Live

Low, Live at the Doug Fir

Before we went on our holiday break, we were fortunate enough to catch one of our longtime favorites at Portland’s best venue, when Low came to town to play the Doug Fir basement.  It is always a treat to see Low play a show, but we were especially eager to witness one of the best albums of the year performed live.  The band indulged us by performing a setlist that heavily featured their latest album, Ones and Sixes, and we are glad to report that the new material sounds just as great live as it does on record.

Taking advantage of a break in the crowd.

Taking advantage of a break in the crowd.

The show started off with the one-two punch of the glitchy “Gentle” and the deliberate “No Comprende” that kick off their latest release, which segued nicely into the menacing and electric “Monkey” from The Great Destroyer.  While it seems that most critics had forgotten about Low’s previous album, it was nice to see that the band had not.  The main set included a run of The Invisible Way tracks that showed off many of the band’s best assets, from Mimi Parker’s gorgeous vocals on “Holy Ghost” to the distorted dissonance of Alan Sparhawk’s fiery guitar on “On My Own” to the group’s sense of irony and humor in “Plastic Cup” (with Steve Garrington ably shuffling between bass and keys throughout, a key if underrated part of the band’s sound).

The group held off from any stage banter for most of the night, before Alan praised the city near the end of the show.  At one point, the crowd began to clap when only the slightest shuffle could be heard from Mimi’s drums, and those close enough to the stage could hear her remark to Alan that “they don’t even know what song it is yet”, but on the whole the band let their music speak for itself.  The main set ended with the epic “Landslide”, just as we had predicted from our review of the album, and it was just as amazing as we had hoped.  Though the encore did not end up including a couple of our old favorites, many in the crowd were ecstatic to hear “Words” from their early album I Could Live In Hope, while “Murderer” from Drums and Guns proved to be a perfect closer.

A colorful view of the band

A colorful view of the band

Unfortunately, we missed nearly all of opener Andy Shauf’s set, due to Portland’s complete stupidity when it comes to creating a reasonable parking system.  It is difficult enough parking on the East Side on a Friday night, but with many spots blocked off for the shooting of the television show Grimm, it made it impossible to find a spot anywhere near the venue.  However, from the one song I heard, it seems that Shauf’s spare and haunting sound was a good fit for the main act.

Everclear, Live at the Wonder Ballroom

There needed to be the right set of circumstances to drag my ass to Portland to see an Everclear show, and Wednesday night at the Wonder Ballroom provided those exact requirements.  The group returned to their hometown to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their breakthrough album, Sparkle and Fade, and would play the record in its entirety.  Though I have ignored Everclear’s more recent output for a number of years, I still have fond memories of listening to Sparkle and Fade in my high school years, and continue to insist that it is one of the best top-to-bottom alternative rock albums of the 90’s.   I was more than glad to relive those days, aided by the guarantee that I would see all my favorite songs performed live.

Sparkle...

Sparkle…

This was more of an “Everclear” performance than an Everclear performance, with Art Alexakis having long shuffled out the “classic” lineup of Greg Eklund on drums and Craig Montoya on bass for a rotating cast of supporting players.   To be fair, the band was always the manifestation of Art’s vision, and one would be hard-pressed to come up with many memorable contributions from either former member (though I have always loved Eklund’s signature drawn-out single-stroke rolls).  As long as it is Art singing and playing his songs, fans are going to be happy, as they were on Wednesday night.

The band threw a number of curveballs in the usual Album Anniversary show, including opening with “I Will Buy You A New Life” from Sparkle and Fade‘s follow-up, So Much for the Afterglow.  The choice initially threw the crowd for a loop, but soon they were singing along to every word; Art explained the decision at the conclusion of the song, noting that it was the success of Sparkle that would allow him to promise that house “way up in the West Hills” from the chorus (and to which many fans recognized, pointing in the direction of that part of town during the performance).  The band then launched into the familiar strains of “Electra Made Me Blind”, and the crowd went wild.

You might actually be crazy for leaving Nehalem

You might actually be crazy for leaving Nehalem

It was not a perfect performance, with the band often dragging through some of the slower parts, and Art tending to give off a frustrated vibe when the crowd failed to remember all the lyrics for sing-along portions.  However, the highlights made up for any perceived shortcomings, including rousing versions of “You Make Me Feel Like A Whore” and “Heartspark Dollarsign”, and a touching performance of “Queen of the Air”.  The decision to insert the old favorite “Fire Maple Song” from their debut World of Noise in a mid-set break to mark the divide between Side A and Side B of the album was brilliant, as was giving the crowd a brief taste of their huge hit “Santa Monica” before saving it for the last song of the night, ending the evening on a high note.

There were many who questioned what kind of reaction Art would receive in his hometown show, since there was a significant subset that never accepted Everclear as a true Portland band.  It was an uncertainty that even Art acknowledged early in the night, but the Wonder Ballroom was packed with fans who showed their love for the band with great volume throughout the show.  The snide hipsters were unable to get a ticket to the sold-out show, and the night was the better for it.  We loved Sparkle and Fade and the man that created it, and we did not need to hear any dissenting opinions that night.

...and Fade

…and Fade

Openers Hydra Melody had to be the slickest opening act I have ever seen, an impressive feat since I understood that they were touring in support of their first full-length album.  There was a confidence to their performance that was admirable, as they often acted as if the crowd had paid their tickets to see them instead of the headliner (though this is not to say that they dismissed the presence of Everclear, when in fact it was quite the opposite).  Their style did not quite align with my preferences, though they never bored me.  However, I am sure at least one of our readers will enjoy the fact that they featured a cover of Toto’s “Africa”–perhaps this will cause him to almost buy their album!

EL VY, Live at the Doug Fir

The show on Tuesday night had the atmosphere of a homecoming, even though it was only EL VY’s second show.  Even the tickets reflected the casual nature of the evening, as it described the group as “a collaboration between The National’s Matt Berninger and Me.”  The “Me” of course refers to local musician Brent Knopf, who has previously delighted Portland music fans with his previous work in Menomena as well as his solo effort as Ramona Falls, and now makes up the other half of this indie rock “supergroup”.  While there were a couple of issues in making the transition from recording project to a functioning live act, they were only minor speed bumps during an otherwise entertaining show.

One of the coolest concert posters ever.

One of the coolest concert posters ever.

The band’s debut album Return to the Moon had only been released on Friday, and I am sure there were many in the crowd that had not been able to listen to it in its entirety before the show (my copy only arrived the afternoon of the show, so I was only able to get through it once).  Nevertheless, the audience remained enthusiastic throughout the night, even if they had no idea what to expect.   The crowd did show their appreciation for the few songs that they did know, with a few even having learned enough of the lyrics to sing along for a bit.  Songs like “Return to the Moon” and “I’m the Man to Be” had an extra pop to them and were highlights of the set, and one could easily see why they were shared in advance of the album.

The tone of the evening was very light and informal, and one could see that Matt enjoyed the break from the usual seriousness associated with his main gig.  Matt had fun with Brent as he spent some time in-between songs trying to diagnose what exactly went wrong for a couple of measures, citing his own inability to remember his cue to sing for one and playfully arguing with Brent about how one of his chords caused him to overshoot on a vocal jump in another (and in the process showing the difference between recording alone to a track and singing with a live group).  But for the most part, everything went as seamless as one could expect from a brand new group playing one of their first shows.

EL VY also enjoyed the opportunity to play with some of their friends, as local musician Ural Thomas joined in to help fill in some of the background vocals he provided on the album, along with opening act Moorea Masa.  But perhaps the best moment of the night was when the group selected an out-of-leftfield cover, the massive Fine Young Cannibals hit “She Drives Me Crazy”.  Matt opted to bring Roland Gift’s falsetto down a couple of octaves, but otherwise the band captured the song perfectly, to the delight of many in the crowd.

The lighting makes it seem so dramatic.

The lighting makes it seem so dramatic.

Opening act Hibou were quite impressive, veering from the quiet and languid music that recalled Deerhunter to more epic, bombastic rock that would fit in perfectly fine at an arena and not a basement club.  Moorea Masa has a beautiful voice, and the delicate harmonies that she produced with her fellow vocalists brought to mind a female version of Fleet Foxes.  I am looking forward to seeing both of these acts swing through town again.

Viet Cong, Live at the Doug Fir

Or perhaps, more accurately, either “Formerly Known as Viet Cong” or “HEADLINERS”, Live at the Doug Fir

There may have been a bit of a commotion out on Burnside on Tuesday night, but the basement bar at the Doug Fir was filled with people ready to see one of the most buzzed-about bands of the year in their return to Portland.  The crowd was not disappointed, as Viet Cong performed a frenetic and gripping set that showed that the talent matches the hype.  Though this was the last time that “Viet Cong” played a show in Portland, this show guaranteed that people will line up to see these four guys perform in whatever the next iteration of the band will be.

The band on stage

The band on stage

Like it was with Bully a few nights before, the audience was faced with the prospect of knowing ahead of time what the set list would be, for the most part.  However, though the crowd was for the most part familiar with the band’s self-titled debut, Viet Cong started off the show with a couple of tracks off their self-released EP Cassette.  The band then launched into the familiar frenzied strains of single “Sillhouette”, and the crowd responded with head bobs of recognition as well as loud approval for one of the album’s highlights.  Instead of including some covers in their set, the band opted for the approach of stretching out some of their songs with extended intros and longer vamps, and the tension this created within the audience paid off in spades.

I was surprised to learn that the distorted intro to “March of Progress” was not created through tape manipulation or other studio trickery, but with careful and precise alternating drumrolls.  Mark Wallace’s work behind the kit had impressed me before, and this only added to his credentials.  The band also was able to dazzle in their slower moments, like in the haunting “Continental Shelf”, which featured some intriguing synth flourishes.  The clear-cut highlight was the epic closer “Death”, which had all four members showing off their technical prowess.  Its Swans-like false ending was pushed past the breaking point, as a few members of the crowd had their fill with the extended section of single hits, but most stuck around for the payoff of the frenzied finale.  It was an incredible finish, and left the audience clamoring for an encore, even if they knew it would never come.

Protesters outside the venue

Protesters outside the venue

The band did not mention their name during the performance, opting instead to point out that Monty, Danny, Mike, and Matt were playing tonight, and the signs inside only said “HEADLINER” was performing at 10 pm.  The protesters were armed with signs, pamphlets, and a megaphone, but they otherwise let people in without an issue.  I do want to note that Gang of Four played the same venue a week before without incident, and that nobody seemed to care that the opening act was called “Grave Babies”.  As for Grave Babies themselves, they put on quite the racket, but an enjoyable one if you ask me.

Deafheaven, Live at the Wonder Ballroom

Though they have stormed onto the scene on the strength of two critically-acclaimed albums, perhaps the only stronger consensus surrounding Deafheaven is their thrilling and intense live show.  On Monday night, the band lived up to that reputation with a brilliant and electrifying show at the Wonder Ballroom that left the crowd craving even more.

Bathed in blue (though not Baby Blue)

Bathed in blue (though not Baby Blue)

For this show, the band performed their latest album New Bermuda in its entirety from front-to-back, with a brief appearance at the halfway mark from last year’s “From the Kettle Onto the Coil”, a single that in retrospect served as an excellent bridge between albums.  Though the band eschewed the various interludes that are sprinkled throughout New Bermuda, opting not to bring along a piano for some of those gorgeous passages, the group otherwise did an excellent job of recreating the technical intricacies of the record in a live setting.

Guitarist Kerry McCoy showed off his skills throughout the night, and second guitarist Shiv Mehra contributed a couple of excellent solos as well.  Drummer Dan Tracy was a sight to behold as well–it was a marvel seeing him lay down an easy groove up top with the barest hint of effort, while his feet were engaged in a frenzy delivering double-bass drum kicks.  Vocalist George Clarke played the part of conductor, acting out many of the instrumental parts with a variety of hand gestures in a way that I am sure many members of the audience had done in the past as well.  As the rest of the band was mainly concerned with getting their complex parts just right, Clarke stepped up to the role as showman, as he stalked the stage or dropped to his knees to deliver his impassioned shouts.

As great as the new record sounded live, the show went up another level when the band returned to play “Dream House” for the encore.  The opening track from Sunbather whipped the crowd into a frenzy, and the feeling in the room was electric.  Though the band is probably tired of the song after touring relentlessly behind the album, their performance was fresh and awe-inspiring.  If only we could have heard the rest of the album as well.

A clearer view of the group

A clearer view of the group

The band dedicated their set and the tour to their opening act, the death metal group Tribulation.  Though metal is only an occasional indulgence on my part, I enjoyed their set as well.  They did an excellent job in preparing the crowd for the main act, as many in the audience were impressed by their technical virtuosity, if not their elaborate theatricality.

Bully, Live at Mississippi Studios

We here at Rust Is Just Right are big fans of Bully’s debut album, Feels Like, and we jumped at the opportunity to catch this exciting young group in action.  They stopped by one of our favorite Portland venues over the weekend, delivering a tight and energetic set at Mississippi Studios this past Saturday night.

Bully, in the middle of "Trying"

Bully, in the middle of “Trying”

It is always strange when you see a headliner touring behind a single album, since you already know what the set will be.  There are only a few potential variables, namely whether or not any songs will be stretched out or whether any covers will be thrown into the mix, but beyond that everything else is known.  Considering Bully’s quick and punchy songs, there was almost no chance that we would see an extended jam session, but we did witness a couple of covers (which after some research seems to be “Black and White” from the dB’s and “Who Was in My Room Last Night?” from the Butthole Surfers), plus an impromptu “Happy Birthday” sing-along with the aid of the crowd for a member of the opening band.

As for the regular set, the band faithfully recreated what we heard on the record, and captured the spirit of the album.  Leader Alicia Bognanno’s yell was in perfect condition, and she also showed a nice delicate touch with her vocals during some of the softer moments.  Though they have only been touring behind this album for a few months, Bully sounded like a group of old pros.

Seems like a good motto.

Seems like a good motto.

Openers Dead Soft were a perfect fit for the bill, with their sound covering similar 90’s indie rock territory as Bully.  Heat was an intriguing second band, as they mixed several different influences from various eras of rock (including a strong Velvet Underground vibe in their first song).  However, their frontman could use a little more practice in doing some crowdwork, as he came off a bit standoffish when there was little reason for it.

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 9 Edition)

Some #longreads that have been carefully selected for your reading pleasure…

We have spent the week blasting Deafheaven’s excellent new album, New Bermuda, over and over again.  Before you read our review of the album next week, we recommend you check out this interview with the band from VH-1, which goes into great detail about the making of the follow-up to the universally-acclaimed Sunbather.

Before Elliott Smith became a beloved solo artist, his music career began as a member of the up-and-coming Portland rock band Heatmiser.  Though the group is largely seen as a footnote to Smith’s career, they had a solid career in their own right, and are set to be inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame this weekend.  David Greenwald of The Oregonian catches up for a rare interview with the other members of Heatmiser for a look back at their career.

Alan Sparhawk from Low talks to The Skinny in a deeply personal interview, and reveals among other things the meaning behind the title Ones and Sixes.  For the record, we were on the right track with our guess about minimums and maximums in our review of the album, though we were off on the specific reference.  Another follow-up worth checking out is this Vox interview with John Seabrook, author of The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, which provides additional anecdotes about the mysterious mega-successful songwriter Max Martin.

Next week sees the release of Deerhunter’s Fading Frontier, and Bradford Cox once again provides an entertaining interview, this time with Observer.

Finally, we have our usual anniversary pieces.  First, Allmusic interviews singer Ed Kowalczyk about his former band Live’s massively successful Throwing Copper, and about his current solo acoustic tour in celebration of the album.  We are guessing that many of you did not realize that Ed had left the group, and to be honest, we did not know this either.  Then you can finish up with this look back at another huge album from 1995, Tragic Kingdom from No Doubt.  If anything, this gives you a chance to sing “Just a Girl” and “Don’t Speak” in your bedroom as loud as you can.

Titus Andronicus, Live at Mississippi Studios

It may have taken a few years longer than we would have liked, but Titus Andronicus finally returned to Portland as headliners on Friday night for a thrilling set in the intimate confines of Mississippi Studios.  Fresh off the heels of the release of their sprawling rock-opera The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Patrick Stickles & Co. delivered a spirited set to an energetic crowd, seamlessly weaving songs from across their four albums into a series of mini-epics.  The band left the audience so amped up by the end that a trip to one of Oregon’s brand new legal dispensaries was probably necessary, though there were probably only a few that needed such an excuse to indulge.

Classy marquee inside the venue

Classy marquee inside the venue.

After a brief explanation as to why the group made an exception to their policy of performing all-ages show, frontman Patrick Stickles began the night with a solemn version of “Upon Viewing Brueghel’s ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus'” backed by a mournful keyboard, then effortlessly segued into a spirited full-band version of the similarly-titled and locale-appropriate “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus”, setting the tone for the rest of the night.  Perhaps inspired by the format of their most recent release, the group blended songs from throughout their career into unpredictable but brilliant suites.  Stickles made sure to spotlight guitarist Adam Reich and give him kudos for his “Pearl Jam-like” ability in constructing the setlist.  For those unfamiliar with the reference, it is heady praise indeed.

The band found the right mix between professional and loose, able to knock out such difficult maneuvers as a dual tapping-solo guitar attack for “A More Perfect Union” while also avoiding any stiffness from attempting to pull off these complex tricks, and just letting mistakes slide by–as referenced by Stickles, who said he didn’t need to hear any more of his guitar in the monitors so he could ignore any flubs.  The audience ate up both the old and new material, with many singing along to songs from Tragedy, though the response to early tracks like “Albert Camus” and “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ” generated the fiercest reaction.  The recent legalization of commercial sale of marijuana also prompted a short speech on the “evils” of pot, and spurred a spirited take on “Tried to Quit Smoking”–only to pull a fast one a couple of songs later by throwing in a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35”, to which everyone sang along to the memorable chorus of “Everybody must get stoned.”

Deciding on an encore song.

Deciding on an encore song.

After a furious finish with “Dimed Out”, the crowd was able to goad the band into a quick encore, despite the show pushing well past midnight at this point.  Eventually, as a nod to both the baseball playoffs and their upcoming trip into the Great White North, the crew indulged the crowd with an enthusiastic take on Neil Young’s “Walk On”, before ending the night with “I Saw Her Standing There” from The Beatles.  Though it would be difficult to beat what we witnessed, here’s a suggestion for the guys if they need a Portland-specific cover for their next trip into town (which will hopefully be as soon as possible): you can’t go wrong with anything from the Wipers.

My Morning Jacket, Live at the Keller Auditorium

Over the years, My Morning Jacket has built a reputation as one of the best live acts in the world, an assertion with which I would emphatically agree, based on the several MMJ concerts I have witnessed over the years.  Though there were a few moments that came close to reaching the peaks of past shows, the overall experience from Wednesday night was more of a mixed bag, with a generally tentative performance that saw the band attempting to shake off some rust in kicking off the fall leg of their tour.  Then again, that may be merely the complaints of an overly pessimistic critic/spoiled fan; it is hard to come away disappointed when you get to hear beautiful rarities like “Bermuda Highway” or rock out to “Mahgeetah” and “One Big Holiday”.

An attempt to capture one of the more spectacular lighting effects.

An attempt to capture one of the more spectacular lighting effects.

Perhaps we are speaking from a mild case of bitterness, since as a part of “My Morning Jacket Week” we highlighted the song “Lay Low” and the group’s ability to rip out some amazing covers, and ended the night with neither.  But it does speak to the depth of the band’s catalog that they could leave out staples like “Steam Engine”, “Phone Went West”, or “Dondante” and still construct a solid setlist.  The show was heavy on material from their latest album, The Waterfall, and while there is still a lot to that record that feels underwhelming, the songs do gain an additional spark in a live setting.  The album’s best tracks, “Tropics (Erase Traces)” and “Only Memories Remain”, sound even better live, with the former exploding with energy and the latter stretched to an epic length and augmented by some excellent solos.

The band did not say a word to the crowd the entire night, and frontman Jim James was cautious with his movements, with a slowed-down version of the duckwalk being his sole bit of showmanship (aside from the traditional donning of the cloak for “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2”).  There were a couple of moments where different members missed a line or added a beat, or even failing to figure out when a song should end, and the soundboard had problems with the mix for most of the night.  But there were several moments where everything synced up perfectly, such as the dazzling light display for “At Dawn” or the dip into crowd favorites from the Z era with “Wordless Chorus” and “Off the Record”.  And once again, the band showed their knack for reworking their older material, with thrilling renditions of “Master Plan” and “Knot Comes Loose”.

A view of "At Dawn" from approximately Hillsboro.

A view of “At Dawn” from approximately Hillsboro.

Opener Strand of Oaks impressed the early crowd and made several new fans that night.  They initially impressed with some excellent metal-leaning chops, and then won over the audience with their tale of driving 31 hours from Champaign, Illinois to make the gig that night to play with their heroes.  They took a risk with some of their more downbeat material that followed, but finished up with a fantastic slow-building closer that had the crowd amped for the main event.

Kraftwerk, Live at the Keller Auditorium

On Saturday night, legendary electronic act Kraftwerk put on a show that can be truly described as “unique”.  It is difficult to even call what we saw a “concert”, since it is unclear how much of what we heard was performed live.  However, the audience did not pay a fair amount of money just to hear some of their old favorite tracks, but for the totality of the experience, and in that regard Kraftwerk put on a memorable show.

Just four men and their podiums (or podia).

Just four men and their podiums (or podia).

The group constructed a career-spanning set, creating medleys from each distinct era of the band’s history, and the accompanying visuals provided the uninitiated with the appropriate notice as to what album was being covered.  The songs were not mere rote reproductions of what can be found on their records, but updated in a way that blended newer ideas with the basic elements that made up the classic Kraftwerk sound.  It was an intriguing combination, which evokes the fundamental paradox of Kraftwerk’s music as it exists in the 21st century–how does one continue to try to approximate the sound of the future when what was previously composed now sounds so retro?

The melding of old and new also was explored with the visual presentation.  The show was presented in 3-D, and there were several moments sprinkled throughout where the crowd was dazzled by the technical feats on display.  Yet at the same time, most of the visuals were fairly simple in design, as were many of the motions.  For instance, the section for Autobahn could be described as the most accurate depiction of the Out Run arcade game ever created.

The appropriate materials necessary for enjoyment of the show.

The appropriate materials necessary for enjoyment of the show.

Kraftwerk has always experimented with various levels of automation, and as such it was difficult for the audience to determine as to what exactly was “performed”.  For the entirety of the show, we were presented with four men standing behind wide podiums, with no real hint as to what each member was contributing to what was being heard; it was not until halfway through the set that I could tell that Ralf Hütter was in fact singing some of the lyrics, or that he was playing a synthesizer.  The sole exception was the beginning of the encore, where in a brilliant touch “The Man-Machines” were literally replaced by robots.  This is why I cracked up when audience members were giving ovations to specific members as they exited the stage one-by-one, because it was impossible to determine who was playing what.

The most beautiful game of Out Run you have ever seen.

The most beautiful game of Out Run you have ever seen.

Overall, it was a very cool experience that anyone with a level of appreciation of electronic music should try to catch at some point.  Then you can also spend hours afterward contemplating the nature of time and space and man and machine and past and future and so on and so forth, all with a nice pulsing beat as background.