck it, I’m having fun & it’s what happens when I hear music I like) and was dancing with a wide grin, unlike several guys with baseball hats on, standing motionlessly and stoic, as if paid and bored paparazzi.

You get the feeling watching her perform, that you’re a sibling who is standing at the open door to her room, looking to borrow a shirt or something only to discover her singing along and dancing unbridled to her favorite album, in a way that she might be sheepishly embarrassed about should she see you standing there.

The show ended & without bothering to catch my breath, I’m off running, with an newly made friend, back over to Mississippi Studios to catch the last act of the night.

So, not to get all academic up in this (too late, mate), but if gender is a construction as Judith Butler correctly tells us, then Genders is also a construction; a perfect Portland balance of disparate parts, melded together in a pot of post-rock, jangle, enthusiasm, and the slightest hit of Americana, so faint, it’s as if it’s the third note in a coffee-tasting description: you’re not sure if it’s actually there, or if it’s just implanted itself into your mind by the powers of suggestion.

Formerly 3/4s of Youth, where the Americana influence was more on their sleeve than merely an occasional slight timbre in lead-singer Maggie Morris’s voice, the group has moved on from that sound into something more dynamic and complex & I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: more exciting.  There’s an exuberant energy that effuses through these four, playing songs that are involved without being indulgent and are layered without being wanky.  As compelling as the singing is, the band is really driven forward by the energetic drumming, that provides a giddy rawness and counterpoint to the well-wrought songs.

You know that feeling when someone wildly charismatic has entered the room, and you haven’t even turned to see them yet, but you can feel the entire mood lift, expectantly?  That’s the sound that Genders have.

I know I’ve raved about this band for a while now, but srsly: Genders like whoa.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.  Free show at Rontoms this Sunday.  Thinking about staying home instead?

Listen to K tell you what he thinks of that.