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Eugene Weekly : Music : 7.22.10




Great Big Sea in a Halfshell

It may seem tough to trek to Roseburg’s Stewart Park for a Music on the Halfshell concert, but that pales in comparison to the distance Great Big Sea covered to get here: from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada’s easternmost province, from a city on the eastern edge of the south-easternmost portion of the island. That distance has proven to be no career barrier for this popular group, now in its 18th year. 

As might be expected from a band hailing from the oldest English-founded settlement in North America (year-round settlement since 1600 or so) much of Great Big Sea’s repertoire is traditional folk music and sea shanties from their isolated corner of the world. But the first thing they got right was not approaching these songs as set-in-amber gems. They rearranged them, giving them an energetic breath of pop life and a jig in their step. 

In recent years, the band has deliberately expanded the spheres of influence they allow into each song. At the dawn of their 10th album, the just-released Safe Upon The Shore, a new vibe has entered their music. The album was partially recorded in New Orleans, and the brass traditions of that town strongly influenced “Don’t Wanna Go Home.” The musical traditions of the entire delta region seem to permeate the sound, from Southern folk/rock harmonies to a Creole lullaby, while rubbing elbows with more traditional Newfoundland fare such as ‘Yankee Sailor” and “Road To Ruin.” Great Big Sea plays Music on the Halfshell at 7 pm Tuesday, July 27, at Stewart Park, Roseburg. Free.— Vanessa Salvia



Get Down (Even in a Crowd)

The first strains of Jesse Meade’s new CD are instantly appealing. The guitar plucking on “I Get Down (When There’s No One Around)” has a little lilt to it, the kind that puts a spring in your step so you can dust every corner and wash every dish without noticing the time’s gone by. There is nothing complicated or urgent about it, just a gentle fingerstyle picking that softens the edges of a 95-degree day. And admittedly, I have no trouble relating to the lyrics about letting loose only when no one can see you. 

While this isn’t the 29-year-old Meade’s first CD, it is the first one he hasn’t produced himself. And he’s hardly a newbie at performing. On Aug. 7, he’s performing at this year’s Whiteaker Block Party, which he’s played at and helped organize since its inception four years ago. One month later, Meade celebrates his three-year anniversary of playing in Eugene every Tuesday, at Luckey’s the first two years and at Cornucopia for the past year. 

When performing, Meade plays an array of original material and soul and R&B cover songs. He wrote all the songs on this CD, and they’re each a perfect match for his mellow, raspy voice. Meade sings sweetly about love, hope and friendship, asking the same questions that everyone, really, wants the answers to — though when the person asking has such a comforting voice, you don’t mind not getting any answers. Meade’s CD will be on sale for half price ($5) this night only. Jesse Meade plays at 9:30 pm Tuesday, July 27, at Cornucopia on 5th Ave. Free. — Vanessa Salvia



Music with a Mission

Enjoy a sampling of bands from around the world while supporting sustainability at Tayberry Jam. Located at Cougar Mountain Farm in Saginaw, 20 miles south of Eugene, this musical smorgasbord and sustainability summit benefits orchard farms and the environment. Proceeds go the creation of an educational resort on Cougar Mountain where people can study and practice sustainable living.

Music lovers and environmental enthusiasts alike can come for the day or buy a weekend camping pass. Musical genres run the gamut from reggae, hip hop and rock to bluegrass and spoken word. Local favorites and international names are among those performing; the full lineup includes Queen Omega, Pablo Moses, Thomas Mapfumo (pictured), Marv Ellis, Medium Troy, Bazil Rathbone and more. 

Mapfumo is one of the area’s most important African musicians. Born in 1945, Mapfumo has been developing his heartfelt blend of reggae, jazz, pop and soul since high school. He refers to his politically driven Zimbabwean music as “chimurenga music,” which means “struggle” in the Shona culture. His powerful music speaks out against the government, and his songs are now banned on Zimbabwean state radio. Later this month, he plans to release Exile, an album he has been working on for three years.

Speakers at the Jam include Winona LaDuke (discussing Native American sustainable living), Tao Orion and Abel Kloster (discussing the 100-mile diet) and Felicia Colden of the Willamette Valley Sustainable Food Alliance.

Tayberry Jam takes place July 23-25 at Cougar Mountain. See tayberryjam.com for details and ticket info. $65-$80. Kids under 12 free. — Catherine Foss



A Truly American Noise

American Hotel, the latest release from The Brook Lee Catastrophe, is the first of two companion-piece albums that the band describes as “the soundtrack to the night of your life … and the cold morning after.” Hailing from Long Beach, Calif., The Brook Lee Catastrophe makes a truly American noise, mixing the exhilaration of a cross-country drive with the loneliness of America’s wide-open spaces. 

Vocalist and primary songwriter Lee is backed by a band that can create lush, romantic backdrops or reach epic heights on fist-pumping anthems that evoke U2 at times. Lee mixes Ryan Adam’s homespun drawl with the earnest sincerity of ‘90s bands like the Counting Crows or the Gin Blossoms, and adds a touch of the Boss’s blue-collar storytelling. 

In “Come on Strong,” Lee sings of coming on strong “like a freight train” over an infectiously chugging beat, while guitars and violins soar. He laments, “It’s a sin to be sincere” on “It’s a Sin,” a song about a girl who doesn’t “care anymore.” But Lee knows she does. He writes songs about the things “we’ll never say,” and he’s got them “boiling up inside” of him.

The Brook Lee Catastrophe plays twice on Thursday, July 29: at 5:30 pm at CD World in Eugene (all ages) and at 8 pm at the Axe & Fiddle in Cottage Grove (21+). Free. — William Kennedy



Not Underwater

The theatrical, carnivalesque, impassioned songs on The Drowning Men’s second release, Beheading of the Song Bird, are dense with singalongs, delicate keyboard melodies, eerie theremin and boundless confidence. If there’s doubt in Song Bird’s 13 songs, it must be hidden in the lyrics. The record bursts out of the gate with the anthemic “Stand in Your Mold,” then morphs into “Songbird,” which begins fairly sparely for the Men before shifting into a stomping, chanting build. “My name is nightmare / I am a wayward child,” sings frontman Nato Bardeen.

It’s impossible not to think of Arcade Fire maybe a little too often, early in this record, but over the course of Song Bird, The Drowning Men build a case for their own enticing brand of musical bombast. Here they lighten things up with a bright, repetitive keyboard that recalls Phoenix’s “1901”; there they add a glammy guitar tone that scampers down a path frequently trod by The Killers. The elements are familiar — the barrage of sound, the steady percussive heartbeat, the aching vocals — yet the overall feel of the record is less referential than the sum of its recognizable parts. The emotional effect is like the part of a Jason Webley show where he exhorts everyone to get up and wave their beers crossed with the regret-filled strains of the saddest DeVotchKa song. If that does it for you, I’ll see you at the show. The Drowning Men, Painted Grey and Purple Sparrows play at 10 pm Friday, July 23, at Luckey’s. 21+. $5. — Molly Templeton



They Have Seen the Summit

The D.C.-based band These United States have released four albums and played more than 550 shows over the last two and a half years. That’s quite a dedicated pace. It makes you wonder if they could give others in our nation’s capital a little seminar on work ethics.

Their latest album, What Lasts (out July 20), written last summer after founding member Jesse Elliott’s near-death experience on Lake Michigan, is a horde of understandably temperamental images. Elliott — at times sounding like a gritty, weary Adam Duritz — delivers a multitude of lyrical and strident emotions. As with These United States’ previous albums, What Lasts shouldn’t be pigeonholed into one genre. In just over 30 minutes, it rumbles you through a multi-paced, psych-folk and indie-rock driven trip, never easing up.

Shortly after the band completed demos for this latest release, someone stole Elliott’s laptop while in L.A., and with it, almost 300 songs, including all of what became this album. Due to a timely email sent to a long-lost friend, one song evaded that theft and fittingly became the title track.

Their current summer tour reached a highlight when they rolled in Toronto last month — on the same day as the G20 summit. They sat in the famous Horseshoe Tavern, sipped a couple of pints and watched as rioters clashed with police in streets illuminated by burning cop cars. Even though their show was canceled, Elliott got some cool video. These United States and Heavenly Oceans play at 9 pm Thursday, July 29, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $8. — Blake Phillips