It was a Thursday night at Mississippi Studios, a small venue in Portland, and on display was the kind of support for each other’s bands that you always hear about. Point Juncture, WA, was the first up, and they played a solid if short set, with Amanda Spring demonstrating her amazing breath control, pounding the drums energetically for most of the set while managing to sing coherently. Smiling broadly all the while. They played some lively stuff from their most recent work, Handsome Orders, whose song “Violin Case” holds up to anything raved about on Wild Flag. But rather than plug their own work, Point Juncture, WA returned to the theme–talking up the headliner’s new album. When Deer or the Doe eventually took the stage, Spring was up front near the stage, dancing with enthusiasm. Deer or the Doe rose to the occasion, earning the accolades of their peers with their driving guitar-heavy but melodic post-Minutemen punk. The star of the night was their album on release, Tonight We Love You, a wide-ranging work that on the first few listens seems their strongest yet. It rises from pensive to flat-out slamming in a few short moments, with apparent influences from Husker Du and perhaps The Sea and Cake. In their live show as well as on the album, the band’s vocals are almost secondary, just one of the fine instruments on display. Even a more vocally-focused song like the excellent “Longest Arms” ends in shouts above the well-controlled fray. The band seemed to be having a great time, feted by their peers. The members of the second band in the line-up before Deer or the Doe were especially gracious, selling Tonight We Love You not only from stage but cheerfully to me at the merch table. Yet their own performance that night demanded attention in its own right.
To say that Radiation City has a retro feel is not quite right. It’s a distorted retro, as if the band came from a place where the only music was from an oldies AM station playing The Shirelles and Pink Floyd, where 50s-era housewives took their first hit of 60s psychedelica. The instrumentation was tight, with organ and drum providing just the right texture for the eerily beautiful vocal harmonies to step out from and seep straight into your soul. And with their recent designation as Willamette Week’s Best New(ish) Band, Radiation City is getting even more of the attention they deserve. Just don’t tell them that–I overheard the bassist scoff at the idea that they would be at Sasquatch. I can imagine the sentiment of wanting to avoid that kind of Cluster, but not because they wouldn’t deserve to be there. With its genre-defying David Lynch soundscapes, even if 2011′s The Hands That Take You wasn’t enough to knock down the doors of virtual gate-keepers like Pitchfork, the live version would convince any doubters. The band played a number of songs from their more recent EP, which includes the moody epic “Find it of Use.” The audience was captivated–a Very Tall Man next to me exclaimed quite earnestly that the performance brought him to tears. Like the experience of fellow Tender Loving Empire projects Typhoon and Y La Bamba, the band is in the middle of a quick upward trajectory which I imagine would be jarring for any band. Perhaps it’s modesty, but one of the most striking and refreshing things about the nice people in Radiation City is that they still don’t seem to believe how crazy good they really are.
P.S. For free downloads of earlier work by Deer or the Doe, Port Juncture, WA, and other interesting bands (like Ioa), visit www.wantstogiveyou.com.