Monday, May 23, 2011

Some Recent Shows

Witch Gardens, Aan at Bunk Bar

Bunk Bar has just begun booking shows recently (the past 6-8 months), and it has already become one of my favorite venues in Portland, although a big part of that might be due to how close it is to my house and how easy it is to bike to their shows.

I have seen a number of great local bands there already, and they have booked a number of touring bands as well, such as Mister Heavenly (you know, that band with Michael Cera in it), and Handsome Furs, although that show sold out and I ended up just watching through one of the windows, which was surprisingly close to the stage, and they opened up the doors to the venue, so the sound carried outside pretty well. I shared the window with some people from Nebraska who said they had heard of Ames, IA when I told them the story of seeing Handsome Furs at the M-Shop there and Dan Boeckner telling the audience the story of walking around campustown earlier that day and someone in a big truck driving by and calling him a fag, despite the fact that he was walking around with his wife, and I'm pretty sure the entire audience just kind of nodded and thought to themselves, "Yup, that's Ames." And then 3 minutes after telling this Nebraska couple that story, they just kind of started making out right in front of me, which felt kind of strange and mid-conversation to me, since it was one of those we don't know each other so we only say something every minute or 2 but I still consider us in conversation type of conversations.

This show wasn't anything like that, though, and it was part of Bunk Bar's Free Tuesday Shows thing they have been doing pretty consistently for a few months now. I had never listened to Aan, and all I knew was that my roommate told me she had listened to them on myspace earlier that day and that they weren't very good, which is sometimes a really good indicator that I will like it, although this time I thought she was kind of right.

They were pretty cool, and they spazzed out a lot after playing really quietly for a few minutes, which I liked. But what didn't help their case is that when we got there, a different band was playing, and since I had never heard Aan before, I just assumed that the band playing was them, but it turned out to be Witch Gardens from Seattle who were way good and had me thinking they would be a great opener for Times New Viking, who are one of a few incredible upcoming shows at the Bunk Bar, including White Denim on May 29th and Damon and Naomi (from Galaxie 500) on June 1st.

Prescription Pills, Ghost Animal at Holocene

There were additional openers for this show (Period Romance, and one other that I can't remember), but I missed them because... well, because I was baking a strawberry rubarb pie.

There was a very sparse crowd for this one, which must be kind of rare for Holocene shows, because the bands seemed to be kind of doing that tongue-in-cheek type of performing that I take as them just kind of pissed off and fucking around, because they were expecting more people to show up. I could be reading too much into it though.

I felt kind of bad for Ghost Animal in particular, because it was their 7" release show, and I think they are a well-known Portland band, so they were probably expecting more people to be there for it, and the guitarist seem kind of pissed off about something, and that could have been it.

They were great though. Just really simple fuzzed-out pop made with only a guitar, a floor tom and a snare drum. And they did a really great cover of, what I think was, Ceremony by Joy Division (or maybe its New Order), but I only know it because Galaxie 500 covered it as well on one of the bonus tracks for On Fire.

City Center, Swimsuit, Secret Twins at some house show

I saw an address for this show on the City Center blog about a month ago, and I was pretty excited about it, and then the night of the show I decided to see if I could find any more information about it online, and I saw a few websites that listed the same address I saw previously, except in Seattle, and I started to wonder if this show was actually happening in Portland or not. So, I drove to the address and stood around on the street in front of the house for about 20 seconds before I heard a guitar strum coming from the backyard, which seemed to be a pretty good indicator that I was in the right place and that the show was in Portland.

The whole show was bands from the Life Like label (not to be confused with Life Like Records), who primarily just release cassette tapes, which I and I just don't think I am that into the cassette tape thing, but every time they do release a record or a 7", it tends to be really great.

Unfortunately, I missed Swimsuit, and arrived in the middle of the Secret Twins set. The show was in a backyard, where a bunch of people were standing around trying to break this surprisingly resilient wooden chair apart so they could burn it. The bands played in a garage that was filled with bike parts and a bunch of creepy stuff that I'd expect to see as background props for a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie or maybe that movie Wrong Turn--like axes and buckets filled with weird colored liquids and a mannequin head with a knife stabbed into its styrofoam skull.

City Center played last, but the guitarist, Fred, started the show by saying that the drummer had quit the band to attend medical school, so it was just him and he was going to play a really mellow set, which was still pretty cool although you could tell he hadn't really figured out how to play solo yet, so I don't think he played many songs from their new album Redeemer, which is pretty reliant on having a drummer, and he seemed really sad about the whole ordeal, which sucks.

City Center (along with bands like Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk) is a really weird band for me, because I just think they are so great. Like favorite band great. Or at least favorite album great (City Center by City Center and Eek Shriek Beak by Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk would probably both be in my top 10 if I ever wrote one out). But they don't seem to get that much attention, or at least not as much as say, Animal Collective for Feels or, like Neutral Milk Hotel for In the Aeroplane Over the Sea which would also be on my top albums list. So, after this show, when I met Fred from City Center and I was buying his new record, and I told him I had been looking for a download of it online, but couldn't find one, he said, "It hasn't leaked yet, because no one cares about it," I had this strange feeling because, to me, this is one of my favorite bands, and he probably doesn't have people reacting to his music that way very often (or at least not as often as say, Animal Collective), he probably has kind of this weird feeling toward it--of trying to be really proud of it, but receiving little recognition for how good it really is--and it kind of makes me wonder if they just think I'm full of it when I say, "Hey, such-and-such is one of my favorite albums ever."

I hope not.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Umm, Getting Lost OR I Remember Person Pitch... It Sounds Different Now OR Bands That Play On The Floor

I remember the first time I ever listened to Panda Bear's Person Pitch. Actually, I remember the first 15-20 times I listened to it. My brother brought it over to my parent's house and we were listening to it in the shop and my dad was smoking a cigar and I said, "Trent, what is this?" and he said "It's the new Panda Bear album. He's one of the dudes from Animal Collective" and then I went back to my apartment that night and found it on Amazon and I bought it, and it didn't leave my cd player in my car for 2 months.

The best thing about that 2 months is that I didn't quite have a grasp on that album the entire time. I remember hearing parts that I really liked and how they faded into other parts, and hearing noises I had never really heard before, and being confused about the process that went into making these songs, and I remember wanting to listen to certain songs, but I had no idea where in the album it was, and I remember the album ending, and my cd player automatically starting it over and me thinking, "What the hell? That was the end? I thought it started over 2 songs ago!"

This was my first good memory of getting completely lost in a piece of music. And I don't mean lost like closing your eyes and swaying lost. I actually mean feeling like "What the hell is going on??" lost.

I don't really have a point to make from all of this. When I wrote this down on the back of a scrap menu at work as I often do because all of my best thoughts come when I don't really have much time to think, I wrote something like "In defense of noise and drone music," which is kind of what I'm getting at, but in kind of a sideways manner, because I am specifically referring to seeing Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk in Portland with my roommates and one of them just did not understand why they played on the floor, and I even get kind of confused and lost when listening to them sometimes, which I sort of explain in this events listing I did for that show:

You could stare at all the instruments on stage for 3 hours before Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk start playing, and you would still have no idea how those musicians are making that music with these instruments. At their loudest, BBDDM are perched behind a layered waterfall of noise; at the softest, they are sitting cross-legged in a field plucking the only unbroken string on an acoustic guitar. It’s the space in between that leaves you thinking, “I’m going to have to remember this band’s name.”

So, in defense of noise and drone music, to those who don't have the ear for it, which is understandable, there is a certain degree of enjoyment that comes from watching something happen and still not understanding it. It is kind of like "I see it and I still don't believe it."

When you have the same 4/4 beat pop songs over and over again, and then a new one comes out and you can pretty much guess what comes next upon first listen, it is nice to know there is still some really interesting, unfamiliar things going on in music that you can't predict even on the one-hundredth listen.

Beach Fossils, Craft Spells, Soft Metals at Berbati's Pan

I don't know if this is really true or if it is just an opinion of mine, and actually, I don't really know how much I believe this, and I don't mean "I don't really know how much I believe this" like how most people use it to say that they simply don't believe something, I really just mean that this is something that seems to ring true when I say it, and I just haven't put enough thought into it to justify or refute it, so I'll just throw it out there and see where it takes me.

Actually, first, I want to note that I, when doing these show reports, which I've been trying to be better and more consistent about actually doing, I tend to have some sort of angle, or speaking point which I tie in with the show, so I guess this is my angle for this show. Here goes.

The best type of music is the kind that either makes you feel like your life is kind of put together or makes you feel like your life is kind of falling apart, or both.

This show was a perfect example of this.

I'll admit outright that I worked 8 hours before walking across downtown to go to this show, so I was kind of tired and in a weird mood because I (like everyone, I'm sure) tend to think a whole lot when I actually allow myself to take a walk for a long enough distance to actually justify calling it a "walk". And, on top of that, this whole show was kind of weird before I even walked in the doors, because as far as I knew, Berbati's has not been having shows for a while now due to some remodeling, which I had heard was not yet finished, and when I looked for information on this show on the Berbati's website, the calendar wouldn't load, and I couldn't find anything about it on my Portland show website, and I didn't see anything about it in the newspapers, which usually tend to be pretty good about these kinds of things. So, I didn't even really know if this show was going to happen, and if it was, how much it was going to cost and what time it started. Luckily, with shows, you can pretty much go with the standard "10 bucks at 9 PM" and it will get you pretty far. This was no exception.

Upon walking into the show, I immediately noticed a camera crew. I don't really have an explanation for this. No long paragraph or run-on sentences or anything. They were just filming and taking pictures of the audience. Kind of freaked me out the whole show.

Also, Berbati's is apparently one of those type of venues that takes putting on shows just a bit too seriously, so they have security guards walking around and the sound guy is really professional and proper, which is probably kind of nice, but I have always thought it seems a bit awkward, and most musicians are a bit awkward already, so it kind of just makes everyone uncomfortable.

All of these things contributed, but did not explain the overall eeriness of the whole show, so I'm just labeling this one as one of my weird-for-no-reason shows that happen... frequently.

I don't know why.

I don't really have much to say about Soft Metals, except that I think they are a Portland band, and they are kind of like what I imagine Crystal Castles would sound like if they weren't really pissed off and dramatic all the time.

Craft Spells were great, and apparently who the camera crew was there for. I will have to keep an eye out for what all of this camera-in-your-face-while-you-are-just-trying-to-play-songs-for-these-people footage will eventually be used for.

Beach Fossils was a lot like Craft Spells, and I want do describe them both as sounding a lot like that band Real Estate except with more adolescence. Which brings me back to my "angle". If you listen to Beach Fossils, it is really quite bright, and happy and sunny (or, more Beach Boys than Beach House). That brightness showed up a bit at this show just because, well, it is what their songs sound like. And they are upbeat and it kind of just made me feel like I was 16 and driving around listening to NOFX really loud in my Blazer, which always used to feel pretty good and make me feel like my life was... well, put together, or at least pretty awesome as far as being 16 goes.

The other half of my angle comes from some of the passing comments the singer let slip which kind of painted the picture of a younger band at the end of a long tour, experiencing some sort of hype/fame/popularity for the first time as a band, and being really pretty sick of it. In fact, incredibly sick of it. Touring, fame, everything. This became more and more apparent in the last half of their set when the singer mentioned that the guitarist and the bassist had gotten into "a really bloody fist fight" the night before in San Francisco, but had "made up and became friends again, I think," which they both kind of shrugged about and then they just started playing the next song, from this point, very much in "don't-give-a-fuck-I-just-want-this-to-be-over" mode, which tends to really piss off the audience members that paid to come see you play.

I have found that I really kind of like it, because it kind of takes the acting out of performing music live, and you can actually kind of see how people are or catch a small glimpse of where the music comes from. This happened another time recently at a house show when this band, An Amiable Medley were playing and the lead singer was either drunk, or really emotional, or, likely, both, and he yelled the lyrics "Because you are beautiful, and sensible, and you'll NEVER BELONG TO MEEEEEEE!!!" into the microphone and then threw himself to the floor and punched it, and then threw himself into a shelf and punched a whole in the wall, and then bled all over his guitar, and my jaw dropped and I am sure it was one of my favorite shows in recent memory, for this reason alone.

For some reason, when I see things I like this, it makes me start thinking about myself and... I don't know, maybe being young and angsty and dying my hair black and being really kind of dramatic and emotional, and it kind of makes me think twice about the soft, boring music that I make, and all of these thoughts kind of affect me and put this feeling that the world is kind of falling apart in me, and I love it, and I loved this Beach Fossils show for that reason as well as the opposite of that reason.

So, after they finished throwing themselves around and thrashing their instruments as they finished their last song, they threw their instruments down, the drummer kicked his drum set over, and they all (except for the bassist, who told the audience "thanks") kind of just stormed off stage, and somehow, from their whole set of "I hate this and I don't want to be here" type comments and performing, the crowd thought they were going to come out and do an encore, which was kind of funny.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Please, God, Let This New Dance Be The Next Huge Teen Sensation

In my recent spelunking through crappy 50's and 60's teen records, I keep stumbling upon this common theme of "Here's a new dance! Here's how to do the new dance! Let's all do this new dance!"

An incredible amount of songs were recorded based on this concept, and from these songs, dances like the Charleston, the Surfer's Stomp, the Mashed Potato, and an staggeringly high number of different variations of the Twist were created.

I hadn't really thought about it much until yesterday when I was listening to "Do The Slauson" by The Pyramids at work. The lady I work with and I kind of laughed about it, and then I started thinking about how hilarious it would be if this trend caught on in hardcore music.

A lot of hardcore music involves very specific dances to be done for specific parts of the song. By no means is this unique to hardcore music, though. Some people jump around and bang their heads and hurt people when they listen to metal. But there is a big difference between metal lyrics telling you to, "Bang your head! Hurt people!" and hardcore lyrics telling you to, "Cross one leg over the other while punching downward with the opposite arm! Do a scissor kick to roundhouse kick! Spin around in circles with your fist pointed outward!"

Kind of funny to think about.

But then, on what seemed, at first, to be a completely unrelated incident today while I was out eating lunch with my roommates, a bunch of people in bell-clad outfits entered the loft area of this restaurant and proceeded to start singing songs as a group celebrating Spring and May 1st and kind of just the goodness of life in general. This reminded me of singing in church or all those scenes in Stand By Me when they are walking along the railroad tracks singing songs together, and it all kind of made me think about uniformity in music for the purpose of sharing of it as a group.

It kind of takes the absurdity out of things like hardcore dancing and casts it in the light of a collective appreciation and our desire to feel like a part of the things that we love, the same way sports fans say "we" when referring to their favorite team.

Dirty Beaches

I'm getting around to posting this a bit late, but I kind of decided that I need to stay on top of writing down my thoughts and experiences with music and shows and things, because I have a decent amount of them and think about it more than anything else, which has to mean something.

Anyway, I saw Dirty Beaches at the Holocene last Sunday. I submitted a write-up for the show to the Willamette Week which is kind enough to provide us with a weekly print publication telling the people of Portland about most of the interesting things going on in their city this week. They didn't print my write-up, so I'm going to post it here so at least it gets some readership... sigh.

[RUST-COVERED ROCK N’ ROLL] Dirty Beaches is kind of like your dad’s (or grandpa’s) VHS copy of Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii—it’s old and the tracking has nearly destroyed what was left of the movie, leaving only pieces of the soundtrack between the crackling, distorted fuzz. Dirty Beaches builds each song from loops of the obliterated remainders of that golden age of rock n’ roll, including the 50 years of decay that rusted out all of the old cars and wiped out all of the hair grease, leaving just enough to remind us why our parents liked all of this crap in the first place.

This show was a perfect example of the shows I always seem to find myself at here in Portland, specifically Holocene shows. These shows consist of a headlining band that was very recently thrown into some sort of spotlight, and they don't appear to have fully adjusted quite yet.

The shows are always reasonably attended, but not crowded, and the bands always seem to play only 6-8 songs and then usually leave the stage without playing an encore because they probably just don't have enough songs prepared to do so.

Tennis was this way. Baths was this way. How to Dress Well was this way. And Dirty Beaches was this way.

By no means am I complaining. I actually really appreciate the simplicity and casualness of it. I'm not sure if it just feels appropriate for the type of music I'm seeing or maybe just for my normal energy and excitement level for shows nowadays, in comparison to being, say, 16 and being so pumped to see Slipknot that the concert is all you and your friends talk about the week before and after, and you even considered trying to collectively skip school that day so you could concentrate all day on "how fucking amped you are for the show tonight."

That being said, the show was what I expected. I was happy to see that he was still playing solo with his samples and guitar and hadn't upgraded to a full band like so many other one-person bands in the past 2-3 years. And he played "Lord Knows Best" which I really like, and at one point he got his greaser snarl on and even pulled out a pocket comb and slicked his hair back, which everyone applauded for and which got me thinking about self-made gimmicks vs. hype-made gimmicks and how everyone (including myself) talks about Dirty Beaches in the shadow of either Elvis Presley or David Lynch or both, which sounds absurd if you have never listened to him, and a near perfect description if you have (although since submitting that write-up, I have been thinking more and more that maybe it is something more along the lines of the Psycho half of The Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy.)

Additionally, I have been experiencing some sort of weird sense of Iowa pride every time I see a band in Portland that is in some way connected with Iowa, typically through the Night People Record Label as was the case with both Dirty Beaches and a band I saw at the Rotture a few weeks ago, Rene Hell. I don't know, maybe that isn't so weird.

Not As Good As That One Time OR On The Scent or Music Elitism OR It's Tough to Like Music and Not Get Tough About It

Thursday was an interesting day as far as shows and music making me stop and think about things. In a way, I may have finally picked up on the trail of the origins of music elitism, but I could be way off.

Why do I always feel the need to scoff when someone tells me their favorite Animal Collective album is Merriweather? Or why do I usually think it is necessary to let people know when I have opened for the band that they are talking about? And why can’t I let someone just get by with saying “Be My Baby” is a Shirlies song, without correcting them saying it was originally by The Ronettes and that the band they were thinking of is The Shirelles, and then launching into a bunch of history on Phil Spector and Brian Wilson and “Don’t Worry Baby”, which I find to be fascinating, but most people really could care less about?

Well, most of that I can’t answer, but I do have a few insights into certain parts of this overall whole that is my taste in music and eagerness to share it with other people, which we can properly call elitism.

These thoughts began piling up with an in-store performance by tUnE-yArDs at Everyday Music, which was incredible and a wonderful (and cheaper) alternative to seeing them at Doug Fir that night. And the show in the middle of that record store that afternoon would have been just as awesome if that was the first time I had ever seen tUnE-yArDs, but it wasn’t, and I will never be able to hear that band again without thinking about the time they played at my brother and my (mostly just my brother’s, I can’t take too much credit) venue, the Elephungeon, in tiny Boone, IA, and you could just tell then that this girl looping her voice and ukulele and drums by herself and playing keyboards with her toes deserved to be playing for nearly sold-out audiences at reasonably-sized venues that are not windowless basements in a small town in Iowa where no one really goes to shows because there aren’t any (I think there were only 10-12 people there). But she didn’t care, and she played just as hard then as she did on Thursday and she gave me a hug then and she still probably would have Thursday if I had said something about it.

So how are these two experiences different? Why is there some sense of pride over being at that Boone show that I feel like qualifies me as a real tUnE-yArDs fan over say, someone at Everyday Music yesterday afternoon seeing her for the first time, or all of the people at the Doug Fir show? Really there is no difference between the two. It’s music. You hear it, you like it, you listen to it. It doesn’t matter how or when you heard it, and it doesn’t matter how often or when you last listened to it. Why is that so hard for me to accept?

The Starfucker show that night at the Holocene was another example. Trent and I had the opportunity of opening for this band at a poorly attended Vaudeville Mews show in Des Moines. It was great. All of the 15-20 people who were there loved it and I kind of remember surrounding the band, who set up on the floor—people were dancing on the stage and on that ramp that leads up to behind the stage, and the sound was feeding back quite a bit but it kind of just added to this barrage of hazy dance pop music that was blaring outward from the band who were then 6 members deep, I think, and I had to politely ask my brother for all of the money we made for playing the show just so I could afford to buy their record. It’s the kind of show you remember regardless of what bands played and how big they eventually became.

Since then, Starfucker had a song featured on a Target commercial, and although they were selling out shows in Portland before that Des Moines show ever happened, it wasn’t until their next time through the Midwest that they received the kind of reception they normally do in Portland, and that was to a (sold out?) crowd at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Quite the step up.

So, when I found out that all three of the Starfucker shows this weekend sold out well in advance of the day they occurred, I wasn’t terribly surprised. I did, however, think to myself, “That would be way cool if I could see Starfucker the way I did at that Des Moines show every time that I saw them,” and that was what made me start thinking about how we define so much of the music we listen to with our experiences of it, and how we value those experiences and try and keep that band or that music within the bounds we shape for it based on those experiences, because it is nice to think it could always be or feel or sound as awesome “as it did when…”

The tUnE-yArDs show and the Starfucker show provide perfect examples of both ends of this sensation. The tUnE-yArDs show living up to the expectations I had created in my mind from the first time I saw her, and the Starfucker show selling out and making me wish it could still be as awesome as it was that first time. Therefore, when you are standing in the middle of a crowded room waiting to see a band you have seen before under, what you consider to be, better circumstances, how can you reasonably value this experience higher than the previous one? You probably can’t, and when making a judgment call about how everyone else is valuing the current experience based on their reactions as an audience, it would be hard not to cling to your previous memories and de-value this show as “not as good as that one time.”

It sucks, but that reminiscing that sounds a lot like elitist name-dropping is really just the desire to keep this music in that place we made for it where it can always mean as much to us as possible and fill us up our empty us out the same way it did when we first decided to build this place for it and call it our own.