The build up to December to Remember continued on Saturday afternoon, as In The Valley Below played the latest 94/7 Session at Mississippi Studios. Although the fierce winds and the occasional falling tree limb may have kept some of Portland's less adventurous music lovers at home, by the time Mark Hamilton took to the stage to introduce the band, a respectable crowd had gathered to witness the Los Angeles duo's Portland debut.
The first thing you notice about ITVB when you see them live is the heavy Fleetwood Mac vibe, both in terms of the band's somewhat folk-influenced sound and singer Angela Gail's Stevie Nicks-esque sense of style. The comparison is also bolstered by the fact that while the duo often behaves like a couple on stage (sharing a drink, singing arm-in-arm, etc), both the blogosphere and their own publicity materials are extremely ambiguous as to whether or not the duo is an item in real life. Regardless, Gail and guitarist Jeffrey Jacob are definitely at their strongest as a duet - while Gail's solos have a sort of beautiful severity to them, the duo really shines when Jacob adds his voice to the mix, most notably on their single "Peaches," which takes on a decidedly rocky vibe when played live.
The next season of Portlandia may still be a few months away, but Thursday night proved that if nothing else, The Dream of the Eighties (and Nineties) is alive in Portland, as a sold out crowd packed into the Aladdin Theater to see The Lemonheads and The Psychedelic Furs. Although neither band would be considered particularly relevant on today's scene, during their respective moments in time, each band helped capture of the zeitgeist of their respective eras, and their music is still evocative of those timeframes: Thatcher-era working class England in the case of The Fur and the Empire Records-esque suburbia in the case of The Lemonheads.
Musically and performance-wise, however, the bands are very different. The Lemonheads gave a raw, rough-around-the-edges performance complete with copious feedback early in the set and frequent mumbling, half-sung asides from Evan Dando between songs. The roughness worked with the band's punk/alternative rock sound, though, and it made me think of the Portland I remembered in my youth - the era of Clerks, of Chrysler K-Cars, of Eastport Plaza and Mall 205, and of Lloyd Center before it had a roof. (I realise that I mentioned three malls in that last sentence. Hey, it was the Nineties.)
Conversely, The Psychedelic Furs gave a very slick performance, one that belied their roots in Britain's gritty post-punk scene. For almost two hours, the Butler brothers held court at The Aladdin, working through a good chunk of their extensive discography. (Many of us may remember the band predominantly for their contribution to the Pretty In Pink soundtrack, but I had forgotten just how many singles they produced in the eighties that got substantial airplay.) Despite being almost sixty, frontman Richard Butler sings with surprising energy, jumping up and down, kneeling at the edge of the stage and frequently reaching out to high-five fans in the crowd. They may not be at the forefront of our cultural awareness these days, but for two hours at The Aladdin, Butler was a man speaking to his people - and they seemed to hang on his every word.
Portlanders got a sneak peak of what to expect at this year's December To Remember on Monday, when J Roddy Walston & The Business came to the Doug Fir Lounge, hot on the heels of their 94/7 Session that afternoon at Mississippi Studios.
Openers Fly Golden Eagle set the stage for the evening with a hard-rocking set that mixed high-pitched vocals with a raw, 60's rock sound. Although their music has a bit of psych-rock flavor, they manage to do so without delving too deeply into that face-melting, psychedelic feel that makes people either love or hate bands like Tame Impala or Wampire. Instead, you go away from their set wondering if they're trying to copy the same artists that Jack White is influenced by… or if they're trying to copy Jack White himself. Either way, the end result is pretty good.
To say that J Roddy Walston is a "high energy performer" is a little like saying that December To Remember will be "sort of fun" or that Andrew WK "kind of" enjoys partying – they're all gross understatements. Decked out in flannel and sporting a luxurious mane, JRW led the crowd through a raucous, floor stomping set that didn't let up for the duration of the show. The singer himself never lets up, either, or stays still for more than a few seconds at a time, constantly jumping back and forth between his piano (a real upright, not a keyboard) and the mic at the front of the stage, his hair trailing in a cloud behind him.
Although the band's current single, "Take It As It Comes," sports a heavy Kings of Leon vibe, their live performance has a slightly different brand of Southern flair, combining classic rock with pounding, piano-driven rock and roll. Paired with JRW's playing style and stage presence, the end result can make you think of both Jerry Lee Lewis and Aerosmith in the same instant. Regardless of who they remind you of, if J Roddy Walston & The Business's performance on Monday is any indication of what we can expect this December, I think it's safe to say that December to Remember will be a lot more than just "sort of fun."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."