Throughout the year, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of bands that make their way through Portland's collection of bars, concert halls and arenas. Lots of these shows are good - some of them are even great - but there are only a small handful of evenings in any given 12-month period where talent, showmanship, and kismet come together to create a truly memorable, sometimes even transcendent night. Thursday night's concert with Local Natives and Kings of Leon at the Moda Center was one of those moments.
Normally headliners in their own right, Los Angeles indie-rockers Local Natives kicked off the evening (and their first appearance at the Rose Quarter) with a short, introspective set that featured songs off both their debut and sophomore albums, including a stellar rendition of perhaps their best-known song, "Airplanes." Although they're markedly less rocky than Kings of Leon, the band's pitch perfect harmonies are chilling to hear, live.
There's been quite a bit of discussion in critical circles (including a fairly negative piece on the band by Willamette Week the day before the show) about whether or not Kings of Leon's most recent album and subsequent performances measure up against their early work, but I don't think anyone at the Moda Center would have given any credence to those doubts, especially once the band began to play. Two thirds of the way through their Mechanical Bull tour, the Followill brothers have crafted a show that is close to flawless. With a massive LED screen as their background, the band started out with their 2007 track, "Charmer," before making their way through over two dozen songs, including all of their best-known songs (The Bucket, Supersoaker, Sex on Fire, etc) with nary a false note. One of the highlights of the evening came at the end, when crowd began singing along with the band during "Use Somebody." Several thousand people, all singing in unison while bathed in a sea of light, was a spectacular cap to an evening that was almost overwhelmingly good.
Most people are familiar with the old adage that there "is no such thing as bad publicity." I don't know if that's true or not, but The Orwells definitely seemed determined to test that theory for their performance at the Star Theater on Wednesday night. After a well received 94/7 Session earlier in the day and solid but unremarkable opening sets from garage-rockers Twin Peaks and Criminal Hygiene, expectations were high when the Illinois rockers took the stage, but it didn't take long for things to go off the rails. What followed was equal parts triumph and train-wreck.
Raspy-voiced lead singer Mario Cuomo, who looks like the reincarnation of David Lee Roth and Axl Rose, has the most unusual stage presence of any artist I've seen in recent memory. During songs, he prowls the stage like sleazy lounge singer, rolls his eyes in the back of his head while he sings, and occasionally stares blankly into the crowd for unnervingly long periods of time. In between hits such as "Who Needs You" and "Dirty Sheets," Cuomo was prone to launch into profanity-laden invective and other shenanigans, such as spraying beer onto fans, mooning the crowd, and a couple of other things that I can't mention in a family-friendly Live Music Blog. When a fan was removed from the venue for crowd-surfing, Cuomo let out a steady stream of obscenities and repeatedly threatened to punch one of the Star's staff members in the face. (Can you imagine any of this happening at, say, a Bastille concert? Yeah, me neither.)
It's hard to tell whether or not The Orwells are as genuinely unhinged as they seem, but their performance definitely resonated with the folks that crowded up to the front of the venue to hear them play (and eventually participate in a massive crowd-surfing melee). On the other hand, I caught at least a couple of more mild-mannered souls leaving the show early, shaking their heads and wearing rather shell-shocked expressions on their faces. This underlines, I think, The Orwells' greatest liability - despite being very talented, their antics constantly threaten to detract from their music.
Portland was treated to a double dose of New York City rock when Team Spirit and SKATERS came to Mississippi Studios on Friday night.
Opening band Settlers started the evening off with a low-key set that boasted a lo-fi sound, washed out vocals (it's hard to tell if that was intentional or not), and some seriously trippy background images (a mashup of random images, Seinfeld clips, and Duke Nukem screenshots played continuously throughout their set). Settlers' shoegazer vibe quickly faded from memory, however, as soon as Team Spirit came tearing onstage like a bull in a proverbial china shop. Frontman Ayad Al Adhamy used to man the synth for Passion Pit, but his latest endeavor is pure Thin Lizzy-era rock and roll. During their raucous 40-minute set, the Brooklyn group successfully cajoled both free drinks and applause out of the audience and proved that they can do classic rock better than most of the bands they're paying homage to.
The first time I saw SKATERS live (last October, when they opened for Palma Violets), I was a little overwhelmed by how loud they were. Seeing them within the more intimate confines of Mississippi Studios, however, the first thing I noticed was just how cool these guys are. Everything about them is the epitome of what you'd expect from a group of stylish Manhattan bartenders-turned-rockers (four of the band members started out in the restaurant industry): from their tongue-in-cheek intro music (they came onstage to 50 Cent's "In Da Club") to their confident, nonchalant attitudes. While their vibe might seem laid back, once they get behind the mic, SKATERS are consummate professionals - rocking out on songs like "Deadbolt" and "Miss Teen Massachusetts" with the kind of talent and intensity that immediately make you think of the The Strokes in their heyday. Only time will tell if SKATERS will enjoy the same sort of meteoric rise to stardom that their post-punk predecessors, but there was no doubt that they had the crowd at Mississippi Studios eating out of their hand on Friday.
In case you were looking for yet another reason why Portland's a great town, let me paint a picture for you. One minute, you're at home, minding your own business - and an hour later you're watching Portugal The Man give a free show in a hotel basement.
This is not a hypothetical. Last Wednesday night, I joined a handful of Portlanders in Al's Den at The Crystal Hotel, summoned by a last-minute announcement on Twitter. After acoustic sets from Snowbound Traveler's Matt Dorrien and Portugal's own Kyle O'Quin, most of the band gathered on-stage for a stripped-down mini-concert that featured songs like "Purple, Yellow, Red & Blue," "Evil Friends," and "Modern Jesus," and "Creep In a T-Shirt."
Considering that PTM sells out major venues on the reg, the opportunity to see them in such an intimate setting (and FOR FREE), was just another great example of why Portugal has become one of Portland's favorite bands.
Few bands are capable of epitomizing an era without becoming simultaneously bound by its constraints. As great as they are, bands like Nirvana or Pearl Jam will always be defined as Grunge Bands. Not so with The Pixies, however. While no conversation about pre-grunge alternative rock would be complete without talking about Black Francis and Kim Deal, would we ever call The Pixies "just a 80's alt-rock band"? Probably not. Like their mythical namesakes, The Pixies have become a thing of legend - a source of inspiration for an entire generation of musicians (everyone from Kurt Cobain to Kings of Leon has cited The Pixies as a huge influence in their music) and a bucket-list concert for many rock fans. Which is why Wednesday's show at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall was both supremely awesome and at times a little disappointing.
In a city where opening acts often get almost as much attention as the headliner, the opening set by Los Angeles duo Best Coast definitely wasn't one of those moments. Although they had a solid set and rocked out on a couple of songs (including what's perhaps their best-known song, "Boyfriend"), the band's normally lush sound suffers a little outside of the studio, and the crowd didn't seem to connect with their music. Although the crowd's response may have been muted for Best Coast, there was no doubting their enthusiasm when The Pixies went on. The crowd was on their feet from the minute the lights dimmed, and they stayed there throughout the band's marathon thirty song set. It took Black Francis and the gang (which now includes A Perfect Circle bassist Paz Lenchantin, replacing Kim Deal, who left the band last year) a little while to hit their groove, but once they did, they tore through their set list with relentless intensity and absolutely no stage banter - just one classic Pixies tune after another. (With the exception of Gigantic, all the iconic Pixies songs you'd expect made the set list.)
Was it amazing? Yes. Was it great? Yes. Was it underwhelming? Yeah, a little. While the show was undeniably epic and there were a couple of highlights (watching Joey Santiago play his guitar while holding it upside down was pretty memorable, and hearing "Where Is My Mind?" live will give you chills, no matter how many times you've seen the band), at times it felt a little uninspired. Watching a band do a speed run through their greatest hits with no commentary and almost no new material (the band has recorded only a handful of new songs in the last decade) makes you realize just how much we value spontaneity and personality in live performances.