Thoughts From Last Night...


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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Flaming Lips :: Waterfront Park :: 8.03.14

This week was a banner week for both free music and Major League Soccer - and those two things intersected on Sunday afternoon, when Radiation City and The Flaming Lips played a free show at Waterfront Park as part of MLS All-star Week, hot on the heels of 94/7's own free session with The War on Drugs, earlier that afternoon.

Radiation City's stock has been rising ever since they were named Willamette Week's "Best New Band" in 2012, and Sunday's gig was just the latest and biggest chapter in their ascent to fame. The band's unique brand of retro indie pop has become more and more polished with each passing year, and songs like "Zombies"  (not to be confused with the Cranberries hit) serve to prove that they've deftly managed the transition from local back-room venues to big stages. 

Reviewing a Flaming Lips show is a slightly daunting task, because the music tends to take a backstage to the concert experience (and antics) as a whole. If you're a fan of the band and/or you've been to one of their shows, you're probably going to be pretty stoked about seeing them (Spoiler Alert: This was most of the crowd). If, however, you're not into The Flaming Lips or you've never been to one of their shows / have no idea what to expect, I suspect the experience might be a bit surreal... or perhaps mildly scary. Beauty is, I suppose, in the eyes - or on the lips - of the beholder. 

I personally had never been to a Flaming Lips gig before, but I did a lot of "research" (I watched a bunch of YouTube videos) before the show, and it was every bit as much of a crazy, wild ride as I expected. From Fred Armisen coming out three times in a row to introduce the band to people dancing on-stage dressed as mountains and trees to Wayne Conye donning a human muscle bodysuit and crowd-surfing in a giant plastic bubble, it was pure Flaming Lips in all their colorful glory. 

For all the theatrics, however, The Flaming Lips are consummate musicians - and by the time they got to songs like "Do You Realize" and their rendition of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" at the end of the night, all the antics had faded away, leaving us with only beautiful, compelling music in the gathering dusk.

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The War on Drugs ::: 94/7 Session ::: 8.3.14

Although it's a very popular cliche in the music industry to refer to a band's rise to fame as "meteoric," using such adjectives to describe The War on Drugs would probably be something of a misnomer. Since forming in 2005, the Pennsylvania band had already managed to build a modest following and garnered critical acclaim for their first two albums. But it wasn't until this year's release of the single, Red Eyes, that the band finally attained the critical mass needed to propel them into the limelight. On Sunday, Portlanders got to experience this first-hand when the band came to Mississippi Studios for the latest 94/7 Session - and arguably one of the best Sessions in recent memory.
Fresh off of two appearances at Pickathon earlier that weekend, it would be pretty forgivable if the band wanted to phone it in for a free show on a Sunday afternoon. But that's not how The War on Drugs rolls. They took their time during soundcheck to make sure their sound was really dialed-in, and when they took the stage, they proceeded to rock through one of the longest, hardest-rocking sets we've seen at a 94/7 Session.
Although the catchiness of the band's blend of indie rock and shoegazer comes through on their records, hearing a song like Red Eyes live, you pick up on the slightly Dylan-esque quality of lead singer Adam Granduciel's voice and a raw energy that the recorded version only alludes to. I try not to get too crazy on the hyperbole, but I think it'd be accurate to characterize their set as "face-meltingly good." I don't know how America's doing with the actual War on Drugs, but THE War on Drugs is definitely winning.
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Fitz and The Tantrums :: Roseland Theater :: 06.23.14

It is a commonly accepted axiom in Portland that it's hard, if not impossible, to top a December To Remember show. However, apparently Fitz and The Tantrums didn't get the memo, because they did their level best to disprove that saying on Monday night - and they succeeded.

Although they were both crowd favorites, Fitz's two openers were about as disparate as you can get. Los Angeles indie-pop group HOLYCHILD started the evening off with a vaguely retro-sounding, super poppy set. Although the band has a good sound, their set was pretty uneven - when lead singer Liz Nistico stays within her range, she sounds great, but whenever she strays outside her register (or tries to rap), she has a tendency to veer painfully off-key. 

I could level no such criticism about the second opening act, however. Austin singer Max Frost played a pitch-perfect, genre-bending set that combined indie pop, neo soul, a couple of other influences that I couldn't quite place. In the space of one song, Frost's music will make you think of everything from Jamiroquai to Alt J to Foster The People. Perhaps the most apt comparison, though, would be the latter band's lead singer, Mark Foster - although their styles are completely different, Max Frost displays the same level of energy and showmanship as the other M.F.

Neither opener could hold a candle to Fitz and The Tantrums, however. Although their first song (Get Away) started out slowly, that was the last low key moment of the show;  by the time the song ended, they had worked the crowd into a screaming, cheering frenzy that only intensified during classics such as "Don't Gotta Work It Out," "Break The Walls" and "Breakin' the Chains of Love." 

Midway through the show, singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs issued their usual edict to the crowd (the majority of whom were seeing Fitz for the first time) about audience participation, before leading the crowd in a call-and-response cover of The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." They eventually closed out the night with a barn-burner of an encore, ending with "Moneygrabber" (complete with confetti cannons) and "The Walker."

A band that can get the entire audience to clap and sing along to one or two songs? That's impressive. A band that can get the entire audience to clap and sing along to EVERY song? That's Fitz and The Tantrums.

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