Tag Archives: pdx

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?