Bardo Pond, Ten Ton Chicken, Jerry Joseph, The New Deal, Herbie Hancock, The Motet * New Town, New Venues, New Bands, One Week- 3/11-16*
Find Yourself a City To Live In
Here it was, finally upon me, the busiest music week since I had been residing in Portland, Oregon. I have been here a month and a half and had up until this week taken in shows by the Northwest’s own Living Daylights, Robert Randolph, Sex Mob, Kooken and Hoomen, Railroad Earth, Systemwide, Tye North Trio, Yonder Mountain, and Ramblin’ Rose. Not too bad, even compared with the east coast. The amount of quality venues in this city far exceeds what I was accustomed to as a resident of the Baltimore/DC area, and in this week alone I would see four new venues and five new bands.March 11
Fursaxa, Bardo Pond
Bardo Pond was described as being similar to being “beaten to death with a fluffy pillow.” This I thought would be something I could definitely enjoy. As I walked into the Blackbird Theater I did not think of a theater, but rather a bar, similar to many others in this town. Instead of one room there were two dance areas, one raised and behind the other, the lower level is where the bar is located. The first band I saw was in fact one woman who created somewhat of a trippy effect through a flute, guitar, and piano among other things. She played slowly and sang in a high pitched squeal that may have grown on me had I seen more than her last three songs. I was told t! he she was from Philadelphia, PA just like the headliners.
Bardo Pond, hailing from the city of brotherly love, were described to me as the forefathers in droning, ambient music. I had one CD and was somewhat impressed by their ability to satiate my need for a melody, even when I could find none. They have been around for more then ten years and they had flocks of fans, many seeming to know many or all of the band members. Fronted by a female vocalist, Isobel Sollenberger, there were also two guitars, bass and drums. They started with what reminded me more of Black Sabbath than of Pink Floyd. They were rocking out hard, and I don’t think very many in this, dare I say overly stoned crowd, were ready. They played three songs, none of which I knew, that were in a clearly heavy metal vein. The vocalist was yelling as loud as she could, but yet was inaudible. After requesting for a third time that the vocals be turned up, they were and a somewhat softer side was revealed. Here was what I had been told about, and it was soothing and good. The next four or five songs were slow, the guitar player on the right, played daredevil leads, and the others held down the drone. The guitar players are brothers John and Michael Gibbons. Though I do not know which is which, one played rhythm and the other loud, distinctive leads, both were very good. The bass player, Clint Takeda, sang a slow song next that sounded like “House of the Rising Sun” but with different words and no chorus. It was out of place, but yet totally perfect, sung almost as a poem. One more tune, an encore and they had wrapped it up. I was told later that their new album is very heavy metal influenced, and I could tell. The Blackbird was a very nice place to see a show, lots of nice dr, but I could see it getting crowded for bigger shows.
Ten Ton Chicken
Wednesday night, I took the bus downtown to the newly renovated Fez Ballroom. Arriving a little late, I walked towards a small sign with just the word “fez” written on it, making it pretty hard to find. I was told the band was playing on the third floor, and at this point I didn’t realize how low key of a night this was going to be. I was told that the band would go on at 11:00 and as I got up the stairs, it was 11:08, but TTC were on and were jamming hard. On the third floor you initially walk past a bar which serves no draft beer, pretty rare in Portland, but has a full liquor bar, also somewhat rare here. This venue is similar to a small Crystal Ballroom, minus the drinking “pen” at the Crystal and of course the “Dance On Air” floor. Then as I proceeded into the ballroom, I saw an empty room with beds on the sides with huge puffy pillows, and maybe four long couches spread through the middle of the dance floor. These couches were not in the way of anyone, since there was not one person dancing. I sat down on an empty bed with a little table to my side, and as I settled in with a cream stout, I realized that this was as close to home as I could be while still going out. I counted the people on the couches and beds and there were fourteen of us total, but the band was still going off. One horn player and a lot of funk, and they had most of the crowd wanting to jump out of their seats, but no one so much as stood. Then just as it was getting going, everyone left. I mean everyone it was just me and the band and a sound guy. It was only 12:20, but I jumped on the side of the band and took over the couches in the middle of the floor, and just as I had sat down to get the night going the band slowed it down and said, “good night thank you very much.” Well I guess they had seen the rest of the crowd leave as I had, and were ready to follow. I will definitely check out this funky San Francisco band again, hopefully somewhere where the dance floor is hopping. Come on Portland, get out to see these local and semi local bands.
Jerry Joseph solo
Bitter End Tavern
The confines of the Bitter End felt, very comfortable, and for never having seen Jerry Joseph so did the music and the fans. With a bar as you walk in and a small performance area to the right, this place is best suited for acoustic or jazz bands. The crowd was seated on couches and huddled around booths to see a local legend, Jerry Joseph. He played out of his vast catalog of songs about getting drunk and yes, getting sober. He smoked a cigarette the entire night which he put, Claptonesque, in his guitar when he would play. Everyone seemed to know all the words, and when he sang a line about going to Switzerland everyone cheered, letting me know that many were part of the family, known as the Jackmormons. He played 2 sets of short acoustic songs as he swung his legs side to side from his stool and drank red bull. When a string broke on his guitar, three people went to his aid, and he still seemed as comfortable as he did at the beginning of the night when he took off his shoes. He chuckled at them as they ran around frantically, because he knew he would finish the song soon enough. To be honest, this overstuffed man looked like Bruce Willis playing an acoustic guitar, but he had the soft confidence in his voice of James Taylor. By the end of the night the crowd had seen their man and I was happy just to have had the chance to see him with all of them.
New Deal, Herbie Hancock
Having been to another Roseland, 3000 miles away, I was ready to see what this one had to offer. It was described to me as similar to the 930 club in Washington, DC, and that was exactly correct. They even have metal detectors as you walk in the door, something I am sure is not far off for the 930. The Roseland has a bar downstairs and the theater is upstairs. It is one large room, with a bar in the back, which was overcrowded and understaffed all night. There are four poles in the corners of the dance floor which got in many peoples way throughout the night. My guess is that it holds 1500 people, making it by far the biggest venue I would be in this week. There is a balcony with maybe 4 rows of seats. I stayed away from the balcony as I was told it can get “extra” smoky. By the time we came in at 9:00, the balcony was more or less filled, and I knew that it would be a special, but packed night.
The only band I would be seeing this week that I had seen in the past, The New Deal, was up first and they are certainly, one of a kind. I am telling you, don’t knock it till you try it. Not if you like to dance. Most of you know this already. The first song was the one we all know, “Back in The Middle” if you don’t know it, think of the one New Deal groove you do know.. yep that’s the one that they were playing. They then said that they had just gotten in on a plane and that was their soundcheck. They then played a new groove which had the whole place bouncing. Then they mentioned what an honor it was to be playing with Herbie Hancock, and that they had time for one more. During this tune they worked the melody in to double and seemingly triple time until the whole Roseland dance floor were believers in The New Deal. It was good to be up front again going crazy at a New Deal show. I felt at home, and I was smiling wide as they promised to come back to Portland real soon. Thumbs up Canucks, we like you guys.
Next was the legend, from Miles’ bands of the 60’s, the Headhunters in the 70’s, and well “Rockit” from the 80’s, playing a grand piano and various other keyboards, he was announced as the original “Rockit” man. He has a somewhat new album out, “Future 2 Future” which was produced by Bill Laswell, in which he has incorporated a DJ into his sound. Who would have guessed it, right? So now the guy who was far ahead of his time was seemingly now at least a little behind the times. But, do not fear, as he took the stage with his band, they played tunes comprising the new album, with the focus still on the funk and improvisation. Between every song or two, Herbie would come out and do a little speech, usually about music and the future, some of these I recognized from the album, others I did not. He also explained that on this tour he was using visuals, in the form of a screen behind the stage. The images in all honesty were similar in every way to the random imaging you might find on Windows media player, but none the less did the job of drawing any wayward attention their way. He then explained that they were also using surround sound, as he had DJ Silk show his skills as the house sound went literally all the way around the place. When the DJ scratched, even with all the other speakers off, it was barely audible, and I realized why the surround sound had been so under whelming throughout the evening. Oh well, good idea just bad execution. Herbie, at the piano truly looked like a master of this band and he shone bright throughout the evening in his trademark tux. You could feel every note he played deep in your spine and although it might have been because he was turned up twice as loud as everyone else, I choose to think that is the way it would have sounded/felt anyway. One last jam found it’s way in the beginning of “Rockit” and the place erupted. They only played through the theme for about two minutes and then Herbie and the band finally left the stage after nearly 2 hours. As they re-emerged, they dropped into the familiar chords of “Watermelon Man”, and followed that with two more ultra funky numbers with which I was not familiar. It was at this point that the whole place had been transformed into the! club much like I would expect Herbie had envisioned when he booked this tour of smaller clubs. It was nearly perfect, as most in attendance having only known Herbie from the 80’s onward, were able to witness the new works of a living legend.
Back at the Fez, this time for a near sold out show on Saturday night, and man what a transformation. No more couches in the dance floor, just a pack of maddened Motet fans fresh from Boulder. My first time seeing the Motet, and the first song was well it wasn’t in English and it was pretty good. About 5 minutes into this first tune they broke into tribal dance mode as all members exchanged their instruments for percussion devices and rallied the troops. This would not be the last time this would happen, in fact it would happen probably twice in every song to come. After this, they switched to an English song, something ! they seemed to do all night. And this was the first of many songs that I will dub the Everything songs. For any of you who have seen the 90’s, East Coast band, Everything, you will know that while they are good, they can lay it on kind of heavy. This means that they are the kind of music you want to put on when you feel like a suburban gangster out with your lady. This however, does not mean we were not in for a good dance party. We certainly were. The Fez had come alive as the sounds, sometimes even chirps, coming from the stage moved the place to fevered pitch. Just as I thought the show was getting going, they said they! were going to take a set break. This was going to be a late night at the Fez. They were recording, at least in part, a live album that night, and when they came back on at 1:15, they were again all playing percussion, but this time they emerged on the actual dance floor with two female dancers. This went on for maybe a half hour as they worked their way in and out of chants, unfamiliar to me, and accompanied at all times by five percussionists. Around 2:00 I decided I would head out and call it a night. I definitely enjoyed the Motet and the fans were great. I am sure they will have! many successful returns to Portland, if the turn out Saturday was any indication.
All in all, not a bad week. I think I like this city.