Wonder Ballroom

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!

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.

Built to Spill, Live at the Wonder Ballroom

Built to Spill returned to their home-away-from-home last week, playing a two-night stand at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland.  We caught the band on the second night as they were finishing up their tour in support of their most recent album, the excellent Untethered Moon.  If the band felt weary after months on the road, they certainly did not show it on Thursday night, as the group played an energetic set that covered just about every part of their vast catalog, including a couple of surprise additions as well.

Outside the Wonder, with that late Oregon summer sunset.

Outside the Wonder, with that late Oregon summer sunset.

The show got off to a raucous start with Keep It Like A Secret opener “The Plan”, with the crowd immediately going nuts as soon as the opening chords were strummed.  We were lucky enough to have a great view of the full band, and were able to enjoy seeing guitarist Jim Roth’s dissonant slide-work create the song’s memorable solo.  From then on the band mixed in new material with old classics, and the crowd greeted the recent stuff with nearly the same approval as their favorites; singles “Living Zoo” and “Never Be The Same” featured some of the group’s catchiest hooks, and “So” has the spirit of many of the band’s brilliant guitar work-outs, so they were natural fits into the group’s standard set.

The band were able to seamlessly shift between different moods and tempos, such as when the group followed the mid-tempo ballad “Liar” with the raging “Pat”.  It would not be a Built to Spill show without a couple of covers thrown into the mix, and the group obliged by including “Virginia Reel Around the Fountain” (a song that I keep forgetting is a cover because of its many appearances in a BTS show, from a side project that Doug Martsch did with Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening called The Halo Benders) and part of “Orion”, which took a few minutes for me to place since they started it off at about the halfway point.  The band finished off the night with a rousing encore, first with the epic “Kicked It In The Sun” before rounding it out with early year favorites “Big Dipper” and “Stab”.

Doug Martsch and co. engaging in some guitar heroics

Doug Martsch and co. engaging in some guitar heroics

Opener Honey Bucket did a good enough job keeping the early crowd entertained with their take on garage rock, and Genders was a solid second act.  Their first song reminded me of post-punk revival in the vein of Interpol, especially with the way their bassist was making full use of the neck for counter-melodies, but the highlight for most of the crowd was their faithful cover of Mazzy Star’s classic “Fade Into You” (even if the guitarist decided that the song’s memorable leads could be mimicked without the use of a slide).  It was an intriguing counterbalance to the headlining act, but it is hard to overshadow Built to Spill when they are on top of their game.  The sound mix overall was excellent, with all three guitar parts balanced perfectly, and the group actually integrated a fairly effective light show into their set.  Overall, it was hard to find a better way to spend twenty dollars on a weeknight.

Menomena, Live at the Wonder Ballroom

Most of the attention around Project Pabst was focused on the shows happening down on the South Waterfront of Portland on Saturday and Sunday, but the festivities actually began with a few select shows around town on Friday night.  Even though it would mean I would be making the trip up I-5 on three straight days, I jumped at the chance to see one of my local favorites play the Wonder Ballroom.  I’ve been a fan of the “experimental” indie rock of Menomena for years, ever since I caught them opening up for Modest Mouse about a decade ago (and in a nice bit of symmetry, Modest Mouse would be headlining the final night of Project Pabst), and have been consistently impressed with their albums and their live show, and Friday was no exception.

Fans who have followed the band over their career are well aware that the original trio has now become a duo, at least in the recording studio.  For the live show, Justin Harris and Danny Seim don’t do as much instrument-switching as they did in the past, with Danny finding a comfortable place behind the drumkit and Justin switching between bass and bari sax, with the occasional guitar thrown in, but sharing vocal duties.  To fill things out, they’re aided by various touring musicians, and for this tour they had help from a pair of them to cover additional keyboard and guitar lines, and with their help all bases were covered and the songs sounded fantastic.

Justin and Danny are setting up for the show.

Justin and Danny are setting up for the show.

The set was a mix of favorites from Friend and Foe on, though “Strongest Man In the World” from their debut I Am The Fun Blame Monster kicked off the show (aside: that title is an anagram for “The First Menomena Album”, a fitting coincidence since the last band we saw was Interpol who just released their own anagramed album, El Pintor).  The guys were loose, enjoying the hometown atmosphere and having fun with the title sponsor–Justin was hoping that anytime he said “Pabst Blue Ribbon” he could get a “cool hundy”, though he would settle for $33.33 for saying any part of the name, while Danny changed up the lyric in “Five Little Rooms” on the fly to “at half-Pabst again”.  Speaking of Danny, over the past decade he has become one of the greatest drummers in indie rock, and it’s always a marvel to watch him capture all the tricky rhythms that comes from a result of their unique songwriting process while also maintaining perfect time.  He alone is worth the price of admission.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping to hear a glimpse of a follow-up to the fantastic Moms, but there were no new songs on the agenda last night.  Instead, the audience had to be pleased to watch highlights like “Muscle’n Flo” and “TAOS” nailed with pinpoint precision.  The crowd was captivated as Justin alternated between different instruments and weaving in loops with his feet all the while.  Personally, I always enjoy it when a band utilizes a bari sax, and with Menomena, it’s an integral part of their sound and not a mere gimmick (though I have to say, those bros behind me who kept yelling “TUUUBA” every time they saw the bari sax, you’re exactly as clever as you think you are).

Justin and Danny exploding in light

Justin and Danny exploding in light

The night ended with a fantastic encore, with the epic rocker “The Pelican” thrilling the crowd, followed unexpectedly by the subdued track “Rotten Hell”.  However, the guys tweaked the song a bit from its recording version, with the changes providing the finale with enough of a kick to properly send the crowd off into the night with the right amount of energy to keep raging for the rest of the weekend.  It was as perfect a kickoff for a festival that Portland could ask for.