It was billed as a celebration of the fourth anniversary for Tender Loving Empire, the downtown record label/art store/ collective, best known for the many talented local bands it promotes (including And And And, Willamette Week’s recently-named #1 “new band” of the year). As a birthday party, it started out straightforward enough—goofy name tags, glitter bombs, and door prizes drawn out of the belly of a giant Yoda-monkey. It was an occasion to introduce the newest band to the self-described “family,” Radiation City, who opened with their curious blend of garage rock and vocals reminiscent of 50s-era nostalgia. Loch Lomond was next up, playing a pleasant if mellow set that climaxed with a rousing cover from…what, Fleetwood Mac? Y La Bamba followed, looking a little bored after the high of touring with Neko Case. Actually, I think it was annoyance, as the sound system threatened to revolt, but it could also have been directed at the dance-impaired crowd, whom they tried to cajole with passionate Spanish rhythms, to which the crowd responded with…a sway. To be fair, it was a hard-core sway. Typhoon took over confidently from there, beating the sound system into submission by sheer force of numbers, and playing pitch-perfect versions of songs from their captivating album Hunger and Thirst. They demonstrated the key to their meteoric rise this year (starting at SXSW and Sasquatch, resting now before a tour with The Decemberists, and onward to Lollapalooza)—they were simply having a great time on stage. But the superhero of the event was Jon Ragel, who is Boy Eats Drum Machine. He had the unenviable task of playing between sets, adding rhythm to the endless soundchecks on the main stage. His own stage was tiny, but with completely spastic energy he bounced between his turntable, electronics, an old-school drum kit, and incongruously, a saxophone—all the while singing over the top of his random samples. His font of enthusiasm rescued the show at several points of potential disarray.
However, the stars of the party were not the headlining bands. Jered Mees, Tender Loving’s emperor, took the stage with The Grown Children, humbly noting the challenge of the task of cleaning up after the talented groups he has so successfully promoted. “I hate to say it, but these last few years have been hell,” he sang from 2008’s Caffeine, Alcohol, Sunshine, Money, a sentiment that’s a bit out of context nowadays. With the success of his progeny, a popular downtown business hocking arty merch, and a band tour of his own, Tender’s patriarch certainly had reason to celebrate. His jovial party band rose to the occasion with him. And just like your last family birthday party, chaos threatened to take over, as the TLE ranks surged the stage, one grabbing a megaphone to shout “vagina!” and other oddities during a rowdy birthday song, and the obligatory drunk party-crasher called for “Freebird” endlessly, but not getting enough attention, jumped on stage enough times to annoy the bouncer and get turned into a human surfboard. The revelry was not to be squelched–“Only Good Thoughts Can Stay,” the band sang from their newest album of the same name. Catchy. One might question Jered Mees and his love of tender–the dogged attempt to monetize some nebulous concept of hipdom–but you can’t begrudge his optimistic spirit and incredible aptitude for drawing such talent around him.