Classic College Camera
It’s somewhat of a shame Camera Obscura aren’t playing Eugene in the fall. There’s something about them that evokes lovesick students daydreaming out rain-streaked classroom windows or riding their retro Schwinn bikes across campus through piles of autumnal leaves and puddles, backs laden with book bags, scarves wound tightly around their necks. In other words, Camera Obscura is a quintessential college band, and Eugene is a quintessential college town. Even though the band is passing through in the spring, it should be a great match.
Like fellow Glaswegians Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura assimilates the pop music styles of 1960s U.K. radio into its sound, creating an infectious blend that is the definition of precious in the best sense of the word. Up until now. Belle & Sebastian have stolen Camera Obscura’s thunder stateside, enchanting the hearts of dreamy, American students. Now it seems to be Camera Obscura’s time to shine.
Together since 1996 with a variety of lineup changes, Camera Obscura released My Maudlin Career on 4AD Records to rave reviews in April 2009. The title alone tells you this is a band with that droll sense of smart, self-deprecating humor that only groups from the U.K. seem to be able to pull off so effortlessly. They’ve returned to the U.S. a year later for a victory lap, and Eugene is lucky enough to be a tour stop this time around.
On My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura plays with ’60s girl group sounds, Northern soul horn arrangements, playful Dusty Springfield attitude and Phil Spector-style atmospheric production value that makes everything shimmer and shine. Tying it all together are lead singer Tracyanne Campbell’s sweet, melancholy vocals and pithy, literate lyrics. On the title track she sings, “You kissed me on the forehead / Now this kiss is giving me a concussion.” This is the kind of romantic bait and switch she does well: singing for smart girls and the boys who love them.
Camera Obscura plays at 8 pm Friday, April 23, at the WOW Hall. $15 adv., $18 door. — William Kennedy
Chervona, My Darling
What is the essence of life? If you ask members of Portland’s Chervona, they might tell you it’s “gypsy passion and unrestrained love of life spilling into the night like red wine.” That’s a liberal translation of what “chervona” means — but according to the band, “chervona” is the essence of life, translating to “red” and or “beautiful” in Ukrainian and Polish: “chervona vino” is what you’d say if you wanted red wine; a “chervona devchina” is a beautiful girl.
The most important thing to remember, though, is that Chervona means Balkan-gypsy-punk-dance music. Well-known in Portland, Chervona are making their fourth visit to Diablo’s in Eugene. The 7-piece band — comprised of immigrants from Russia, Armenia, Kazakh, Poland, Brazil and Argentina — regularly pack in crowds up north for a sweaty, nonstop dance experience.
If you’re familiar with Gogol Bordello or the Red Elvises, you already have a sense of the dance madness a band like this can create. Chervona is a bit different than those two bands, however, as frontman Andreyshka Pitersky plays traditional Russian military songs, folk songs and drinking songs (in English and Russian), but allows influences to sneak in from all of the other band members’ ethnic backgrounds. Throw in some accordion, trumpet, tuba and maybe a black-and-white-stripes-clad mime for the makings of an unforgettable evening. And whether your Russian accent is real or fake, songs like “Girlfriends Are Pain In the Ass” or “I Know Who Is Hiding Osama Bin Laden” are easy to understand.
Chervona and Mood Area 52 play at 10 pm Saturday, April 24, at Diablo’s. 21+. Free.
— Vanessa Salvia
One for the Humans
It’s been 40 years since Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn released his first, self-titled, solo album. He’ll celebrate that milestone in June when a diverse collection of musicians gathers to pay tribute to him. Recording artists such as Bare Naked Ladies, Judy Collins, Jimmy Buffett, Michael Hedges, Tom Rush and The Jerry Garcia Band have covered Cockburn’s songs testament to the admiration and praise bestowed by his peers.
As rendered in lyrics of “Pacing the Cage” “I’ve proven who I am so many times / the magnetic strips worn thin” Cockburn has been through as many style changes as decades. In the ’70s, Cockburn’s guitar work and songwriting skills won him an early enthusiastic following. Raised an agnostic, his early songs featured Biblical metaphors and reflected his Christian beliefs. He transitioned from philosophical folkie into a socially conscious rocker of the ’80s, most notably in his controversial and bitter “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.” In the ’90s Cockburn came full circle to a more introspective feel recalling his earlier work, but shifted his attention to more international political issues. The world music influences found in Cockburn’s arrangements reflect his global awareness.
Over the years there have been several live recordings of Cockburn, but none like his 2009 release, Slice O Life, which captures Cockburn in his finest form solo, an artist at the prime of his musical maturity, his thought provoking, gripping and often emotional lyrics brilliantly ride every wave of his seemingly effortless guitar prowess.
Bruce Cockburn plays at 8 pm Sunday, April 25, at the WOW Hall. $32 adv., $35 door.
— Blake Phillips