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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2002/07/01
by John Zinkand

Flying Solo Through the Galaxy with Galactic

I finish up my dinner on this Friday evening with thoughts of Galactic on my mind. It’s been a few weeks since Jazzfest and I am finally feeling fully recovered and have the renewed desire to see some live tunes. I am psyched that I’ll be seeing Galactic tonight in addition to the great little Trey show I saw at the Salem Armory on Wednesday night. I’ve been working some long hours this week, but I still have the urge to go out. Work hard play hard.

None of my friends are game tonight. My wife is very tired from a long busy work week and some of my friends are in California for the Mountain Aire festival. It doesn’t stop me, however, and I drive to the show solo. I park my car in the usual spot I use when I go to the Crystal. It’s behind the building on 12th Ave. and I can usually determine how packed the show will be by how many parking spaces are still available. I arrive around 10:00pm even though the show is scheduled to start at 9:00pm, so it should be hard to find a space on a Friday night. Tonight is the first night of Memorial Day Weekend, however, and the Mountain Aire Festival is also going on, so I am not that surprised to see many open spaces. I park the car and slip some terrible devious unmentionables into my shoe so as not to be detected by the door friskers. With a smile on my face, I walk down the hill to the entrance of the Crystal Ballroom.

As I arrive near the entrance, a woman asks me for a dollar for a cup of coffee. I turn my head and tell her I have no change, and thank you. I wonder why I thank her but keep on walking towards the door. I stop at the ticket window and ask if there are any tickets left for sale. I know there probably are since there is no line whatsoever and only a few folks milling around outside, but I ask anyway. The girl looks up at me and says twenty dollars so I open my wallet and give her the crisp bill.

I say hi to the door man as I walk inside. A frisker pats me down making sure to feel each and every item in both of my pockets fully and completely. I don’t get the full shoulder, waist, socks, and leg treatment tonight so I figure it must be a pretty slow night. I smuggle my vile federally banned organic substances and devilish paraphernalia in yet again. I love getting stuff over on the man and I smile.

Now it’s up all these goddamn steps -three full flights of ’em. I stop on the second floor that has the entrance to Lola’s nightclub hot spot, some bathrooms, and an ATM. There’s a connecting room here where they brew some of the famed McMenamin’s microbrew. The large brewing pots are painted. One has Jerry’s face and the others have various colorful psychedelic designs. I love trippy breweries. I jet into the bathroom and take a quick whizz so I can start things off on an empty tank.

As my feet bring me to the top of the final flight of stairs the guy stamps my hand and I enter the spacious ballroom. Galactic is on stage in full force as even the Houseman is present and belting out some tunes. I know this means that they are at the middle to tail end of the set as Theryl usually comes out to mellow things out before the band closes up the set with some jammin’ numbers. I take off my jacket and stuff it under one of the old wooden benches that line the one wall of the main dance floor. I push the jacket completely under the bench until it touches the bottom of the long dark curtains that hang all the way from the very tall ceiling to the famed wooden bouncing dance floor of the Crystal. I look up for a landmark so I can remember which bench it’s under, then walk toward the back of the room and the twenty one and over section. There are many people dancing on the floor, but it’s far from packed. Everyone has lots of space in which to groove. It’s definitely much less crowded than it could be on a Friday night and this pleases me. I smile.

The band’s playing some mellow funky grooves as I wait in the line to get into the adult area which is inconveniently located in the back of the room. If you are of legal drinking age and want to have a few adult beverages while enjoying your live music at the Crystal, you must do so from the back of the room. I take a left turn as soon as I go into the drinking section because I know the bar at this end of the room is much less crowded and seemingly less known aboutnot to mention the fact that this end is closer to the stage providing better sound and visuals. I grab a jack-n-coke and enjoy the show. People are swaying and grooving slightly harder as Theryl leaves the stage and the band picks things up a couple of notches. One guy to my right must be totally slammed drunk or heffed up on some sort of goofballs because he’s jumping up and down and pumping his fist in the air like a possessed demon on crank. His large friend sees that I am alarmed and tries to settle him down a little. It works, the guy chills, and everyone breathes a little sigh of relief in our corner of the room.

I finish up my first beverage as the band is really rockin’ it. Ben Ellman’s sax is wailing while Rich Vogel’s Hammond is squashing out thick liquidy grooves. Stanton Moore is thumping up and down on the drums big time to the point of almost hopping, standing, and dancing as he drums. I turn around and ask the bartender for another jack-n-coke. He pours the drink and I hand over the my money. As I turn back around towards the stage sipping at my alcoholic concoction, I notice the spacey effect that bassist Robert Mercurio is using. It certainly does give this groove a galactic feel. Jeff Raines is always fun to watch play the guitar and tonight he is doing some great wah-wah rhythm work and some ripping tight little leads. The band is locked into a sick funk groove and the place is thumping when they abruptly end and announce set break.

I finish my drink and order another. I have no one to talk to so I walk over to the entrance area of the adult section and watch people come and go as I drink my third beverage. It’s humorous watching people who are baffled by the silly drinking rules at the Crystal. An older woman tries to leave the twenty one and over section with a food item and a non-alcoholic beverage and is stopped by the drinking section goons. She tells him its not alcohol and he tells her it doesn’t matter, that if you buy it in the twenty one and over section it must be consumed there, as well. The woman decides to leave her beverage on the little table near the entrance and eat her food in the all ages section. She returns when her food is finished and drinks her beverage in the adult section. A girl tries to leave the drinking area with a bottle of water in her hand and is stopped. She shows the guy that the water is still unopened but he takes it form here and twists the cap a little just be sure for himself. How ridiculous. I finish my third drink, toss it in the trash can, and walk to the all ages section towards the front left hand side of the stage.

My new mission is finding someone with a lighter. I remember everything else, but not a freakin’ lighter. Jeez! I spot a tall dude who looks like he might be with flame and I ask him for the lighting instrument. He informs me in a slow drone that all he has are matches. I accept the matches and light up my batty one-hitter that looks like a cigarette. Although it gets the job done, I can taste and feel the slight sulfur burn in my throat. I thank the guy and walk towards the middle of the dance floor in search of a butane fueled fire source.

I set my sights on a little dude that looks kind of hippie-ish. He’s got longer hair, some sort of patchwork shirt and tie-dye, and looks to be fairly young so I figure he’s a good bet to be holding some lighter action. Hippie dudes always have lighters so they can be cookin’ up their glass bowls at any given minute and younger people are more apt to smoke cigarettes for whatever reason and, consequently, be carrying lighters. I score and he hands me the lighter. I fully light the tasty sweet greenery that is stuffed inside my batty. The booze mixes nicely with the pot and I feel very pleasant, very satisfied to be alive. I offer the guy a bat-hit as a kind gesture for the use of his lighter, but he turns me down. He immediately asks if I could pack one for his female acquaintance, and I happily oblige. We smile at each other as the band takes the stage and everyone starts dancing again.

The funky driving grooves they churn out are amazing. People really start to let loose as there is plenty of room to kick up one’s dancing shoes. Elbows are pumping and legs are shaking all around me. I jump up and down, sway side to side, and shuffle my feet to the music that ebbs and flows in intensity and style. We go from a repetitive groove that increases power with every new layer played to a slower free space jam with lots of weird effects on the bass, guitar, and keys. There are bass solo interludes with mad effects that seemingly start new grooves as the entire band eventually jumps in and follows suit. I sweat vigorously and just can’t seem to stop dancing. These guys are really cooking tonight!

The Houseman comes out decked in his signature slick duds. Tonight the color gray is in vogue, apparently, as he is wearing a gray suit complete with shiny pants and gray gloves. He thanks the Portland fans and says hi to some girls from backstage set break and some kids in the front row who are also dressed to the nines in suits, hats, and ties. I am thankful for his slow rich vocals to take things down and give me a little break. The sweat is rolling off my head now and I wipe my brow on my shoulders. I enjoy Theryl’s singing and slowly sway as my energy rebuilds and I cool off a little.

After some more fierce dancing in the wake of the Houseman’s absence , I am pretty tired and thirsty. I know I should probably buy a bottle of water, but my feet are inexplicably guiding me back over to the bar area at the back of the room. I buy one more jack-n-coke and lean against the wall near the bar as I sip it down. Refreshing. I look over to the wooden bench and spy an open spot. Happily, I slide onto the bench and enjoy taking a load off my feet and some back support. I suck on my drink some more while I relax in the back of the room. As I sit there smiling, a girl suddenly jumps up from the far end of the bench and gets a moist towel from the bar. She wipes the towel on the bench, dragging it all the way up to near where I am sitting. Uh-oh. I reach around to feel that my shirt and pants are very wet. They are so wet that I can ring out a little of this liquid from my shirt and proceed to do so . Slowly, I bring my hand forward and hold it up to my nose. What a relief, it’s just beer (not puke or soda pop). I just wish the girl would have stopped me before I sat down or said something as soon as she saw me instead of just giving me the hint by using the towel after the fact. Oh well, no big deal. I take off the shirt (I have a t-shirt on underneath it), finish up my last drink, and head to the dance floor and the benches where I put my jacket when I first came in.

There is plenty of open bench space that is not soaked in Terminator Stout here and I grab a seat and stretch out. I lean back and enjoy having the space to put both arms out to the sides and kick my feet forward as I lean back and listen to the music. The second set ends and I find my jacket, sit back down, then put the jacket in my lap. The band comes out for the encore. The first tune is a short mellow ditty. I am tempted to leave, but they start into a second encore that is much more upbeat. This song develops into the show stopper of the evening. The energy that is worked up is amazing. The entire room is bouncing up in down in unison at one point mirroring the actions of the bass player and drummer. The band is smiling and slamming mercilessly as the entire room jumps up and down as one in this cosmic splooge of musical energy. The song ends and I quickly walk down the stairs before anyone else.

As I turn left and head back up the street to where my car is parked, I am stopped by a couple guys sitting on a blanket laid out on the Portland city sidewalk. They have a little burner and are obviously cooking up some sort of food. This seems weird to me for such a small show where there is no real scene of which to speak. The guy with the dreads tells me he has tasty organic veggie grilled quesadillas with cheese. The short haired guy assures me that they are quite tasty and contain only the freshest ingredients. Their sales pitch works and I walk to my car while snacking on the delicious treat. I ball up the tinfoil when I am finished with the food and place it on the middle of the roof of a VW Beetle that is parked near my car. As I drive off into the night I smile yet again, satisfied by an enjoyable evening of music.

Author’s Note: Yes, I know it sounds like I consumed a lot of drinks to be all jumping in my car and driving home right after the show. But, if one does the math they will actually see that I was well below the legal driving limit of .08. I weigh 235 lbs. and was at the show for at least 2 hours (and I was barely even baked at all by the time I had to drive home).

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