You may have heard that Portland had a gathering of its punk ghosts throughout the month of October, drawn by the news that favorite haunt Club Satyricon was slated for demolition. Classic Portland bands Pond, Big Daddy Meatstraw, and even The Dandy Warhols came back to headline shows over several weekends, but the Halloween weekend climax was more like a punk high school reunion. On Saturday, the former owner and the doorman greeted attendees, Tres Shannon (X-ray Cafè/Voodoo Donut conceptual artist) wandered around in a giant green spongy suit, and Portland’s poet laureate Walt (“Mala Noche”) Curtis waxed nostalgic about Satyricon’s glory days. While the music was memorable, at times it was almost secondary to the sense of appreciation and loss among the raggedy and not-so-well-aged crowd.
It’s been said that Satyricon was the west coast’s CBGB. While this claim might exaggerate the place’s importance to the nation’s music scene (which mostly ignored Portland bands of the time), it surely understates the place’s significance to the area. For recent èmigrès to Portland, it is tough to describe the extent to which the city was a distant backwater even into the mid-90s, a quirky truck stop on the long drive from Cali to our Big Sister of the North. Portland had a well-deserved inferiority complex, its streets emptying after dark, such a ghost-town that even during the day downtown parking meters in many areas were a mere suggestion. However, for those who dared to go into Old Town at night, when the Pearl was deeply hidden in a particularly battered and urine-scented shell, the Satyricon was a punk jewel.
The musicians who took the stage that night seemed truly grateful for the opportunity to represent an era in Portland when the music was impassioned and unpolished. Napalm Beach performed, its singer/lead Munster belting out his familiar growl, which was a draw for much of the crowd (just over a week before, he had taken the stage as his NORML advocate alter-ego in Snow-Bud and the Flower People). Before them, The Obituaries slammed, their drummer and guitarist looking almost as shocked that they were able to get their lead singer back onto the stage as the singer herself. Wearing a wonder-eyed expression familiar to any owner of a crazed cat, and an unzipped white wedding dress (giggling “this proves that even punks can go to prom”), she gave an energetic performance of her emblematic screech-style vocals. For us in the crowd, however, the biggest surprise was the appearance of the legendary Jackals. When the lead guitarist took the stage and began to thrash the place, I thought that someone had snuck Dick Dale through the back door. First impression: holy shit, these guys are old. Second impression: holy shit, they still jam. When I recognized the old-timers as one of my favorite bands of the time, for the moment I was in rock heaven. They ended with their anthem, “I Hate the Rich,” played as convincingly as any show they did in the 80s.
By the time the biggest headliner Broken Arrow took the stage (who I later learned was an unfortunately-named reformation of Dead Moon, one of Satyricon’s resident bands back in the day), the crowd was already thinning. The obligatory fight had just ended–an unfortunate encounter between a one-man mosh pit/ADHD-dancer and a very Grumpy Old Punk–and the nostalgia was getting a bit thin. The sound in the place was as rough as ever, and a visit to the bathroom was a trip down stinky punk memory lane. A friend and I scratched a couple of band names on the reunion’s yearbook–here in the form of a plank of plywood and a sharpie, asking attendees to add the list of “who was seen here”–and exited, grateful to have experienced the place one last time before it gave up its ghosts.