The 1975 is a band that's full of surprises. Just by looking at their name, you might assume that their music hearkens back to the era of Bowie and Zeppelin. And if you've only heard their hit single, "Sex," you might think that all of their music has the same longing, lust-driven alt-rock urgency that was all the rage six or seven years ago.
Once they started their set at the Doug Fir Lounge this Monday, however, the Mancunian quartet quickly dispelled such notions. Their name may make you think "disco", but their sound is pure eighties. With lilting, high-pitched vocals, poppy guitar hooks, and catchy synth beats (making them sound almost like a male-fronted version of CHVRCHES), most of The 1975's songs play like they belong on the soundtrack to a long-lost John Hughes film. It's unexpected, but it's a sound that works for them.
Unfortunately, the band's live performance was a bit uneven. Although they played a solid set, the show dragged at times, and it seems like they haven't learned to channel the raw energy of "Sex" into their other songs. Fortunately, this doesn't have to be Portland's final word on The 1975. At the end of the show, lead singer Matthew Healy noted that they plan to come back to P-Town in spring of next year. Hopefully they'll have some new surprises for us, when they return. In the meantime, I'm gonna go look for my Breakfast Club DVD.
There's always a certain degree of uncertainty when you go to see a band perform for the second time. Will they sound better than they did the last time? Have they honed their sound or have they gotten sloppy? Have they given up rock n' roll to dabble in experimental jazz? You'll never really know until you see them a second time. Fortunately for The Mowglis and Walk the Moon, time has treated the two bands pretty kindly. Hot on the heels of last week's "I Saw Them When" show with Palma Violets, these two "I Saw Them When" alums returned to Portland for a class reunion, of sorts.
After an enthusiastic opening set by Smallpools (If you miss the super-upbeat brand of indie pop that bands like Metro Station and Plain White T's made popular in the mid-2000s, you should definitely check these guys out. They also did a pretty entertaining cover of New Radical's "You Get What You Give."), The Mowglis came onstage to much fanfare. (The crowd was so psyched, they even cheered for The Mowglis roadies when they came out to set up.) The Los Angeles-based octet's sound hasn't changed much since their show in February - cheery jam-band songs about love and social change - and some people might criticize their sound as overly simplistic (they're basically leading a giant singalong), but if you like what they're throwing down, it's a great ride. (Tickets are still available for their December 2 Remember show with Said the Whale on December 3, so get 'em while you can!)
(The Mowglis. Or most of them, anyways.)
While there wasn't much surprising about The Mowglis, Walk The Moon's performance was something of a revelation. Last summer, when they played The Crystal Ballroom, Walk The Moon had a solid set, but crowd response was pretty lackluster. This year, armed with facepaint and an improved repertoire, they whipped the crowd into a screaming frenzy with songs like "Next In Line," "Tightrope," "Shiver Shiver," and, of course, their best-known song, "Anna Sun." Their stage banter may be a little heavy on the feel-good platitudes, but there's no doubt these "I Saw Them When" alums have graduated to the next level.
The Crystal Ballroom got all kinds of old school on Wednesday as SKATERS and Palma Violets rolled into the City of Roses for 94/7's latest installment in their "I Saw Them When" concert series. Although the city’s concert-going contingent was forced to choose between Palma Violets and Metric’s show at The Roseland, the folks who made it to the Crystal were treated to a show that was worth far more than the 94 cents it cost them to get in the door.
New York rockers SKATERS kicked things off with a LOUD, raucous set and a wardrobe that looked like it was borrowed from the set of Clerks (apparently none of these guys actually shred in real life, but they certainly dress the part). While their recorded work is evocative of both classic punk/New Wave bands (The Clash/The Cars) and more modern influences (The Strokes), the first thing I noticed about SKATERS was how loud they were. Definitely check these guys out online or on your MP3 player, but if you ever go see them in person, make sure you bring ear protection.
It wasn’t until Palma Violets came onstage that things really got interesting, however. A lot of awesome bands have come through Portland this year, and while I wouldn’t say Palma Violets was the best act I’ve seen, they were definitely one of the more intriguing ones. If you’ve heard Palma’s single “Best of Friends” on 94/7, you might have noticed a certain punk undertone to their music (along with a bunch of other classic influences), but those undertones become pretty explicit when you see the band live. They started off their set with the classic Rivieras / Ramones song “California Sun,” before moving into their original material – an energetic set full of Ramones-style riffs and vocals that were obviously influenced by Joe Strummer and The Clash, replete with band members jumping on their equipment, crowd-surfing and even tossing their guitars on the floor at the end of their three-song encore.
Palma Violets’ sound is, quite simply, epic – especially live. It’s derivative, sure, but it’s raw and earnest, and looking at the fairly youthful crowd that turned out Wednesday night, you realize that bands like Palma are probably the closest that the Millennial Generation will get to experiencing those halcyon days when bands like the Ramones and Talking Heads ruled the airwaves and rocked out at places like CBGB’s – and that’s not a bad thing.
As the show was wrapping up, I heard a guy ask his date, “Is this too much rock n’ roll for you?” No, sir, it’s just right.
While it's fun to see a band at almost any stage of their career (the "hey-remember-us-we-used-to-be-famous" comeback tour frequently being the exception to this rule), for my money, bands are often the most interesting to watch when they're just on the cusp of making it big - they've got their sound nailed down, but they haven't had their creative edge dulled by the trappings of fame. And if you want a perfect example of this, you need look no further than Dan Croll's show at Holocene this Sunday.
If you're wondering whether or not you've heard Dan Croll before, there's a decent chance that you have. Their single "From Nowhere" (vaguely reminiscent of Minus The Bear's "My Time" - and equally as catchy) was a Slice of New Music Heaven on 94/7 earlier this year, and more recently they've been featured on the video game soundtracks for FIFA 14 and Grand Theft Auto V.
Despite the distraction of a gorgeously sunny October afternoon, a small but enthusiastic crowd was on hand at Holocene to greet the Liverpool quintet and local openers, Blue Skies For Black Hearts, who kicked things off with a retro-flavored set that combined sixties-style harmonies and guitar riffs with Elvis Costello-like vocals. While Blue Skies For Black Hearts took a fairly straight-forward, retro approach, Dan and his bandmates (most of whom have been friends since they were teenagers) followed that up with a more modern, eclectic set - blending toe-tapping percussion and synth-work with funky guitar riffs and Dan's signature, somewhat ethereal, vocals (on some of their slower songs, you could almost mistake him for an English Paul Simon). There's also a certain world-music vibe to the band; while Liverpool may have similar weather to Portland, on songs like "Compliment Your Soul" and "In/Out", the band sounds like they're headlining the world's most awesome beach party - and it's a sound that works for them.
Halfway through their first US tour, it's also quite apparent that Dan and Company haven't lost their enthusiasm for performing, either: the band members frequently traded quips in between songs, and when the crowd's enthusiasm for their music exceeded the band's rehearsed material, they gamely improvised a short encore, as well.
Dan Croll may be Liverpool's best-kept secret, but not for long. While Portlanders may not be familiar with their name, Dan and his mates are definitely making waves in the industry. Following a much-lauded appearance earlier this year at SXSW, the band was recently asked to perform at this month's Austin City Limits festival, and later this year, they'll be spending time on tour with both Bastille and Imagine Dragons.
This is definitely a band that's going places- the only real question is: how soon can we get them back in Portland?
Although Noah and the Whale's name has decidedly unbiblical origins, I'm sure some Portlanders were thinking of That Guy With The Ark as they slogged through a veritable Deluge to make it to Wonder Ballroom on Sunday night. But record rainfall, high winds and power outages (including blackouts just a stones-throw from Wonder Ballroom) were no match for the Rose City's determined concert-going contingent.
Show opener Barna Howard may have been rocking a Canadian tuxedo for his set at The Wonder, but his brand of simple acoustic folk was straight-up Americana. While we see lots of acts here in Portland that have some sort of country/folk influence, it's rare that you come across one that's pure folk (or pure anything, for that matter). With his John Denver-like vocals and poignant lyrics, this Missouri native turned Portlander definitely delivered the goods as he held the crowd in rapt attention. Sadly, Mr. Howard doesn't have much of an internet presence, yet, but if you ever have a chance to hear him live, songs like "Turns Around The Bottle" and "The Rooster Still Crows" will probably make a believer out of you.
(Noah and The Whale)
Many people may remember Noah and The Whale almost exclusively from their 2011 single, L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N., a collection of depressing urban character studies that sound like a modern update to Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" (with a touch of The Kinks' "Lola" thrown in). Ironically, while L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. may be the song that American audiences most readily identify the band with, it sounds nothing like the rest of their music. No matter, though, as the London quintet quickly dispelled any misconceptions about their sound during their marathon set on Sunday night.
Noah's lush sonic stylings are hard to categorize, as they combine elements of folk, pop, and classic rock n' roll. The group's five-man lineup also lends great versatility to their sound - not only can violinist Tom Hobden shred on his instrument better than anyone this side of a Charlie Daniels song, but he and guitarist/Eric Clapton-lookalike Fred Abbott trade off on keyboard duties, giving even further range to the band's sonic repertoire.
While their sound may not be for everyone (as evidenced by the not-quite-packed venue), Noah and the Whale drew a respectably-sized crowd of truly zealous fans - nobody seems to like these guys by half-measures, and after watching their set, it's not hard to see why. Not only is the band talented, they perform with an enthusiasm that's infectious. During their 75 minute set, lead singer Charlie Fink joked about going to Powell's and dining by candelight when the famous Portland restaurant they visited lost power, and when a fan screamed out "MARRY ME!" he responded without missing a beat, "Well, we make decisions as a band, so... we'll discuss it." Later on, while leading a giant sing along to "Old Joy," he goaded the audience into singing louder by teasing them about our rivalry with the Emerald City, "You gotta raise it a few DB if you wanna beat Seattle!" (It worked, by the way.)
All in all, Charlie and the boys gave a brilliant performance for of a crowd that couldn't get enough of them, and while their studio work is good, this is definitely one of those bands that you have to see live to get the full experience. Next time they're in town, make sure you check them out!