Sunday, July 21, 2013


After a promising first evening, I arrive - again in a timely manner, early birds, worms, all that - flush with anticipation. Last night was stacked with talent leaning toward the electronic side of things (and was bloody excellent, in case you missed it; see post here), tonight has more of a rock 'n' roll, bravura feel to it, with local phenom Matthew Heller, a couple of terrific bookings from our sister up north (that'd be Seattle, natch, and we're talking The Maldives and Rose Windows), Cambodian Space Project from, umm, yeah, that's right, and a not insignificant plum of a headliner, ex-Posie Ken Stringfellow. So, after short chats with organizer Sean Hocking, CSP's Julien, and Dawn and Christian from Das Fluff (one of Friday night's standout highlights), I'm all clubbed up, prepared to have my head spun round how ever many times the assembled performers find necessary and spot on eight o'clock the lights go dim, the stage fills up and off we go, seat belts optional.

Y'know that classic white soul-ish garage band you wanted to form in high school, the one that would write and sing with freakin gusto the kind of songs that should be on the radio, with actual middle eight guitar solos and a Winwood-esque piano? Well, Matthew Heller went right ahead and did it. Heller trades off between piano and guitar - another echo of the Traffic man - and like the era in which that band arose Matthew Heller and the Clever do indeed play the type of unfussed-over, blues-based, four on the floor rock 'n' roll  that one might have stumbled upon in a smoky, beery converted ice arena, say, in 1973, which before you ask is indeed a compliment. Depending on the song, we're thrown back to Detroit, boogeying in Memphis or tearing up the upholstery midway between New York City and Austin. In fact, Heller and his mates make a habit of tearing it up generally tonight, pulling out the stops and going to town. They rock the hell out just like you want them to and there's nothing ironic about it. They. Just. Rock. Very happy I got to see them live at last and I suggest you do yourselves a similar favor: Go see 'em.

Suitably, Seattle contenders for rookies of the year Rose Windows lead us further down the amber path with their psych folk Jeff Airplane take on the same period, though a bit more bruised up maybe. A tight fit on stage, two female singers, one moonlighting on flute, two guitarists, drummer bass and keys, we're treated again to the beauty of unadorned vintage-era rock and roll brilliantly played, suffused with the inspiration of its creation. Yes, there are echoes the raindrop organ of the Doors, there's that great society voice, there are those harmonies harkening back to the days when harmonies mattered and everyone used them - Laurel Canyon harmonies in other words - but until someone can convince me there's anything wrong with echoes like that, when synthesized into such a gorgeous modern whole as Rose Windows bring, I'm going to go ahead and enjoy it if you don't mind. Y'know how certain bands, people will say 'They've really got it'? Rose Windows really do have it. When lead singer Rabia Shaheen Qazi announces "This is our last song" it's far too early for anyone in the audience - which is fairly thick by this point - at least we're treated to the lengthy "Native Dreams" (off new album The Sun Dogs) Qazi belting it out, face-wrapping hair curtaining around, guitarist Chris Cheveyo unpeeling the most ringing, Quiksilver guitar break I've heard in, well, decades. Superb, a highlight, end of story.

Keeping with the Seattle connect and keeping with the timelessness theme plus sticking to the 7-up line-up, in this case three guitarists, bass, organ, drums, and the seated bewhiskered banjo player, Emerald City stalwarts - nay,institution - the Maldives arrive full of bar band fervor, kicking the holy shite out of the joint, injecting punk energy into every gesture and lick of what is essentially an Americana tip. "I'm not used to playing that fast" says lead singer/acoustic guitar slinger Jason Dodson, "it's a really short set so we're trying to pack them in real tight" and he couldn't be any righter. After  umpteen years together this lot is almost dangerously tight, not to mention joyous and unimpeachably rockworthy. Clearly a fan favorite as evidenced by audience-band banter, there's something invincibly comforting about the Maldives, which is perhaps down to the easy authority of their sound, the honest working man's work ethic sense of it met head-on by a fully up-to-date wariness. Too upfront to be cynical, the Maldives deliver instead a deeply effecting treasure of seriously good-time music and are another band I've been hearing all these good things about and finally get to see. What a great live band.

By guitarist Julien's description, singer Srey Thy was so entirely freaked out when she first heard herself singing through headphones in the studio, she fled the scene. There's a little sign of that tonight. Ms Thy has a presence, her arms flowering out beside her and though she's not yet, by appearances, 100% stage comfortable, she is without doubt confident in the power of her voice, a chill-raising instrument that fills the Mississippi like Cambodian crystal in a fish bowl. Glass clear, ranging from percussive to as lyrical as a waving reed, often in the same song, it's what carries Cambodian Space Project whether there's nine of them on stage or just two of them as there is tonight. Singing entirely in Khmer (though introducing songs in a practicing English accent), during a haunting version of  the Sonny Bono-composed "Bang Bang (I'm Afraid Of Love)" - though in truth any song Srey's voice touches has a biting hauntingness to it - the language barrier disappears, and if one wasn't entranced at that moment then one is simply not entranceable.

At some point I have to just hang up the notebook, let loose and enjoy so goodbye to the word for a bit. After the rousing la la la's of, um, "LaLaLa," Srey has become at one with her stage persona, commanding the mic while Julian and the stage-invited Ken Stringfellow and Maldives drummer extraordinaire Faustine Hudson bang an improvised shuffle groove around her that is quintessentially, well, Western while sounding frankly, fully trans-Pacific in scope and spirit. From here on out they rip out a good ol' rockin' racket that Dr Feelgood would be proud of.

Last song "Whiskey Cambodia" is a tough mauling drag tempo blues improv of sorts ("of sorts" because nothing Thy sings is going to sound like the blues blues) that scrapes the gutter while raising the rafters and I am in fact left feeling a little hungover, actually, but, y'know, in the very best way.

Which leads us to ken Stringfellow. Other than the Kingsmen and Nirvana, is there a more legendary Northwest band then the Posies? Great enough to be called upon when Alex Chilton needed a couple of musicians to fill in for those members of Big Star no longer available, it was the Posies he called upon. And it is instantly clear why. Stringfellow sits behind a Kurzweil and stunningly emotes the way only a musician of his stature can, possessing the stage, the audience, the room. But hell, he doubles down by inviting the Maldives back on stage as his backing band and we all collectively melt. This inevitably is a very winning proposition and, if I may be so bold, echoes the very invitation Mr Chilton made back in 1993. 

Lemme say this: there is a lot of joy on stage right now. Due to the pickup band nature of the arrangement, there's the spontaneity of improvisation colliding with the solidity of the at-least-marginally rehearsed, a very fine cross-hair in which to find ourselves. "All Night Long" is an utter monster of collaborative dynamism, Stringfellow more or less howling by the end, the band locked in to his every bandleader gesture. It's a thing of beauty.

As with the Posies, Stringfellow has an unerring ear for the seductive, unforced pop hook, and they leak out everywhere tonight. What an ideal way to put this year's Sometimes A Great Notion festival to bed. It's like you just know you're going to have a great dream, one soundtracked by the ad hoc collective on stage right now. I'll head out tonight a happy guy, but for now I gotta close this notebook and just..luxuriate in the pure pop now, and once again thank Sean Hocking for a sublime summer weekend. Til next year, then, if you have the chance, cheers, mate.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


A year ago a savior came to town. OK, maybe that's wording it a bit strongly but in July 2012 Sean Hocking, ex-Brit, once of Australia and now resident of Hong Kong, staged a sprawling, multi-media mini-extravaganza on the grounds of Disjecta in North Portland that not only brought legendary Saints founder Ed Kuepper to Portland for the first time, he also carted along the Felice Brothers, Peaking Lights, Dennis Coffey and a mad host of others while also engaging a slew of local musicians - Mattress, Zac Pennington, White Fang, Holcombe Waller, Nick Jaina, Strangled Darlings to name but a few. Added to this were flashing video rooms, an art exhibit, a haute naturel fashion show (if you were there you know what that means), even a record sale. To say it was a highlight of my summer last year would be so blindingly obvious I won't even say it. Very nice and sorry if you missed it but...he's back!

Though a slightly more stripped back outing this time around (2 days/nights instead of 2 days/3 nights) and shifted to the Mississippi Studios, the initial evening last night shows our Sean hasn't lost his flair for booking a crazy-talented, varied, and, really, quite sublime night's entertainment. With Pulse Emitter, Pinks Quieter, Das Fluff, White Fang, and Pink Skull on the docket, there was no excuse for being late so your devoted correspondent indeed finds his way Albina-ward by the appointed hour. Sean is outside chatting with Charlie Salas-Humara, who, I'd only recently discovered, is the driving force behind Pinks Quieter ('Can't know everything' I often tell myself but regardless am abashed at not having known about this lot sooner; more in a moment). A committed impresario driven primarily by the passionate need to get the music he loves not only on his label (Metal Postcard) but as well just out there so everyone else can see/hear how great this band or that artist is, Sean, like yours truly, is a bit old guard, grounded in the fundamentals of the  DIY/underground/John Peel school (Hocking is a DJ on the Peel-inspired Dandelion radio), where a sort of music evangelism mixes it up as best it can with market capitalism. Whereas the prospects in this approach of becoming a record magnate are rather slim, it is the only path that allows the type of fierce devotion Sean not only displays in conversation but as well in his commitment to the artists on his label. It also makes for a savvy sense of what works on stage and tonight's a fine example of that. Attendance on the first night was sparse given the surge of talent on offer so I say to you right here right now: DON'T MISS TONIGHT!! OK, let's see what we've got here.

Daryl Groetsch, the one-man band/composer that is Pulse Emitter, has been described as the "undisputed king of planetary scale hypnosis," and I'm not going to do much better at describing the gist of what we're hearing than that. Yes of course it's music, but to be more accurate I'll say it's pulsing washes of soundscape or the emanative breath of the Spheres - it's either and both of those things and no doubt a multitude beyond - ooh, there! That's also what it is, music of the beyond - and it's also a remarkably magnetic way to kick off the second annual SAGN Fest. Groetsch, the Oz in plain view responsible, is the Harold Budd of the future and that future is now. With a persistent subtlety of rhythm, looped beat structures embroidered inside the textural whole like an insinuated pulse and sheets of chthonic melody cascading, tripping, and tripping again, evolving and fading out then rearising as if to prove reincarnation via a slightly multi-phased, programmed synth, it pulls me in time and again. 'Mesmerizing' would be the word were it not so addictively engaging. The early handful of us standing around in a loose tribal trance are the lucky ones, already transported and its not even half past eight yet.

Say, how does experimental funky tropical sound? Well, let me tell you how it sounds: bloody amazing! Pinks Quieter is two drummers (one with a couple of congas appended), a basement heavy bass, a flangeing high life-like guitar, a guy standing behind a little Realistic synth and Moog stack, filling in the sonic cracks, bringing the melody, whatever's needed. Add it all up and you've got a high and righteous racket of the first order. This is punk rock Sun Ra, this is go-go music (the Washington DC-bred Cubanized funk pioneered by Chuck Brown), Portland style, and when the band all kicks in, when Charlie Salas-Humara hits his manic guitar stride, its a noisily transcendent wonder and don't even think I'm exaggerating. Even when a song comes creeping into being, as tonight's second offering does, incipient in it's slowly fraying fabric is a coming fever, a tightly controlled maelstrom of jumping, sometimes skittering, always grooved joy and kick, with a smooth manic improv feel. Out of nowhere Pinks Quieter have become one of my favorite Portland bands, there's nothing like them by a DC city mile.

Portland semi-legends, White Fang is White Fang, an unreconstructed (read: fun) shambles of a rowdy no-holds- barred drunk punk band that is this year's only returning act from last year's lineup, where they just about destroyed themselves putting on a raging show. Taking hedonism to a purer unapologetic level (read: 90's), they couldn't be more of a contrast from the two bands preceding but in frontman Erik Gage they've got a spokesman for a non-generation, he's anti-charisma charismatic if you would and whatever jarringness in the transition gets rolled right over. Plus, oh yeah, their 1-2-3-4-take-no-prisoners recklessness, inside all its crunch and snotty apathy, is an unquenchable pop sensibility, melody keeps tumbling out despite itself. Nothing so well describes what the Fang are all about than Gage's sartorial choice for the evening, self-made denim cut-offs topped by a ripped-to-shit "Yabba Dabba Doo" T-shirt. There may be a cartoon element to their punk but they certainly know what they're doing and know how to shred an audience. Only drawback tonight is a malfunctioning guitar shortens their set, but, y'know, what the heck, they'll almost certainly be back next year for SAGN 3.

'Immediate' is the word that immediately come to mind once Das Fluff hit the stage. Tall yet somehow elfin Teutonic-looking siren Dawn Lintern, resplendent in black faux-feathered headdress, leopard print tights, sequins and lace, captivates from the off. Think Lene Lovich graduating from the Bromley contingent while Christian rocks the hell out of a...laptop? Why, yes, and it doesn't matter one jot, it works, and works rousingly well. "Jolly" (as described by Dawn) song 'Rage' has the singer screeching like angels throwing a tantrum, it's entrancing and un-turn-awayable like that, full of, yes, rage, full of A-side ready hooks, it finishes with Dawn staring icicles before breaking down into a disarming smile. It's clear Dawn gives all of herself on stage here, its her that brings the commanding theatricality, a post-punk intensity with an irresistible soupcon of Weimar decadence. Most surprisingly, most winningly, I can hear notes of (of all people) the Raincoats in her London accent. When Dawn comes down amongst us during 'Lucky Lady,' people actually hide behind their brave companions (even if jokingly) and well why not, the woman is fierce. But as often as not Lintern's voice, when not being dramatic, forceful, full of portent, hits these celestial interludes. Not sweet exactly - bit too spooked for that - but lilting. hypnotizing. Her presence truly is alluring, dangerous, charming, whatever coquettishness edged with menace. Star of the night, there can be no doubt about that, while Christian strikes a stance of Zen poise despite the black Sex Pistols t shirt. Next task for me is to buttonhole Sean tonight and inquire about a CD, an LP, something. Want Das Fluff for Songs From Under The Floorboard post-haste.

Pink Skull are two lone wizards flashing dizzying wrecked mandala graphics, complex programmed synth interplay and a damaged disco slash house rhythm. Ibiza is a Tokyo nightmare, basically, which at first feels a bit calculatedly off-putting but lo and effin behold it soon becomes a seductive miasma of deep grooving, umm, grooviness. Yeah, it's all microchips and well-placed computer effects, it's man commanding machine, but it's nonetheless immutably human, not dissimilar, I should think, to that startling moment when we find out that, yup, robots actually have human hearts. The possibilities of dance in these moments are almost infinite, it's Kraftwerk had they been just that much funkier. It's also an irresistible lure to the kids from the bar, as a trail of them find their way to the living room-like dance floor in front of the stage, Pink Skull topping their night off in style. 

So Sean's done it again, brought a head-spinning array of not-to-be-missed talent to a single stage for Portland's exclusive entertainment. And I'm sorry if you missed it - it truly was a terrific night on the tiles, or, rather, carpet - but the cool thing is, you can make up for it!! Tonight it's Seattle institution The Maldives (woo-hoo! I've never seen them), The Cambodian Space Project (who I've been so very keen to see since Sean turned me on to them last year - you do NOT want to miss them) and..wait for it...Ken Stringfellow from THE POSIES!! See you there, then, yeah?