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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.