Live Shows

The editors at Smells Like Pop recently experienced the rare opportunity where we were all together at the same show. In this case, it was for Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland. And, instead of relying on one of us to do a write-up, we thought we’d all add a short review. Including our friend, Pete Champ!

Cory X’s Review

The BJM show got almost no local press, which was surprising because of a) the band’s famed and filmed love-hate relationship with locals The Dandy Warhols, and b) they put on a kick-ass show. Anton Newcombe orchestrated from the side of the stage, his distinct vocals and guitar standing out somehow over the wall of sound emanating from four to five other guitars on stage at any one time. The result was loud, of course, but almost restrained, counter to the band’s reputation for chaos. Newcombe even thanked audience members individually (rather than kicking them in the head, for instance). The night was given to dispelling all such demons, graciously inviting Zia McCabe herself onto the stage, for a distinctly Dandy-ish song. BJM put on a remarkable show, the guitar-work layered and even disciplined, avoiding the pitfall of the many-guitared jam band. Indeed, they didn’t let loose until the final song, a Beatles cover that seemed to have no end. Afterward, I wished it hadn’t.

Gene Brunak’s Review

It’s beyond cliché to reference the documented struggles of Anton Newcombe and his band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre. But it does seem to be fair to acknowledge when he – and they – get it right. Highlighting tracks from the band’s latest, Aufheben – which is arguably their most solid album from beginning to end, the BJM transcended that album’s strengths with an even stronger live performance.

BJM ranged through its material, playing some old favorites, as well as showcasing the strength of newer tunes like the catchy “I want to hold your other hand”, and the warm-fuzzy inspiring homage, “Blue Order/New Monday”. Zia McCabe (of Portland’s Dandy Warhols) even hopped on stage to contribute some booty shaking and tambourine support – a nod to the past, while perhaps sensing the forward momentum created by the strength of BJM’s  new material and focused performance.

Peter Champ’s Review

Anton Newcombe is still chief engineer on the BJM express and everyone else is along for the ride. With each song, you can pick a small piece from many bands. Now that the drama seems to be over you can focus on the music and relax. Being so prolific with their songs they almost blend together until they unleash a manic tambourine tune that reminds people why they like them.

David’s Review

The audience waiting for the show to start at the Wonder Ballroom skewed older and artier. The seen-it-all-before crowd was cautiously waiting for something new to happen – again. When the Brian Jonestown Massacre took to the stage with little fanfare, I was secretly glad to see lead tambourine player, Joel Gion at the center of a stage that also included five guitar players (including bass), a drummer and keyboardist – all looking like they were about to play a show at the ’60s-era Factory as opposed to Portland in 2012. The band sounded great – even better than on record. Songs that have seemed shambling and misshapen in the past, became beautifully orchestrated walls of blissful-noise pop. Songwriter/founder/cult leader Anton Newcombe has found a nice collaborator in Spacemen 3 bassist, Will Carruthers who seems to be keeping the band more centered – there were no interpersonal flare-ups this night. The band played many songs from their great new album, Aufheben as well as a cross-country tour of their previous twenty-plus back catalog of psychedelic inspired pop. If you have a chance to see BJM live, do it. Dig?

The documentary on the short, but prolific life and musical career of Jay Reatard is playing now at little movie theaters across the country. We got to see Jay Reatard and his band at an in-store show at Jackpot Records in Portland shortly before his untimely death (murder). I’m glad we did, but it makes this footage all too sad. Reatard’s last record was a sign of greatness to come–fast and messy pop songs that had so much power and energy bundled-up in 2-3 minute little nuggets. Alas, what we have is what we get and Jay Reatard is no more. Except on the big screen.


The daytime MusicFest NW shows broadcast live on KEXP have been great so far, and since I had my kids with me and the shows are all ages, I decided to bring ’em along. My son’s opening soccer game took precedence in the afternoon, so unfortunately we missed the Antlers noon-time set. Avi Buffalo was playing next, so after some cajoling, arm twisting and watching a couple of videos of the band, we hit the Doug Fir. I have to admit it was kind of fun showing the kids around the venue that I normally only visit late at night. We got some ice waters and settled into the lounge in back for the 30 minute set.

Avi Buffalo as a band are young, and really just kids themselves, but the songs written by Avi Zahner-Isenberg (many recorded in his home studio) have  traces and seedlings of many older artists carried within – musicians like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and even the Pixies (Avi was wearing a Pixies t-shirt). The “pop” songs were all very pleasant and sometimes more complex as both time and chord changes borrowed from jazz crept into the mix, especially on their final song.

All in all, the kids liked the show – my son even a little more than my daughter. I think she saw through my clumsy attempts at getting her to start music lessons again by pointing out the cool drummer and bassist, both girls. Not the kids first concert (that was X/Knitters when they were just wee-nippers) but a fun afternoon of music. Afterwards we walked across the driveway to the MFNW Poster Show where poster artists from all over were selling limited edition concert posters – groovy stuff, though some might have been rated PG-13.

Avi Buffalo’s debut, self-titled  album is out now on SubPop.

Actually, there was nothing horrible about the 30 minute mid-morning set by UK goth-synth-shoegaze-pop phenom, The Horrors. Except that it could have been a little longer and the drums could have been a little softer. The Horrors wear their myriad influences proudly on their stylish sleeves, often times sounding (add looking) like the more up-beat cousins of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. They combine vintage synths, throbbing bass and fuzzed-out wall-of-guitar in a style all their own, while still feeling like the latest band in an evolutionary progression of british rock. See them tonight at Midnight at Dante’s. Really. Go see them–they’re great live.

Smells Like Pop hit the sweltering hot (literally) scene at Branx on Thursday Night for the Suuns, Talkdemonic and Handsome Furs shows, and then raced over to the practically empty midnight performance by EMA at Holocene. Suuns played a loud and revved-up set that was all over the place (good thing) sounding at times like Clinic, Can, Stereolab and more (good thing, too). We’re looking forward to hearing how their sound may get distilled into something immediately identifiable as Suuns. But, just as happy if they keep going as they are now.

Talkdemonic played a nice set of experimental noise pop, but suffered from the laptop disease that many bands today are infected with–I kept thinking how much better they’d sound with a couple more musicians on stage instead of having everything pre-recorded on a computer. But, hooray for the Macbook–it played a great set! Handsome Furs came on last like the Tasmanian Devil couple from Looney Tunes. To say they were wound-up is an understatement. In other words, “I want what they’re having.” The crazy energy of husband and wife, Dan Boeckner (Vocals & Guitar) and Alexei Perry (Synths & Beats) was almost unbelievable at the start, but their attitude and live sound quickly grew on me–it was a fun, danceable show! Go see them if you can…

I think we were expecting a lot from EMA–there’s been a lot of hype swirling around Erika M. Anderson for her recent solo record. Elements of the show were great, some good and some (like the sound and tuning of the drums) were a little flat. Her backing band looked like they felt a bit awkward which clashed with Anderson’s seeming comfort on stage. Late shows can be great or tough-going–let’s call this one somewhere in the middle.

More in-dept write-ups should be coming soon. In the meantime, here are a few pictures from the night.