Portland

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!

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Over the Weekend (Aug. 24 Edition)

New music, news, and other fun stuff to help start your week…

Last night marked the end (?) of the beloved and bizarre animated series Aqua Teen Hunger Force, but before the show officially said goodbye, the folks at Adult Swim enlisted the help of a legendary artist who is a surprisingly devoted fan: Patti Smith.  Smith gave a brief interview to Pitchfork explaining both her love of the show and how she ended up recording the song for the series finale.

Over the weekend, a pretty goddamn awesome supergroup convened up in Seattle to pay tribute to the legendary punk album Raw Power from Iggy & The Stooges.  Mike McCready from Pearl Jam, Mark Arm from Mudhoney, Barrett Martin from Screaming Trees, and Duff McKagan from Guns ‘N Roses got together for the charity gig in support of radio station KEXP, and Stereogum has some of the footage from this memorable gig.

Foals are set to release their latest album, What Went Down, this Friday.  They have released several videos to help build anticipation for the new album already, and today the group released their latest with a “CCTV” version of the low-key “London Thunder”.

!!! announced dates for a tour this fall, and I highly recommend that you check your calendars to see if you are free the night they hit your town, because there are few things in life that are as fun as a !!! show.  The band also shared a goofy lyric video for new single “Freedom ’15”, off their upcoming album As If, which will be released on October 16.

For those of you looking for a fun way to kill some time, check out this piece which attempts to determine what recent songs have become timeless through an analysis of Spotify play counts.

Finally, enjoy killing some time with a couple of lists.  First, Willamette Week offers the 21 Best Songs About Portland, which does a fair job of covering the city’s unusual musical history.  Due to a technicality that the song must explicitly reference Rip City in some capacity, the best song about Portland was excluded, but otherwise it was a solid attempt.  And then for the giant time-waster, Pitchfork has decided to use this as a dead week to promote their list of the 200 Best Songs of the 80’s.

Embedded above is the best (and most accurate) song about Portland.  You have probably heard it before.

I Saw Them Live! Memories From a Show with The Hives

Portland music fans come in all shapes and sizes, but the one thing that unites them is their enthusiasm.  They may not know how to dance, and they may not know all the words to a song, but dammit they’ll clap and yell like hell to show their appreciation.   Usually when a band like The Flaming Lips tells a Portland audience at this crowd is “the loudest they’ve ever heard,” the assumption is that they’re being polite; however, considering the sheer number of bands who as they pass through the Pacific Northwest take the time remark about the intensity of the crowds, the evidence indicates that this is a genuine fact.* But sometimes the Portland crowd’s passion gets the best of them.

Though The Hives have faded a bit from the mainstream, they still remain one of the best live shows that you can go see.  Singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist always is a delight with his theatrics and stage mannerisms, and drummer Chris Dangerous is worth the price of admission alone as he flies through each song at warp speed while at the same time keeping perfect time.  A couple of years back, due to a scheduling snafu, we had tickets for two concerts at the same time, and as a result we had to race across town and were able to catch only the last ten minutes of The Hives’s set.  But even though we only heard the last three songs, we still came out feeling pumped and eager to share the fun that we had, including the fact that Pelle had the audience on the floor at one point.

My favorite memory of The Hives is from a show they performed back in 2008 at the Roseland Theater, in support of The Black and White Album.  Even though there was an extra-long delay between the opener and the main act, the band was quickly able to win over the crowd with their infectious energy and an absolutely blistering performance, as they tore into all their hits from Tyrannosaurus Hives and Veni Vedi Vicious.  At one point in the show, Pelle climbed up a giant stack of amplifiers and into the Roseland’s balcony to sing one of their songs, a feat that I haven’t seen replicated since.  Each member got their time to shine, and the crowd ate it up.

As expected, the band left their mega-hit “Hate To Say I Told You So” for the encore, and when Nikolaus Arson launched into that memorable riff, the crowd lost their minds.  Everything was fine until the band hit the breakdown, when Dr. Matt Destruction received his moment in the spotlight as he played the riff on his bass.  There he was, motoring along, and the crowd was clapping right there with him, except…the audience was seriously dragging behind the beat and everything sounded like ass.  Dr. Matt Destruction, being the professional that he is, didn’t miss a beat and kept chugging along.  Meanwhile, Pelle heard the carnage that was taking place, and his face clearly indicated that he felt shocked and appalled at what he was witnessing.  He looked to the crowd, and asked the immortal question in his best Swedish-accented English:

“Port Land…Where’s your rhythm?!!??!”**

Pelle then proceeded to clap, and set the beat for us, and eventually order was restored.  I will never forget that moment, though I get constant reminders whenever I go to a show and I see Portland’s “rhythm” in action.  And thus, I can say that this Treme clip is just about the most accurate comment about Portland ever seen on television.

*Makes those “records” that you see for loudest crowd at Autzen Stadium in Eugene and CenturyLink Field in Seattle seem a bit more accurate, and not just the result of fancy acoustics.  Also, having seen shows on both coasts, I can speak to the volume of Portland crowds personally, for what it’s worth.

**Note: the emphasis on each syllable of ‘Portland’ is something that Pelle did throughout the night, and is an accurate transcription.

Catching Up On The Week (Jan. 16 Edition)

A few #longreads as you prepare for the new year to begin in earnest…

Amid a crowded field of new releases next week, the long-awaited return of Sleater-Kinney stands out from the rest as indie rock fans welcome the return of the beloved 90’s band.  So it’s no surprise that the band is getting write-ups in most music publications this week, including Pitchfork, Grantland, and Nylon.  We’re probably missing other tributes as well, but we’ll try to make up for it by linking to their performance on Letterman last night.

Another new release that we can’t wait to hear comes from another Pacific NW favorite, as The Decemberists return next week with What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.  The Oregonian looks at how the band helped shape the Portland music scene over the past fifteen years, which while giving the city a new national profile also riles up some locals, as evidenced by a few of the comments.

One upcoming new release that we’ve neglected to mention before is the latest record from Belle and Sebastian.  In order to rectify this, here is Pitchfork’s insightful musical influence feature “5-10-15-20” with the band’s leader, Stuart Murdoch.

Diffuser is taking a look at “The Roots of Indie”, and their latest installment examines the history of the Violent Femmes, one of the most unique successes in rock history.

And finally, a small dose of light scientific reading for your weekend, as NPR takes a look at why some cultures respond to musical cues in different ways.

Queens of the Stone Age, Live at the Keller Auditorium

It’s become increasingly clear that if you’re going to see a band perform, it’s best to do it in Portland.  Sure, we always have enthusiastic crowds and a ton of great venues, but that’s been the case for years.  What I’m talking about is that special moment that sends you straight to your cell phone to put everyone on blast that “Holy shit, you won’t believe what happened at the **** show!”  Just in the past few months, we’ve seen a Sleater-Kinney “reunion” at a Pearl Jam show, Jim James showing up to do a John Lennon cover with The War On Drugs, and now a surprise reconciliation at Tuesday’s Queens of the Stone Age concert.

I didn't realize most of the new material was in standard tuning

I didn’t realize most of the new material was in standard tuning

Queens kicked things off with a bang, perhaps buoyed by the announcement earlier in the day of their number 2 ranking in RIJR’s Album of the Year rankings, with the raucous “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”.  Few bands would then follow up their opener with their biggest hit, but QOTSA knew that the sold-out crowd didn’t come just to hear the songs they heard from the radio.  That’s what we call confidence, my friends.  After that, “Avon” brought a huge cheer from the fans who remember QOTSA’s self-titled debut with fondness.

The band then went on a run of material from their scintillating new album, …Like Clockwork.  By the end of the night, 80% of the album would be covered, and considering the excellence of the material, nobody minded missing out on a couple of old favorites.  The lead single “My God Is The Sun” serves as an excellent bridge between classic Queens desert-rock and the rest of the new album, with its catchy riffs and rolling drums interspersed with a groovy shaker rhythm.  However, it was what’s in my opinion …Like Clockwork‘s cornerstone “I Appear Missing” that was the highlight of the new material, with its intoxicating and hypnotic Gothic groove that you allow to drag you forward, even though you know it’s probably not a good idea.  The band did a brilliant job of extending the ending, as if caught in a trap with ever-escalating tension, matching the image of a man falling forever and ever from the sky.  As the band brought the volume down, the crowd watched the video screen and there was a moment that you thought perhaps the character would live to see a happy ending, but then the band snapped back with full force and that was the end for Our Hero.  It was but one of many examples of how QOTSA was able to improve on already-fantastic new material.

As the band neared the end of their main set, Josh Home dedicated Rated R‘s “Better Living Through Chemistry” to “his brother from a fucked-up mother”, former bandmate Nick Oliveri.  Nick played bass with the opening band, Moistboyz (who also featured another QOTSA collaborator in Mickey Melchiondo (aka Dean Ween)), and it was good to see further confirmation that he and Josh had patched things up.  The song itself was a perfect distillation of the greatness of Queens, and was one of the most mind-blowing performances that I could remember; in many ways, it was an inversion of many standard rock tropes, with epic breakdowns and solos.  Queens capped off the first part of the evening with the excellent “Go With the Flow”, leaving the crowd breathless but wanting more.

An amazing show even from these ridiculous seats.

An amazing show even from these ridiculous seats.

The band returned for their encore with the haunting “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”, featuring Josh behind the piano.  As the roadies wheeled away the extra piano, a familiar guitar riff came on, and the crowd went apeshit as they heard the opening to “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire.”  Josh then brought Nick out on stage and handed him a mic, and Portland then witnessed Nick perform with Queens of the Stone Age for the first time in ten years as the crowd lost their shit a second time.  “Gimme toro, gimme some more!!!”  The band ended the evening with the live favorite “A Song For The Dead”, officially making it worth the wait since the band’s last stop in Portland several years ago.  And considering Josh’s lively interactions with the crowd and the several bits of praise he had for Portland (“You got yourselves a cool town…fuck it, you’re the best.”), hopefully we’ll be seeing him again soon.