While they may not have made it into the Portland Music Awards (whatever that is), the bands who gathered the night before at Holocene embodied the energy and excitement that characterizes the local music scene today. Billed as a celebration and fund-raiser for Into The Woods, the video project that films musicians in their homes, at their jobs, and yes, in nature, the event brought out inspired performances from bands that should be on anyone’s “to see” list.
Guantanamo Baywatch: Looking somewhat like Blondie meets The Stray Cats, this band surely creates cognitive dissonance for the first-time listener, who may be surprised by the tight surf rock the band unleashes. Their instrumental performance echoes the spirit of their surf predecessors, reminding us why Dick Dale has never been uncool. But the greatest surprise arrives when the lead singer belts out his crazed vocals, an exuberant trill over plaintive howls. Think “Surfin’ Bird” in all its timeless proto-punk glory, mischieviously packaged with a postmodern wink. And it goes without saying that they have the best name around.
And And And: They stream out of the back of their mini-van and stumble onto stage, crashing into one another and seeming to abandon and exchange their instruments randomly. When one of the haphazard members rambles into the microphone, another plays his guitar loudly over the top, earning a thumping with a pair of drumsticks. Some of those in the audience would be forgiven for wondering who the hell let these guys on stage, but then something happens. The trumpet finds it place over dueling guitars; someone breaks a drumstick but finds a maraca to play the snare drum. Somehow it all gels. These guys kick the shit out of cacophony. They play a rousing “Raise the Dead,” followed by their anthem “I Want More Alcohol,” effectively demonstrating the distinction between wants and needs. As a band, they’re like the guy at the back of your college philosophy class who you hoped wouldn’t speak up, but when he did, surprised you with his wit and insight. Let’s hope they keep it together enough to graduate to something more.
Tu Fawning: Evoking the spirit of Nico and Patti Smith, lead singer Corinna Repp mesmerized the crowd with her haunting vocals. Backed by a teeth-gritting drummer who looked like a refugee from a barbershop quartet, this foursome laid out startlingly complex melodies without coming across as overly arty. Beginning with “The Felt Sense,” the band played moody pieces that demanded one’s full attention. I quickly forgot the comment by the construction worker currently in my residence that Tu Fawning made him want to hurt himself. To the contrary, this evening I found the music uplifting, even joyous at times, especially when the band took the risk of jumping into the crowd to play their final tambourine/drum-circle number. As Repp sang her final lyrics, I realized that with her great range she is reminiscent of one of my favorite vocalists, Mimi Goese of New York’s Hugo Largo. With the backing of fine instrumentalists, they seem destined for greater things.
With a final note on Into the Woods, it is from one of their videos that I learned that Corinna Repp, smart and edgy as her music, also works for Pink Martini and The Decembrists. It’s a reminder that in reality, Portland is a small town, with a creative class of artists who push each other further and further in cross-pollinating energy. With bands like these in residence, viewed for five bucks on a Thursday night, it seems to support the general thesis that the Portland music scene is now in its ascendance.