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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2006/10/23
by John Zinkand

When it Rains, it Pours

As the Fall hits the Pacific Northwest, so does the rain. Luckily, this October and November, we seem to be getting a serious dose of musical sunshine. Most bands skip the Pacific Northwest in the summer so they can play more crowded and lucrative festival shows on the east coast and in the mid-west. The jam scene in Portland is admittedly lacking compared to some other musical Meccas like San Francisco, New York, or Boston, but every once in awhile we get a major injection of jam music mayhem. October started this trend that doesnt really show much of a sign of slowing down until around Thanksgiving. And, even then, it looks like December will have a few choice musical gifts to offer the rain soaked Northwestern jam fan, as well.
The deluge began last week when two jamband favorites played back to back mid-week shows. First up was the Dark Star Orchestra at the Crystal Ballroom on Wednesday night, followed by a scorching little show by The Breakfast on Thursday night at the Goodfoot. DSO is always entertaining, if not a wee bit on the pricey side for a cover band. A few months back I took in a show by Phish cover band The Phix and had been pleasantly surprised with their Phishiness that I decided to go catch DSO again for the first time in a few years. The show was solid, the vibe was kind, and the sound so uncannily similar to the Grateful Deads that it made the evening very worthwhile.
The Breakfast at the Goodfoot the following night costing a mere pittance of $7.00 was the real bargain. This newly transformed young trio from Connecticut strutted their stuff and then some for the small but extremely attentive crowd. The jams were explosive and exploratory, and the presence of many New Englanders in the crowd elevated the bands playing quite a bit. I had seen the Breakfast back when they were Psychedelic and a four piece. The changed name and decrease in personnel had no negative impact that I could detect. Guitarist Tim Palmieri has a mountain of effects and also some keyboards to mess around with in this newest version of the band. This was a long and powerful two set show that was very impressive and very high energy.
The very next week my personal favorites Umphreys McGee is in Seattle and Portland in the middle of the week. Umphreys is pushing the limits right now with their varied setlists, huge stockpile of original tunes, nice array of unexpected covers, extended improvisational explorations, and witty stage presence. They are a very polished band and have a mastery of dynamics unlike any other on the scene right now. Im hoping that they are not relegated to playing only one long set due to the fact that Lotus will open both of these shows (Lotus being a trancey Northwest favorite in their own right).
And just as two rocking nights of Umphreys will come to a close, the next night offers up a new face to the Pacific Northwest, Perpetual Groove. PGroove has a major buzz right now in the jamband world and they deserve all the accolades, in my opinion. They play a unique brand of highly melodic tunes than can devolve into trance-like jams or blistering guitar solos. Their strong and harmonious vocals add to an already solid instrumental show. This band has played most of the rest of the country pretty extensively already, so it is high time they grace the Northwest with their presence. Ive seen them multiple times at the High Sierra Music Festival, and am very excited to see what they can do when able to stretch out and play two full sets of music. With a strong word of mouth buzz and it being a Friday night show, the turn out and energy should both be good for this show at the Hawthorne Theater. Then, as if three consecutive night of music werent enough, Warren Haynes and Govt Mule gallop into town for a Sunday night show at the Roseland. The last time they were here with moe., the Mule really kicked ass. I am very excited for their two set return on Sunday night.
After a mid-week break the following week, reggae favorites John Browns Body grooves into town with an irie vibe and high energy show. JBB shows are some of my favorites because they are a big old reggae dance party. The last time they came through town they played the same venue, The Hawthorne Theater, and it was extremely loud. This is just the way reggae should be. The bass is palpable and can be felt rattling away at your ribcage while the vocals come searing through the stacks. Last time this show was uncomfortably packed, but the band ate it up. Get there early or risk being shut out of a very fun show. Then, only a few shorts days later, we get a Halloween show over at the Alladin Theater consisting of Mr. John Poppers band with a little help from DJ Logic. Halloween is a great time at any show, and this one promises to be unique and interesting. John Popper has not graced us with his presence for some time here in Portland, so dont miss what promises to be a fun and spooky Halloween show.
As of right now, the two shows I am most excited for in November are The Slip at Dantes and Adrian Belews show at the Aladdin. The Slip is always a fun band to see and never put on the same show twice. They can play a high energy dance party of a show, or slow things down and be more spacey and ethereal. Then Adrian Belews incredible skills on guitar need to be seen live by any fan of high powered electric guitar wizardry. Belew has played with King Crimson, Frank Zappa and the Talking Heads to name only a few, but he shines in his own right as a solo musician and composer. While his style is a bit on the atonal and bizarre side, he is always an animated and fun musician to witness live. And again, his guitar playing is simply out of this world.
Not to be outdone, December is even looking pretty good here, too, and there will probably be some good shows added between now and then. First up is the Charlie Hunter Trio at the Aladdin. Charlies jazzy sound and incredible eight string guitar prowess where he often plays the lead as well as the bass line is definitely something to look forward to. Plus, this time around he has two new counterparts playing along in drummer Simon Lott and pianist Erik Deutsch. Then a few days before Christmas, Zappa Plays Zappa rolls into town to play the Roseland. With one tour under their belt and new songs slated for this tour, this is probably the most anticipated show of the next few months for me. With the help of Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio, and Napoleon Murphy Brock in addition to Dweezil and company, this night of Franks music should be absolutely stellar. Then, before the year ends, longtime Pacific Northwest favorites Garaj Mahal roll into town for a show at one of my favorite venues, The Fez. It would be a crime to miss Fareed, Kai, Alan, and Eric playing the funky good jazz that they churn out so well. This extremely talented group of musicians dazzles the crowd each and every time Ive seen them play.

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