I joined my fellow concert-goers at The Crystal Ballroom with mixed emotions on Thursday for the final night of 94/7's December To Remember. After twelve days of back-to-back shows, many repeat attendees were sleep-deprived, out of clean clothes, and had spent enough time at The Crystal that they had begun to think of it as a second home - and yet, no one really wanted the party to stop. Fortunately for us, Portland rockers Wampire and Portugal. The Man were on hand to give December To Remember a proper send-off.
It was perhaps fitting that a concert series that started (sort of) with Tame Impala would kick off its final concert with Wampire, since no other Dec2Rem band could come close to matching Tame Impala's sound or killer light show. Although songs like "The Hearse" and "Giants" have garnered attention for their MGMT-like sound, seen live, Wampire's most notable characteristic is how hard they rock - they jammed so intensely I could feel it in the back of my throat.
Not to be outdone, Portugal. The Man came out swinging, starting off the final set of December To Remember with their recent hit, "Purple Yellow Red and Blue," before launching into a veritable greatest hits collection that included "People Say," Evil Friends," "Modern Jesus," "Got It All," and a cover of "Day Man" from Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Usually, once a band plays all of their singles, it's time to call it a night, but Portland's favorite sons decided to take it up a notch, launching into a series of brilliant covers that included a mash-up of "Creep in a T-Shirt" and Blur's "Song 2" as well as a mash-up of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In the Wall" and "Purple Yellow Red and Blue." When the band finally stopped for breath, bass player Zachary Carothers took a moment to pay tribute to Portland ("The best city in the world!"), 94/7 (the first radio station to give them airplay), and the Crystal Ballroom (where Zachary saw his first show after moving to Portland), before launching into a barn-burner of an encore, closing out with a mash-up of "Sleep Forever" and The Beatles "Hey Jude."
After nearly two weeks of shows, it was hard to bid farewell to the Crystal Ballroom, but there's no doubting that this December To Remember was one for the record books. From newcomers like Lorde, The Neighbourhood, and The Mowglis to veterans like Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, and Portugal. The Man, 94/7 and Crystal Ballroom managed to make this December truly memorable.
For everyone who attended 94/7's December To Remember, there was probably a high-water mark - that one band or concert that you'll remember well into 2014. For some people, it might have been The Neighbourhood's killer opening-night show; for others, it might have been Lorde's Portland debut or Fitz and The Tantrum's Saturday Night Special. But for many Portlanders (myself included), the high point of December To Remember was Phoenix's show on Tuesday night.
As December To Remember entered its home stretch, Portland band Dresses took to the stage to warm up the crowd prior to Phoenix's set. Falling somewhere on the musical spectrum between Of Monsters and Men and Joanna Newsom, the duo's quirky style and predilection for unusual song covers has been generating a decent amount of buzz, both locally and nationally. Although their rendition of Foster The People's "Houdini" fell a little flat live, the twosome killed it on their original material, especially "Blew My Mind." (Dresses is also one of the only Dec2Rem bands to have already announced an encore show - they'll be playing at The White Eagle on February 1.)
"We're from, uh, here." Dresses
Although most of the bands at December To Remember could boast sold-out crowds and screaming fans, I don't think any of them could really match Phoenix's stage presence. While most bands tend to have an ebb-and-flow to their concerts, stringing along the crowd with the promise of hearing their favorite tracks at the end of the show, the French rockers opted to start strong and just never let up - playing two of their bigger hits, "Entertainment" and "Lisztomania" within the opening minutes of their show. Having whipped the crowd into a screaming frenzy in the first 10 minutes, the band amazingly was able to keep the crowd's energy at the same level for the rest of their set - hitting peaks when they played "Trying To Be Cool" and "1901." Perhaps the most epic moment of the show came at the end, though, when lead singer Thomas Mars leaped offstage and crowd-surfed during the band's encore, singing the entire time. While this would've been impressive enough, Thomas took it a step further (literally) when he stood up in the middle of the crowd, supported atop the hands of his screaming fans. It doesn't get much more rock n' roll than that.
Thomas Mars of Phoenix singing while standing ON TOP of the crowd at Crystal Ballroom. Yes, seriously.
As December To Remember entered into its second week, the party showed no signs of slowing as concertgoers packed into the Crystal Ballroom for Monday night's show with NONONO and Bastille.
After NONONO got the crowded sufficiently pumped up with their best-known song, "Pumpin' Blood", Bastille kept the sanguinary theme flowing by opening with the title track of their debut album "Bad Blood," before moving on to "Things We Lost In the Fire" and their popular cover of City High's "What Would You Do?" After months of touring in both the States and Europe, Bastille's stage-act is well-honed and crowd-tested; not only is much of the setlist the same as September's show at Doug Fir Lounge, but lead singer Dan Smith also picked the same cues to wade into the crowd (on "Flaws") and cracked some of the same jokes - but as the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it - and that's definitely true where Bastille's concerned. From the minute Dan come on stage, he had the crowd eating out of his hand.
Later in their act, the lads from London did mix things up a little bit when they introduced a couple of new, guitar-based songs that represent a pretty big departure for the band's keyboard-based sound. Although this new material sounds more like your typical run-of-the-mill alt-rock, Dan's trademark vocals manage to give such songs a uniquely Bastille vibe. After that brief sojourn into uncharted territory, the band brought things back on course with their trademark mash-up of "Rhythm of the Night / Rhythm is a Dancer" and then closed out their set with the crowd-favorite, "Pompeii."
Bastille is an interesting band - although there are bigger acts that graced the Crystal with their presence this December, few bands can match Bastille in terms of the boundless enthusiasm of their fans. Both at Doug Fir and at Crystal Ballroom, Bastille has managed to play to screaming, sold-out crowds in increasingly larger and larger venues. The next time we see Bastille, I think there's a good chance it'll be on a Festival Stage or an arena-sized venue.
December To Remember got an extra dose of soul on Saturday night when The Features and Fitz and The Tantrums came to the Crystal Ballroom.
The evening got off to fairly mellow start with an acoustic set by Tiger Merritt of Morning Teleportation, but that didn't last long. Hot on heels of their small venue double-header at Mississippi Studios and Doug Fir Lounge in September, The Features seemed like they needed a couple of songs to get used to the Crystal, but they kicked things into gear when they got to their hit song, "This Disorder" and The Fratellis-like "Lions."
While it might've taken The Features a couple of songs to get into their groove, Fitz and The Tantrums jumped right into it, urging the crowd "Come on Portland, make some noise!" before launching into "Don't Gotta Work it Out." Over the next hour, Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs took the crowd on a sweaty, fist-pumping romp through their set. Although their particular brand of indie pop has cross-genre appeal, when you see them live, Fitz's soul roots really come to the forefront - playing with a gleeful intensity that you don't always see at indie shows. Noelle's vocals are more prominent live, too - especially on the band's killer cover of The Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams." Although the crowd wasn't quite as amped-up during the band's lesser-known songs, for the most part, they followed Fitz's instructions to a T - they screamed, they got low, and perhaps most impressively for Portland, they danced. During songs like "Out of My League" and "Moneygrabber," I don't think there was a single wallflower in the building.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom could keep The Colourist and Young the Giant from their duly appointed rounds on Friday night. Ok, so maybe it wasn't quite that bad, but it was definitely pretty darn cold. Young the Giant hasn't greatest luck with weather - for their last show in Portland, fans of the Californian rockers huddled in the pouring rain at Pioneer Square; for December To Remember, concertgoers had to brave record-low temperatures for their show at the Crystal Ballroom.
The members of The Colourist had to drive 14 hours straight in order to open for Young the Giant, but their performance was in no way diminished by their arduous trek. The California natives played a short, enthusiastic set that was heavy on catchy hooks and pop-melodies. While the band has yet to craft another song with as much energy as their single (and crowd favorite), "Little Games," songs like "Yes Yes" and "Young Hearts" definitely showcased the band's potential.
Although Young the Giant did a pretty good job of rocking out at Pioneer Square in September, they really shine in a slightly more intimate setting like the The Crystal. For their show on Friday, they started off their set strong with songs like "Get Out Your Guns" (their live rendition of this track is always stellar) and "Cough Syrup." Crowd response was a little more muted when the band played tracks off their forthcoming album (due to drop next month) - while their new material is solid, none of their newer songs have quite as much anthemic intensity as we saw on some of their earlier singles. The band quickly ramped back up with songs like "Strings" and "12 Fingers," before closing out with a raucous rendition of "My Body" and a shout-out to 94/7, who was the first major station to introduce them to American listeners. Rain or shine, Young the Giant definitely proved that they can rock out, no matter what the weather.
What were you doing when you were 17? Were you playing to a sold-out crowd at The Crystal Ballroom? Yeah, me neither.
While it might be something of a cliche to make a big deal of her age, there's no denying that Lorde's status as a teenage rockstar is a large part of her cachet. And judging by the screaming crowd that turned out en masse for her sold out show on Wednesday, that cachet is not insignificant. For Day 4 of December To Remember, the Kiwi singer played an early show at the Crystal in advance of Vampire Weekend, marking her first (but hopefully not last) visit to the City of Roses.
For her Portland debut, Lorde played an impressive set featuring almost all of the songs on her freshman release, Pure Heroine. Although the album's only been out for a little over two months, the crowd seemed to know every song by heart, singing along at the top of their lungs - only falling silent during her breakout hit, "Royals" (at first this struck me as strange - until I realised that almost everyone had stopped to capture the moment on their phones). Lorde wrapped up her set with her most recent single "Team" and, after a brief aside to rail against encores (she opined that they always seem forced), she closed out with "A World Alone."
Seeing her in person, you realize just how young Lorde really is (she turned 17 just last month), but her youthfulness is belied by her articulation and impressive vocal capabilities. As far as Lorde's next visit to Portland goes, we may have to wait til it's announced, but I think most of her fans would agree - Lorde can be on our team, anytime she wants.
As December To Remember entered its third night, the love fest continued at the Crystal Ballroom with another stellar show, this time featuring Hunter Hunted, Said The Whale, and Portland's perennial favorites, The Mowgli's.
Los Angeles duo Hunter Hunted got the party started with a short, solid set that was equally notable for its light, airy vocals and for their killer cover of The Pixies' "Where is My Mind?", before relinquishing the stage to Said the Whale. This Vancouver BC based quintet proved that they were an opener in name only - they rocked and riled up the crowd as well as any headliner I've seen. Interestingly, four of their five members took turns on vocals, giving the band a pretty wide range of sound, from the ballad-like "Seasons" to their hit single "I Love You," which has a bit of Britt Daniel vibe.
(Said The Whale)
After two rousing openers, The Mowgli's finally took the stage. After seeing the crowds at The Neighbourhood and Foals, I thought Portland couldn't get any more enthusiastic about a band... but I was sorely mistaken. The sound level at The Mowgli's never dipped below a low roar for their entire show. Much like their Dec2Rem compatriots and fellow Los Angeles residents, The NBHD, The Mowgli's made their Portland debut earlier this year during Febuary's "I Saw Them When" concert series at the Crystal, and are now making their third pass through Portland as part of their Random Acts of Kindness tour. And much like The NBHD, each show they've played in Portland has been successively better and better than the one that came before. The comparison ends there, though - because while The NBHD has always been a little too cool for school, The Mowgli's are all about spreading the love.
After kicking things off with "Emily", the band took the screaming crowd on a roller-coaster ride through their setlist, with band members jumping on amps, wading into the crowd, and encouraging the audience to sing (and at one point scream) along to favorites such as "Love Is Easy," "San Francisco," and "Time," all the while espousing their trademark gospel of peace, love and understanding. After the show, a couple of concertgoers told me they felt like they had gone to church and a rock concert, all in one - and while I'm not sure I would go that far, there's no doubt that everyone felt the love, that night.
For the second night of December To Remember, Portlanders were faced with a difficult choice: see Alt-J at Crystal Ballroom or Foals at Wonder Ballroom. Through the machinations of fate and circumstance, this writer ended up at the Wonder Ballroom - and while I hear Alt-J was stellar as well (by all accounts, both bands gave amazing performances), I don't regret going to see the Foals for one instant.
Local band Portland band Animal Eyes kicked off the evening. Their particular brand of accordion-backed art rock definitely isn't for everyone, but they played a solid set and did a good job of getting the crowd amped up for the main act.
I saw Foals a few years ago during their tour in support of Total Life Forever, and at the time, they pretty much sounded like the world's greatest Talking Heads tribute band (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). Not so with the band that showed up on Monday night, however - not only has their sonic catalog evolved in a funkier, edgier repertoire (songs like "Inhaler" are much more reminiscent of The Cure or Depeche Mode than they are David Byrne) and their stage presence has been honed into something positively electrifying. Despite fighting jet lag, the band turned it up to 11 for the first show of their US tour, belting out hits like "My Number" and "Inhaler" and shredding with wild, speaker-destroying abandon, culminating with lead singer Yannis Philippakis wading into the crowd during the band's encore.
Foals have our number, alright - and if Monday night's show is any indication, they've really got it dialed in.
Stay tuned for our coverage of Tuesday's show with The Mowglis for December To Remember, Night 3!
December got off to an explosive start when The Neighbourhood returned to The Crystal Ballroom on Sunday night to kick off 94/7's December To Remember concert series.The NBHD has played three sold-out shows in Portland this year, but this Sunday's show was by far their best performance to date. From the minute lead singer Jesse Rutherford started in on the first few bars of "Let It Go," the crowd erupted in cheers and applause - and their enthusiasm continued unabated until long after the last song was played and the roadies had begun clearing the stage.
In their previous two shows, The NBHD delivered energetic but sometimes uneven performances - just what you'd expect from a band that got real famous, real fast. But such slight stumbles were nowhere to be seen on Sunday - their Dec2Rem set was polished and darn-near flawless - rolling through hits like "Sweater Weather" and crowd favorites like "Everybody's Watching Me" and "Straight To Hell" with great aplomb. There's little doubt that the boys from SoCal have finally hit their stride, and they've set the bar pretty high for the rest of December To Remember. The only question is - can the other bands live up to the challenge? We're looking forward to finding out!
No other band from the grunge era has had both the longevity and cultural impact that Pearl Jam has enjoyed - they've become both a paradigm of modern alternative rock and an occasional target for parody (as many people remember from Portlandia's "Eddie Vedder tattoo" sketch). So when it was announced earlier this year that Pearl Jam was returning to Portland for the first time since 2000, I don't think anyone doubted that their show would be epic - but probably only a select few anticipated how positively Homeric their Black Friday concert at The Moda Center would be.
After an opening set by early grunge rockers Mudhoney, PJ made their way onstage. Although they took a few breaks, they wouldn't relinquish the spotlight for almost two and a half hours. During their marathon set, they played over 30 songs, including a cover of Velvet Underground's "After Hours", two impressive Pink Floyd covers, and almost all of their seminal debut album, Ten.
Everyone at Friday's show no doubt has their most memorable moment - for some, it might've been hearing them cover Pink Floyd or Velvet Underground. For others, it was probably watching Scott McCready playing the guitar behind his back during "Even Flow." But for me (and probably a large chunk of the audience), one of the biggest surprises came at the end the show, when Sleater-Kinney reunited for the first time since 2006 to join REM's Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey onstage for a massive jam session to Neil Young's "Rocking In the Free World."
With any luck, Pearl Jam will return to Portland some day (and hopefully a little sooner than they did this time), but no matter how many times they come to town, there's no doubt about it: this concert was one for the record books.