Thoughts From Last Night...


My Goodness :: Crystal Ballroom :: 09.23.14

Adventure Galley came out swinging at 94/7's latest "I Saw Them When" show on Tuesday night, with no introduction and a minimum of fuss. The Portland band has done double duty this month as an opener, first at the Knox Hamilton/Colony House show and then for My Goodness, and although they're still a little rough around the edges at times, they definitely brought their A Game for their appearance at the Crystal Ballroom, with improved (even from earlier this month) song transitions and an ever-more confident stage presence. This is definitely the best Portland's pirates have ever sounded.

And now let's talk about My Goodness. I'll admit that I didn't immediately fall in love with "Cold Feet Killer" the first few times I heard it, but hearing them live really changed my perspective on the band. These guys know how to rock. From the minute the Seattle band took to the stage, they immediately turned the volume up to 11 (both literally and figuratively) and kept it there for there the duration of the show. It was the loudest, hardest-rocking and most energetic show I've seen at the Crystal in quite some time, and the crowd ate up every second of it - stamping their feet on the floor before the encore so enthusiastically that the sound reverberated throughout the venue like thunder. 

When the lights finally went up at the Crystal, I turned to my friend standing next to me and uttered a phrase that I have seldom - if ever - used when it reviewing concerts: "That was pretty metal, man!" And I wasn't lying - it was. 

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Lykke Li :: Crystal Ballroom :: 09.19.14

To say that Lykke Li has stage presence would be a little bit of an understatement. From the moment she emerged from the smoke on Friday night, the Swedish singer took command of the crowd at the Crystal Ballroom and never let up for an instant. Although her vocal stylings definitely swing to the indie side of “indie pop” (at times she sounsd like a cross between Lorde & Lana del Rey), in concert she displays the performance acumen of a rock star, wailing and hanging from her mic stand and making liberal use of the fog machine. 
Lykke Li attacked her set with relentless intensity – there were no pauses, no breaks, no throwaway songs – just one riveting performance after another, including her singles “Little Bit” and “No Rest For the Wicked,” along with a sultry cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” and a barn-burning rendition of “Get Some” at the end of her set. Although Lykke Li professes to be only “a little bit in love” in the song, everyone at the Crystal was definitely a lot in like with her peformance.

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The Kooks/ Priory :: Wonder Ballroom :: 09.28.14

You know how you call tell that Priory is from Portland? They drop words like "Proletariat" into an otherwise light-hearted song about enjoying the weekend. The band received an appropriately populist welcome from the masses gathered at Wonder Ballroom on Sunday night. Although they've been around for half a decade - and used to be a regular fixture back on the Portland circuit, back in the day - they've recently broken into the national spotlight with the aforementioned single, "Weekend." With a retro-tinged sound that mixes teen rock vocals and melodic guitar work, I wouldn't be surprised if we see Priory making an appearance on the soundtrack for a summer comedy, before too long. (My first thought upon hearing "Weekend" is that it would've been perfect for the Adventureland soundtrack, had it come out five years earlier.)

Middle opener Halsey bills herself as a "rap-game Winona Ryder," and while I'm not sure if that's the appellation that I would've given her, she pulled off an impressive pop performance (albeit a slightly incongruous one, given her placement on the evening's lineup). With breathy, staccato vocals, Halsey sounds a little bit like Ellie Goulding, but with far edgier sensibilities. Playing the Wonder on the eve of her 20th birthday, the blue-haired singer delivered an energetic set that included her single "Ghost" and a delightful cover of The Killer's "When You Were Young."

It's been a minute since we've seen The Kooks, but time hasn't dulled the band's chops, any. The British rockers are straight-up rock stars, these days, and the crowd welcomed them accordingly, collectively losing their minds when they heard the first few bars of "She Moves In Her Own Way." Although there's a retro sensibility to almost all of the band's music, the bluesy acoustic-driven sound that permeated songs like "Naive" and "Always Where I Need to Be" has given way to an edgier, funkier sound on songs like "Around Town" and "Down." Lead singer Luke Pritchard is a treat to watch live, too - prowling the stage with a stature that's equal parts Mark Foster and Mick Jagger. 

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Ben Folds & The Oregon Symphony :: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall :: 09.20.14

For veteran music lovers, the name Ben Folds immediately evokes waves of nostalgia. Anyone who listened to alternative rock in the 90’s probably remembers Ben Folds Five and their quintessential downer hit, “Brick.” Likewise, I’m sure many “old-timers” remember Folds’ first solo album, “Rockin’ The Suburbs.” As the new millennium wore on, however, it seemed that Ben Folds had settled into a position on the peripherary of the alt-rock universe – delving further into moody introspection (2005’s “Songs For Silverman”) and dabbling with pop sensibilities (2008’s catchy but very mainstream duet with Regina Spektor). So it was with some curiosity that I plodded into the Arlene Schnitzer Concert hall to see Mssr. Folds and the Oregon Symphony. Which incarnation of Ben Folds would we see?
Thoughts From Last Night has discussed well over 100 bands in the past year – and while I don’t like to indulge too heavily in hyperbole, Ben Folds’ performance on Saturday night was arguably one of the best and most unique shows we’ve ever covered. Backed by the Oregon Symphony, Folds treated concertgoers to a performance that interwove lush orchestral arrangements with songs from throughout both his Ben Folds Five days and his solo catalog, regularly punctuated by rambling and often hilarious annecdotes. Early in the evening, the Symphony performed the third movement of Folds’ recent piano concerto, a percussion-heavy piece with hints of George Winston & Aaron Copland. Later, he treated the audience to a rendition of his famous improvisational song, “Rock this B****.” While the idea of anyone improvising a song on the fly is pretty impressive, to witness someone improvise an entire orchestral arrangement was nothing short of astounding.
Towards the end of evening, after a brief soapbox moment about the importance of symphonies (Folds referred to them as the “pinnacle of civilization”) and supporting the arts, Ben got the audience to provide a three-part harmony for “Not the Same.” Combined with the symphony and the acoustics of the Schnitz, it was a moment of rare beauty and kismet, and it made me think that perhaps this was how Ben Folds always envisioned his songs being performed; maybe he was just making due with a band all this time.

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Interpol :: Crystal Ballroom :: 09.17.14

One of my earliest memories of 94/7 was hearing on the radio that Interpol was coming to town back in 2005… and being really bummed that I couldn't go. Almost a decade later, I finally got to make it up to my 2005 self by joining the crowd packing into the Crystal Ballroom for Interpol’s sold out show on Wednesday night.
Although Interpol has been out of the spotlight for the past couple of years, they obviously haven’t faded from the minds of their fans (several of whom showed up sporting vintage “Antics” t-shirts), who greeted the band with cheers and applause when they took to a stage bathed in ominous red spotlights. Once Interpol was on-stage, the cheering stopped and the crowd fell into a trance-like, almost reverential silence as the band cranked out one hit after another, including "Evil," "C'mere," and "Slow Hands."
Although I didn’t get to say "I Saw Them When,” a decade later, I got to see them now, and that was just as good.

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The Breeders :: Wonder Ballroom :: 09.11.14

As we were waiting for The Breeders to come on stage Thursday night, I noticed that the young woman in front of me was sporting an impressive tattoo of the old nineties-era MTV logo. Much like my concert neighbor's choice of ink, The Breeders show at Wonder Ballroom proved that while it's been over two decades since "Cannonball" came out, there's still a market for "classic" alternative rock, at least in Portland.

While I realize that it's both a little unfair and maybe even cliched to compare The Breeders to The Pixies, I'm going to do it anyways, because comparison is so telling. For better and for worse, the Kim Deal-fronted Breeders is everything that the Kim Deal-less Pixies is not (and since I wasn't old enough to see them in their heyday, it really makes me wonder what the latter band was like when Kim Deal was part of the lineup). 

When we covered The Pixies back in February, my biggest complaint about the band was that their set was polished and honed to the point of being antiseptic and occasionally underwhelming. By contrast, The Breeders are delightfully raw and play with a great deal of heart. There was more stage banter in the first five minutes of their set than we saw from The Pixies in an entire show, and both Kim and her sister Kelley cracked jokes all through their show. There's a downside to that, too: while some of the band's new music (another difference from the Pixies) was good, some of it fell completely flat - most notably the bizarrely-named "Blues at The Acropolis" (Kim quipped that Kelley didn't like the name... I'd have to agree with her) - and the band frequently pulled out their guitar tabs on the songs they didn't know very well. Despite the occasional missteps, though, hearing "Cannonball" live and watching them cover "Happiness is a Warm Gun," made me come to the conclusion - while they might have a less iconic discography than The Pixies, The Breeders are definitely a heck of a lot more fun to watch live.

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Knox Hamilton / Colony House :: Doug Fir Lounge :: 09.09.14

Short and sweet was the order of the day last Tuesday, as the Doug Fir Lounge played host to three rapid-fire sets from a trio of up-and-coming bands.

Openers Adventure Galley played PetAid back in 2013, and while they haven't risen to prominence quite as quickly as some of their fellow PetAid alums (Hustle & Drone and Said The Whale, I'm looking at you guys), their stock seems to be on the rise, as of late. The Portland band, whose insouciant take on New Wave inspired music is reminiscent of The Bravery in their early (better) days, opens for two 94/7 shows this month - this one and My Goodness on September 23.

Little Rock band Knox Hamilton followed with a tight indie pop set - emphasis on the pop. There are some bands that find themselves in the indie/alternative spectrum (and by extension, on the pages of this blog) by virtue of their content, and they never leave. Although I'm sure Portugal The Man would be amazing in an arena setting, I don't think we're ever going to see them do a stadium tour with Drake. Conversely, other bands find themselves in the indie/alt orbit by virtue of their anonymity - as soon as they have enough cultural inertia, they tend to find themselves gravitating towards the pop market. There's nothing wrong with that, and that's exactly what I'd expect to happen with Knox Hamilton, if they make it big.

The final act of the evening, Colony House, also had a bit of pop edge, but one that seemed to resonate broadly with the crowd. Musically, Colony House sounds a little bit like a cross between Young The Giant and The Features; the latter parallel being especially apparent live, when they delve into more riff-heavy guitar work. Whatever their influences, they had the entire crowd clapping along by the time they got to their recent single, "Silhouettes."

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MusicFestNW - Sunday :: 08.17.14

Day Two of MusicFestNW (MFNW) dawned to another hot, sunny day in the City of Roses. My afternoon began with two rather dreamy sets, starting off on the indie pop side of the spectrum with Portland's own Wild Ones, fronted by ethereal, high-stepping chanteuse, Danielle Sullivan, before moving into shoegaze territory with Brooklyn's The Antlers, who sound a lot like Explosions In the Sky, if Explosions In the Sky had vocals and lots of horns.  
With Day Two's headliners imminent, the lineup took an unusual turn, with a set by a hardcore punk band whose name we have to censor on a radio-friendly blog. F****** Up isn't bad, if you're into that genre, but they were a slightly perplexing choice, given that a good chunk of the audience at the American Apparel stage was there waiting for HAIM to go on later that afternoon. (You know two demographics that don't necessarily overlap a whole lot? HAIM fans and punk fans.) At the Moda stage, folks waiting for Spoon got to hear the talented but quirky tUnE-yArDs, who can go through about five or six influences in the space of one song. Motown-esque harmonies? Check. World Music? Rapid fire vocals? Reggae? Scat singing? Check, Check, Check.
A decade ago, The Donnas attempted the retro, all-girl rock band routine, and as a result, they became buzz-worthy... for about 15 minutes. HAIM has taken that concept and made it into something more than just a novelty - although music critics frequently compare them to Fleetwood Mac, when you see them live, it's more like watching Heart do a tribute to Led Zeppelin, and the end result is pure rock and roll. For their set at MFNW, the girls were in great form, leading the audience in a call-and-response version of "The Wire" and closing out their set by throwing Snickers bars into the crowd. 
If I was worried that Spoon wasn't going to be able to top HAIM's set, I needn't have doubted. MFNW's penultimate performance proved to be arguably its most epic, as well. Providing a great contrast between an up-and-coming band and a well-established one, Spoon followed up on HAIM's youthful energy with a polished, arena-worthy performance. When Britt Daniel holds court, people pay attention - no mean feat when you're playing a long set to a crowd spread over several city blocks who've been standing in the sun all day. (How many of their hits did they play, you ask? All of them.) Even as the more tired members of the crowd started to drift away during the encore, you could still see small groups of people rocking out and dancing in the moonlight. 
Until next year, MusicFestNW. It's been real.

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Broken Bells :: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall :: 08.11.14

The first time I ever went to a planetarium was when my friend took me to see a U2 Laser Light show at OMSI. It was alright. But on Monday night, Broken Bells turned the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall into their own personal planetarium, and no offense to Bono or anything, but they blew my prior U2 experience out of the water.

Opening act Cayucas' brand of breathy, SoCal surf-rock was well received by the crowd, but their reception was nothing compared to the welcome Portland had in store of James Mercer and Brian Burton - and with good reason: every second of Broken Bells set was both visually and aurally arresting. Pretty much every surface in their stage setup glistens with mirrors, flashing lights and lasers, and a massive, dome-shaped projector at the band's feet projected fisheye views of the screaming crowd and colorful visualizations of swirling nebulae and starscapes onscreen behind the band. Performance-wise, James Mercer never strays from behind his mic, but he doesn't have to - he manages to hold your attention all the same, playing through songs like "The Ghost Inside" and "Holding On for Life" with an intensity that I've only seen rivaled by Foster The People's Mark Foster. 

Towards the end of the show, Mercer paused briefly to talk about how glad he was to be back home in Portland. We're glad too, James. We're glad too.

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PetAid :: Sellwood Park :: 08.10.14

Virginia might be for lovers, but Portland is definitely for Pet Lovers, and nowhere was this more evident than on Sunday afternoon at Sellwood Park. Close to four thousand Portlanders braved scorching temperatures for this year's PetAid, sponsored by 94/7 in support of Multnomah County Animal Services.

As festival-goers filtered into the park, Swedish rockers NONONO kicked off the afternoon with a solid set that was evocative of their last Portland appearance eight months ago at December To Remember. Although their live performances have a somewhat rawer edge than the (almost too-perfect) polish of "Pumpin Blood," lead singer Stina Wappling has an impressive voice and a pretty striking stage presence. NONONO might have managed to visit us during the hottest week of the year - quite a contrast compared to the freezing temperatures of December to Remember - but they managed to look pretty cool doing so.

The Colourist followed NONONO with their third Portland appearance in less than nine months. While their set was every bit as solid as their last two performances, the summer heat seemed to take a toll on their famously boisterous fans - instead of the constant, deafening cheering that I've grown accustomed to at Colourist shows, the crowd had it toned down to "only" a dull roar. That said, they seemed to get in gear by the end of the band's set, just in time for Adam and Maya to close it out with an even more raucous than usual performance of "Little Games."

SKATERS marked the midway point of the day, and the Brooklyn rockers got to bring their brand of effortlessly cool post-punk to a much larger audience than when they played for at Mississippi Studios earlier this year. The crowd in front of the stage ate up songs like "Deadbolt" and "Miss Teen Massachusetts," but, perhaps not surprisingly, the people's enjoyment of the band seemed to be directly proportionate to one's proximity to the stage - you have to get in close if you really want to really want to get the full SKATERS experience.

It's been over a year since Wild Cub last played in Portland, and the crowd at Sellwood Park was more than ready to welcome them back to the City of Roses. The band may be based out of Nashville, but frontman Keegan DeWitt definitely has plenty of love for his native state, and the audience was more than happy to hear his reminiscences about listening to KNRK growing up and how he's never missed a Blazers game since he was eight years old. Musically, while the band is almost exclusively known for their single, it's a pretty compelling introduction. "Thunder Clatter" is one of those songs that either makes you really glad you're in a relationship... or really sad you're single. You don't have to take my word for it, though, and you don't have to wait another year to see them again - Wild Cub will be back in Portland this fall.

Few bands this year have moved into the limelight as quickly as Bear Hands, who've gone from playing smaller venues like Doug Fir to closing out PetAid in the space of a just a few months - and with good cause. While all of the acts at PetAid were excellent, 94/7 definitely saved the best for last, and the crowd seemed to agree, cheering along as the band rocked through songs such as "Bone Digger" and "Giants."

Mark Hamilton and members of the staff at 94/7 have told me in the past that they're continually trying to top themselves, when it comes to PetAid and December To Remember, and while I don't know if it's humanly possible to raise the bar any higher, next year, so far that hasn't stopped them from trying - and succeeding. 

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