Portlanders had a rare chance to get up close and personal with Foster The People this week. While in recent years the band has played larger venues like The Roseland or McMenamin's Edgefield, this time around Mark Foster and the gang opted for a more intimate setting at the Doug Fir Lounge (a venue that Mark referred to as "the best kept secret in Portland") to preview music from their new album, "Supermodel," due to drop in March.
For Monday night's show, the band played a flawless set that was the perfect blend of new material and old favorites, well complimented by the energy of the crowd and lead singer Mark Foster's relentlessly positive stage presence. Midway through the show, he paused to dedicate to the show to his grandmother and talk about the band's ethos ("We're a band that likes to bring joy... I just want to celebrate life"). In addition to classics like "Houdini," "Pumped Up Kicks," and "Helena Beat," the band previewed quite a few songs off their forthcoming album, including their new single, the John Hughes-reminiscent "Coming of Age," before closing the show with "Don't Stop."
I've written about quite a few shows for Thoughts From Last Night, but very rarely have I seen a show where the stars aligned quite the way they did for Monday's show. (I may not have actually done the Judd-Nelson-in-Breakfast-Club fist pump at the end of the show, but I certainly wanted to.) While "Torches" may have already earned Foster The People a spot in the indie-rock firmament, the band has definitely come of age with their sophomore effort. (And if you missed this week's show, you're in luck - they'll be returning to The Roseland on May 22.
English singer-songwriter Birdy made her Portland debut in a big way this weekend, making two separate (and somewhat different) appearances in the City of Roses on Sunday afternoon. Although Birdy has been making music since she was a preteen (her cover of Bon Iver's "Skinny Love" - at the the tender age of 14 - made a bit of a splash on YouTube back in 2011), the 17 year-old musician's stock has really been on the rise in the past few months, no doubt spurred on in part by the popularity of her contemporary, Lorde.
For her first performance on Sunday, a sizable number of Portlanders skipped the NFL playoffs to see Birdy play a stripped down 94/7 Session at Mississippi Studios. Sitting alone at her piano, Birdy held the audience in rapt attention for the entirety of her set, which included several songs of her new album, "Fire Within" and the her hit cover of "Skinny Love." Although she looks unassuming before coming onstage, once Birdy took to the keys, she had her audience in the palm of her hand - the crowd was so enthralled that they were completely silent during her set, the spell only breaking after she finished each song.
Up close and personal with Birdy at Mississippi Studios.
The mood was somewhat different for her sold-out I Saw Them When show at the Crystal Ballroom a few hours later. Backed by a four-piece band and playing to a massive crowd, Birdy ratcheted up the energy level, as the crowd clapped and cheered (along with a couple of enthusiastic fans who frequently yelled "I LOVE YOU BIRDY!") to original songs like "Shelter" and "Standing in the Way of the Light" and her cover of The Naked & Famous's "Young Blood." Birdy also proved herself to be a double-threat, switching from piano to guitar midway through her set, before finishing off her concert on a high-note (quite literally) with "Skinny Love" and, perhaps a bit incongruously, a cover of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" (yeah, I wasn't expecting that either, but it worked), followed by an old-fashioned curtain-call with her band at the end of the show.
After seeing Birdy twice this weekend, I'm reminded of Shakespeare's famous line: "Though she be but little, she is fierce." Few modern indie singers can sing with the raw power and depth of emotion that Birdy seems to summon effortlessly when she sits down at the keys - and it's a beautiful thing to see.
Everyone likes to spend their New Year's Eve differently. Some people get dressed to the nines and hit the clubs; some people like to stay in and watch the ball drop on TV - but here in Portland, a select portion of the populace decided to eschew the champagne flutes and noisemakers in favor of 94/7's killer triple-header with Ages and Ages, Wild Ones, and Surfer Blood at Mississippi Studios.
Portland band Ages and Ages started the evening off with their unique brand of choral pop. With revival-style singing, massive multi-part harmonies, and a varied percussion section (I think I saw everything from a cabasa to spurs, accompanied by more handclaps than the Oscars), the band's sound manages to deftly straddle the divide between folk and pop, and in perhaps the most reflective moment of the evening, the band closed out their set with the title track off their new album, Divisionary, reminding the crowd to "Do the right thing, do it all the time."
Ages and Ages
The first time you see Wild Ones live, it's hard to pin down who they remind you of. Another graduate from the Joanna Newsom School of Voice? A cross between Dan Croll and Dresses? Maybe a funky version of Chvrches? Regardless what band you choose to compare them to, their talent is indisputable. (Later in the show, John Paul Pitts of Surfer Blood even paid them tribute: "Some say they're the best band in Portland; some say they're the best band in the whole world.") For their second NYE show at Mississippi Studios, lead singer Danielle Sullivan prowled the stage, tambourine in hand, singing with an intensity and focus that I've only seen matched by Polica's Channy Leaneagh. One of the definite highlights of Wild Ones' set was their cover of Drake's "Going Home", which was quite possibly better than the original.
Florida rockers Surfer Blood may hail from a different state, but they seemed just at home as their Portland openers when they took to the stage with the clock ticking towards midnight. Lead singer John Paul Pitts guided the crowd through an abbreviated version of their set that included hits such as "Floating Vibes," "Swim," and "Demon Dance," before jumping into the crowd, where he crawled and writhed on the floor, hammed it up for the photographers, and even kissed one very surprised Live Music Blogger on the cheek. After a pause for the requisite countdown at midnight, the band closed out the evening with a cover of the Pete & Peter theme and David Bowie's "Heroes."
It was a fitting end for 2013, I think, that 94/7 and the folks at Mississippi Studios chose to end the year with these three very talented and musically diverse bands. Some people say that how you spend New Year's Eve dictates how you will spend the coming year. I don't know if that's true or not, but if it is, the folks who were at Mississippi Studios are in for a killer 2014!