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Eugene Weekly : Music : 1.11.07

Calling All Rain Dogs

Eugene musicians honor the offbeat genius of Tom Waits

BY ADRIENNE VAN DER VALK

The rocks that tumble inside Tom Waits' legendary baritone escaped many years ago, set free by a stint of hard living and a few too many rounds with the bottle. Released into a world screaming for unadulterated expression, the byproducts of his self-reckoning have rattled around the souls of countless fans and fellow artists who were happy to have their nerves battered by the fallout. These willing victims of Tom Waits gather yearly in the Whiteaker neighborhood to enjoy his poetry and music filtered through the minds and hearts of the community's fans; Saturday marks the eighth annual Tom Waits Tribute Night, the third held at Sam Bond's Garage.

Tom Waits Tribute Night. 9:30 pm Saturday, 1/13. Sam Bonds Garage • $5. 21+ show • Come early!

Tribute night founder Marietta Bonaventure reflects on the development of this immensely popular event.

"It was a poetry reading originally," she says. "So much of his stuff is spoken word already, it wasn't much of a leap. There was maybe one guy who showed up with a guitar. It's evolved into whole bands showing up."

Over the years, the tribute gained so much attention that Bonaventure began signing artists up prior to the show and working with a house band to perform entire albums from Waits' mighty discography. This year, Mood Area 52 will perform Rain Dogs, a 1985 release featuring some of Waits' best-loved material. Including songs such as the creepy, minimalist "Clap Hands" and the rock ballad "Downtown Train" (later made super-famous by Rod Stewart), Rain Dogs encapsulates the breadth not only of Waits' subject matter but his deft ability to span musical genres like he invented each one himself.

"The choice of Rain Dogs is really cool because a lot of people list that as the album that got them into Tom Waits," Bonaventure says. The tribute's first set will be drawn from material spanning more than a dozen additional albums performed by a who's who of local talent.

"I don't know any other musician who has the body of work Tom Waits does," Bonaventure says. "He does everything from alt country to industrial." While there may be something for everyone in Waits' portfolio, the tribute emphasizes the artistic exercise most performers undertake with their selection. "[The tribute] is really about interpretation. The last thing I ever want to see is anyone doing a Tom Waits impersonation, but that almost never happens. He is so honest and authentic. Everything he synthesizes is so not contrived."

 

 

Immaculate Malkmus

Unstable no more!

BY CHUCK ADAMS

It's been a year and a half since Stephen Malkmus released Face the Truth, his third post-Pavement installment, and it's finally Eugene's turn to buckle down with Portland's resident singing-songwriting maestro for an evening of … hard rock? At least, that's how the WOW Hall is describing Malkmus and his on-again, off-again backing band the Jicks. We can't blame them; it's difficult to categorize an elder statesman of the indie scene without wandering into the murky terrain of "college rock" or "alternative."

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Entrance. 9 pm Tues. 1/16. WOW Hall,$15 adv., $15 dos.

Even more confusing is SM's relationship to the Jicks, who shared album credit with him on 2003's Pig Lib but were mysteriously dropped from Face. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Malkmus said, "I wanted to go back to more of a bossy style: in my house and at my leisure." Egos aside, Malkmus says he still wants to be a "team player."

If SM has a serious side, he sure has a hard time letting it gain any traction. He pours his soul into "No More Shoes," an eight-minute guitar freakout with the repeating mantra, "No more shoes / No more news / No more blues," a surefire rail against our information-saturated culture that ends with the tongue-in-cheek yelp: "I want my Alka-Seltzer!"

Malkmus, who became a dad and husband in 2005, is facing the age-old dilemma of growing up without growing stale. Appropriately, SM kicks off "Maledic-tion," his coda to the intersection of life and art, with a hearty farewell: "So long / Goodbye to the nervous apprehension / I certainly won't miss ya / My heart is unable to stay so unstable no more."

While Malkmus may be approaching stability, the same can't be said of the Jicks. With the departure of John Moens last October (now drumming full-time for The Decemberists), SM&TJ scored a powerhouse in Janet Weiss, recently freed from Sleater-Kinney — but still drumming for Quasi. The verdict is still out on whether PDX indie-inbreeding has been a blessing or a dilution, but one thing is certain: Weiss' addition propelled SM&TJ into the recording studio this past fall, meaning this month's West Coast circuit could be a (most welcome) proving ground for new material.    

 

Preternatural Vibrations

BY STEVEN SAWADA

It took some time before people really took notice — several months to be exact — but finally someone picked up Prayer of Death by Entrance (aka Guy Blakeslee). Early this past summer, Blakeslee self-released his latest psychedelic, electric-blues gospel to very little fanfare. The album was both solid and visionary, melding blues rock dirges with jangly psychedelic incantations. But because of its limited promotions, it only reached the ears of a few diehard fans.

Early on in his career, Blakeslee alerted the world to his gifts as a precocious blues guitar player; on his previous albums (such as his debut, The Kingdom of Heaven Must be Taken by Storm), Blakeslee revealed his keen understanding of the dynamics and subtleties of the blues, acknowledging both its cathartic and depressive powers. But while his previous efforts paid homage to the acoustic work of legends such as Charley Patton and Bukka White, on Prayer of Death Blakeslee tempers his passion for the blues with an otherworldly, electric maelstrom that invokes the spirits of the Delta as well as some transient ghosts from North Africa and the Balkans.

The few media outlets that did champion the record, most notably Mojo, dublab.com and Pitchfork, undoubtedly influenced the modest psych-rock label Tee Pee Records to release the album. Hopefully now more people will have the opportunity to experience Entrance's transcendental, hypnotic vibrations. Paz Lenchantin of A Perfect Circle, the violinist who contributed string arrangements on Prayer of Death, will accompany Blakeslee onstage. — Steven Sawada

 

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Portland-based duo Talkdemonic has gained popularity over the last couple years with their melding of programmed beats with banjo, synths, guitar, viola and Wurlitzer. Talkdemonic creates at once delicate and powerful ambient music that uses steady beats to drive the songs and stringed instruments to layer them with meaning.

According to the band's bio, Kevin O' Conor started the music project back in December 2002 as a "way of expressing an obsession with instrumental hip hop and electronic music." With the addition of Lisa Molinaro, recently of The Decemberists, the duo found a way of vocalizing thoughts and images without the use of human voices. Instead, stories are told through plucked strings, crashing cymbals, wispy chimes and moody piano notes.

Talkdemonic's latest release, Beat Romantic, takes some getting used to. It's undeniably lush and beautiful as it plays quietly as background noise. But turn it up a notch, close your eyes and see what happens. Suddenly images of frozen lakes, vast forests and horizons and starry nights appear one by one, each star twinkling in time with the song.

Talkdemonic's sound functions much in the same way that a good movie scene without dialogue does. Both use perfectly chosen instruments, played at the right moment, to create sweeping emotion without any words. If you crave music that makes you feel like you're in a movie, you need Talkdemonic in your life.

Bright Red Paper opens the show. The quartet's high-energy, ambient noise makes a perfect addition. Talkdemonic and Bright Red Paper play at 9 pm Thursday, Jan. 18 at Sam Bond's Garage. 21+ show. $5. — Amanda Burhop

 

What's a Hellgate?

If Seattle-based rock band H is for Hellgate's name seems confusing, then imagine people's response to their original name, Henkensiefken. Founding member Jamie Henkensiefken changed the name back in 2003 because she was tired of people mispronouncing it and asking her to spell it out. (I don't blame her. I'm still working on the pronunciation.)

H is for Hellgate

Having played music under the new name for over three years now, the quartet is now ready to release their next record, due in February, on Stereotype Records. Their music is straightforward rock, loaded with heavy guitar. Henkensiefken's moody vocals and socially conscious lyrics recall the early low-fi sound of Sleater-Kinney.

Some musicians tense up when asked about their musical influences. Worried that their reputation is at stake, they pull names right from Pitchforkmedia.com. They choose safe bands, ones that don't call their coolness into question. This is how I know Henkensiefken is the real deal. She admits to learning guitar at age 12 to be like her country music idols The Judds. It just doesn't get any lamer, does it? I recall having a soft spot for "Love Can Build a Bridge," but those days are over, just as they were when Henkensiefken first heard Nirvana.

Since her days as a budding country starlet, Henkensiefken and the rest of H have been steadily playing shows and perfecting their brand of intricate song structure and intimate lyrics layered with a garage-band sound. H is for Hellgate plays with Ingredients at 10 pm Saturday, Jan. 13 at Diablo's Downtown Lounge. $5. 21+ show. — Amanda Burhop

 

California Dreaming

The Bittersweets

Some bands take years to turn out a finely-crafted, well-honed album. Not Oakland, Calif.'s The Bittersweets, together just a bit more than a year. Pop in their debut CD, The Life You Always Wanted, and you might be amazed at how fully formed it is. The 11 tracks are polished to a dusty luster, full of easy harmonies and thoughtful lyrics that, while personal, aren't nauseating singer/songwriter confessionals.

Credit Chris Meyers, the vocalist/guitarist who penned each tune, and Hannah Prater, an experienced vocalist with a, well, bittersweet touch of sun and shade in her voice. Bassist Daniel Schacht and keyboardist Jerry Becker add dexterous backing, giving the band a rootsy feel that's more city than country. Add in drummer Steve Bowman, a former member of Counting Crows and Third Eye Blind, and it's easy to see why The Bittersweets are already turning critical heads.

Honest prose and clean arrangements really shine, from the sad ballad (and closing track) "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" to the more raucous "Adam." It's not a party CD, but one you'll really want to listen to, and which will reveal greater depth each time.

Indie label Virt Records (home of Vienna Teng) has discovered The Bittersweets, poising them to quickly break out of the San Francisco scene. Listening to this music may not give you the life you always wanted, but it just may be the CD you've always wanted: one to fit snugly between Cowboy Junkies and The Jayhawks.

The Bittersweets play with J Reily and Adam Comer at 10 pm Thursday, Jan. 18 at Luckey's. 21+ show. $3-$5. — Vanessa Salvia