Live Shows

For the most part, we get a pretty good range of bands that stop in lil’ old Portland on the way to-and-from Seattle and San Francisco. Heck, sometimes more esoteric bands make this their only West Coast stop. “Why?” you ask. Probably because we have a large and supportive community of open-minded rabid music lovers here. Heck, once it starts raining all we have left to do is sit inside and listen to music and make things! Here’s my list of favorite shows I saw in Portland in 2018 in date order:

  • Built to Spill at Mississippi Studios (above)
  • Destroyer at Wonder Ballroom (featured image)
  • Luna at Wonder Ballroom
  • Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at Mississippi Studios

 

  • Shame at Doug Fir (above)
  • Hypersloth at Mission Theater

 

  • Iceage at Mississippi Studios (above)
  • Belle & Sebastian at the Oregon Zoo
  • Blood Orange at Roseland
  • Parquet Courts at Wonder Ballroom
  • Shannon and the Clams at Wonder Ballroom

 

  • My Bloody Valentine at Roseland (above)
  • Black Moth Super Rainbow at Wonder Ballroom
  • Gruff Rhys at Doug Fir
  • Fucked Up at Mississippi Studios (fingers crossed as it’s next week)

 
All photos ©2018 Smells Like Pop/David Bailey

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 the 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 psychedelia. 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.

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 Bailey’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?

Van Etten wows, War on Drugs channel Springsteen live in Portland

It doesn’t hurt when Bon Iver covers you, The National produce you, SXSW adores you, and hip websites anoint you the latest musical “it” girl.

That being said, Sharon Van Etten – touring on the strength of her latest, Tramp, didn’t disappoint a packed house at The Aladdin. After a solid set from Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs (channeling early Springsteen, and a self-professed love of The Waterboys – who they covered in their encore), Van Etten and her talented supporting cast seemed right at home in the intimate confines of The Aladdin.

Though Van Etten was the clear attraction, a reasonable contingent of folks were also on hand to support the (arguably) equally talented Heather Woods Broderick, who provided flawless harmony vocals, keyboards, and guitar. Broderick (affectionately nicknamed “Bro-Derek” by Van Etten during their tour) is a Portlander, and Smells Like Pop has witnessed her talent first hand as a member of Horse Feathers (along with her brother, Peter Broderick).

The band fleshed out the subtle and nuanced dynamics of Tramp – taking an already solid record and bringing it lovingly to life. Guitarist Doug Keith captured the gothic-twang necessary to make “Give Out” shine, while drummer Zeke Hutchins allowed the power and menace of “Serpents” to be showcased.

With her talent on an upward trajectory, hopefully the young Van Etten won’t get pitchforked over for the next inevitable find.

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.

Real Estate & Clap Your Hands experience Portland’s enthusiastic crowds

Real Estate (Brooklyn via New Jersey) and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! (Brooklyn via outer space) recently graced the stages of performance spaces on the West Coast. Judging by their responses – especially here in Portland – they got back what they gave. Smells Like Pop’s Cory X and I went to both shows, and left feeling an appreciation for our hometown fans’ refreshing attitude. (editor’s note: we are both veterans of live shows in other cities – Cory having caught acts in NYC, Minneapolis, as well as legendary Portland venues; I’ve caught numerous shows while living in LA, NYC and the SF Bay Area).

Alec Ounsworth (main Clap-per, pictured above) stated part way through CYHSY’s set at Portland’s Hawthorne Theater that he was under the weather and fighting something off – and that that situation could get worse, or turn into a type of “euphoria”; fortunately for us, he said it was heading toward the latter, and proceeded to provide an energetic set, that the crowd responded to with appreciation and some frenetic dancing, to boot. The show surged on an upward arch, as the band and crowd seem to feed off of each other – and, as Cory X noticed, this was made all the more remarkable considering it was a Monday night. New numbers received a polite welcome, while old favorites (primarily from their debut) were greeted like the new classics they are seemingly becoming.

Though the world seems to be experiencing bad economic news in regards to real estate, the band Real Estate seems to be bucking that trend. Their new record, Days, is getting positive press, and their music is being utilized to accompany everything from NPR programming to TV and movie soundtracks. The band’s music – Cory X pointed to clear influences ranging from The Shins to The Feelies – is cheerful enough to begin with, the band seemed particularly receptive to the crowd – a packed Doug Fir Lounge clearly engaged by the atmospheric-bordering-on-psychedelic pop being provided. The strength of the band’s new record made its material stand out, though they wrapped things up with an encore of “Fake Blues” from their debut, dedicated to “our friends Das Rascist”- the fellow NYC artists, who apparently were in the crowd. The band encouraged the audience to join them at their hotel room for a party, somehow able to generate energy on perhaps the toughest night of the year (Sunday, evening after daylight savings). I suspect some folks actually made it…

We’ll have a full write-up of the Sunday MusicFest show at Pioneer Square featuring Band of Horses and Cass McCombs, but we’ve got to catch-up on all the work we missed while lolly-gagging at the festival! In the meantime, here are some photos we took at the show…

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.

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