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Eugene Weekly : Music : 9.16.10




Real MCs Just Rhyme

What is the definition of wack? Urbandictionary.com says this: “weakly executed flashy moves in place of true substance.” Eugene hip-hop outfit The ILLusionists adorn their new release Death Proof with a sticker declaring the album “anti-wack,” as well as name dropping some hip hop heavy-hitters like the Roots as comparison. The Roots are seriously anti-wack, so these guys are setting up some high expectations for themselves. And for the most part they deliver.

The ILLusionists’ brand of rap is what most would call “underground” these days because, well, it sounds like rap — mostly just beats and rhymes — as opposed to the over-marketed, R&B hybrid that often passes as hip hop. Death Proof’s second track, “Real MCs (Just Rhyme),” begins with a sampled voice stating rap is “just about marketing now” and launching a manifesto on how the ILLusionists are about bringing rap back to its roots.

A real band backs these MCs up, mixed with tastefully used samples and sampled strings that provide the album with a heightened sense of drama — but unfortunately dull some of the raw fury the ILLusionists bring to their live shows. This is aggressive, in-your-face music revealing MC Sam Wartenbee’s background in punk and hardcore. Lyrically these guys don’t exactly break new ground, with plenty of rap’s prerequisite hubris and references to inserting male genitalia into all sorts of places, but they do elevate the discourse a bit with themes of nonviolence and being true to yourself, which are two things that, by anyone’s definition, are not wack at all.

The ILLusionists celebrate the release of Death Proof with Black Delaney and The Cave Dwellers at 9 pm Friday, Sept. 17, at the Oak Street Speakeasy. Free. 21+. — William Kennedy



Long, Tall and ... Talented

The night of the CD release for Eugene’s Long, Tall and Ugly happens to be founder Rob Jacobs’ birthday. Going to wish him a happy birthday would be fun enough, but you should really go because the band’s got talent. Long, Tall and Ugly are Joe Pettit, Jr. (bass/vocals) Rob Jacobs (guitar/vocals) and Eli Lahmers (drums/vocals). The group has been around for about three years and The Love Thief is already their third full-length CD.

Pettit, Jr. and Lahmers have kept time together in the bands Roy G. Biv, Sunken Grade and Jentzu and the Alter Egos. Jacobs has been writing songs for many years, placing third with Jen Clason (aka Jentzu) in the Willlamette Valley Folk Festival Songwriters Competition in 1997.

Jacobs’ music exudes a rambunctious charm, focused on melodic hooks and the pleasant taste of familiarity. I can’t quite put my finger on what it reminds me of ... Big Star, maybe? Paul Westerberg? Each song, from the slower ballads (“Are you The One”) to the bubblegum pop (“Tonight”) to the hootenannyish (“Hurricane”), hints at a bygone era. “Keep It To Myself” poses lyrics of a relationship puzzle about not being able to admit your true feelings. Most of Jacobs’ songs are verse-chorus-verse, with Jacobs wrapping the chorus into a neat and unforgettable package with his heartstrings.

Jacobs’ release says, “This record appeared, wrote itself, and rode itself all over Rob’s psyche.” I predict it will do the same for you, leaving you with a big smile on your face. Long, Tall and Ugly, the Underlings and Ego Machine play at 10 pm Friday, Sept. 17, at The Black Forest (21+, free) and at 1 pm Saturday, Sept. 18, at CD World (all ages, free) — Vanessa Salvia



Don’t Say ‘Hey,’ Say Oi!

Those of you who know the British punk band The Business know that they long stood against racism. The involvement of some later Oi! bands with far right and racist views was disappointing and confusing enough that The Business took a stance by naming one of their ’80s tours “Oi Against Racism and Political Extremism ... But Still Against The System.”

Several Oi! bands played Rock Against Racism concerts, but still, the image of Oi! bands as racist thugs persists. For many fans of the genre, though, it’s about soccer hooliganism as much as it is working class populism, police harassment and government oppression. The Business’s song “England 5 — Germany 1,” for instance, has become a soccer anthem for England following the 2001 World Cup qualifying match that inspired it.

The Business was formed in 1979 in Lewisham, South London, by Micky Fitz (vocals) and three other mates. Still led by Fitz, the Business toured Europe regularly and pretty consistently released records through the ’80s and mid-’90s, with one release in 2001 and two in 2003. Their 1983 debut album Suburban Rebels became influential. The band signed to Sailor’s Grave Records in 2009 and are now touring and recording again. Who better to open than Eugene’s own Detonators? That band formed the same year as the Business, but in the early hardcore scene in Los Angeles. After a hiatus of their own, in recent years the Detonators have been more active. The Business, the Detonators and Pirate Radio play at 9 pm Saturday, Sept. 18, at John Henry’s. 21+. — Vanessa Salvia



What’s a Po’ Girl to Do?

What’s a Po’ Girl to do? When she’s got the mesmerizing voice of Allison Russell, there’s not much else to do but sing her heart out. And that’s what Russell does, along with her bandmates Awna Teizeira, Benny Sidelinger and Mikey August, who each play multiple instruments, sing and contribute to the songwriting for this troupe of rootsy gypsies.

Since the band’s formation in Vancouver, B.C., in 2003 they’ve been compared to the Be Good Tanyas, whose founder, Trish Klein, was one of an eclectic group of musicians that Russell fell in with as a 17-year-old trying to find her own path. Klein and Russell were early collaborators, but Russell fledged Po’ Girl into its own entity, maintaining a traditional and nostalgic Americana sound with a whiff of jazz.

It’s already been a busy year for the group. Their 2009 release, Deer in the Night, contained “No Shame,” a song that shed light on Russell’s history of sexual abuse. Russell concluded the No Shame Tour by running the Athens, Ohio, marathon in April 2010 as a fundraising effort for child abuse prevention organizations. After that, the band headed to Europe for a two-month tour of the Netherlands, the U.K. and Ireland. Po’ Girl spent January this year recording their new album, Follow Your Bliss, which was released in June. The album is “21st Century roots music,” the release says. “Their music offers full-throated and joyful celebration of being alive at this very moment, sly and come-hither teases, and songs that breathe ‘faint dreams of home ... and little acts of self rescue.’” Po’ Girl and J.T. Nero play at 8:30 pm Sunday, Sept. 19, at Sam Bond’s. 21+. $12. — Vanessa Salvia



A Wild Ride — No Bull

Ryan Bingham’s smoke and whiskey etched voice is deceiving. You might think you’re listening to some dusty, middle-aged, leather-faced guitar slinger instead of a brooding, good-looking 29-year-old former bull rider. If his rusty saw of a voice sounds familiar, then you probably saw the film Crazy Heart. Bingham penned the film’s theme song, “The Weary Kind,” for which he received both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Original Song this year. That’s a wild ride for a guy who didn’t pick up a guitar until he was 17 years old.

Bingham’s work on the Crazy Heart soundtrack brought him together with producer T-Bone Burnett, who produced Bingham’s latest album, Junky Star, a vehicle for his ever-improving songwriting skills and his raw out-in-front vocals. It also has all the markings of a Burnett project, giving it a stripped-down, timeless sound. The unobtrusive acoustic accompaniment of Bingham’s longtime band, The Dead Horses, never overdrives the vocals.

The 12 tracks of Junky Star are populated with characters from the harder side of life — junkies, murderers, strippers and thieves — clinging to a slender glimmer of hope. Bingham’s vocal style ranges from the Dylanesque “Direction of the Wind” to a Nebraska-era Springsteen on “Yesterday’s Blues,” with others bringing Steve Earl or Tom Waits to mind. A man robbed and shot to death tells one of the most compelling tales in “Hallelujah.” He unwillingly wanders between life and the afterlife, refusing to abandon the living and the lover he left behind.

Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses open for Willie Nelson at 7 pm Sunday, Sept. 19, at the Cuthbert Amphitheatre. $40-$65. ­ Blake Phillips



Looking on the Whiteside

The Whiteside Theatre has long been a dormant historical landmark for Corvallis, and on Sept. 19, 16 Oregonian acts will perform benefit-style for the theater’s rehabilitation in the first Whiteside Jam.

Dating back to 1922, the Whiteside Theatre has a charm not unlike that of our local McDonald. With all proceeds going toward rehabilitation, the hope is that Corvallis residents will soon have a significant historical venue to call their own.

Jaime Williams — the mind behind the jam — is a member of the Whiteside Theatre Foundation, which has existed for two years. The foundation has received good grants but has never had a truly spectacular fundraiser. “We needed something bigger than piddly little fundraisers,” says Williams. With 16 acts, two stages, Oregon Trail Brewing supplying the beer garden, Crêperie Du Lys and Purple Moon Organic Coffee supplying the provisions, a VIP tent for sponsors and talent, the awesomeness of this event only seems to grow stronger with each item. Williams agrees, saying, “What better to do on a Sunday than just hang out?”

Williams’ hope for the festival is somewhere close to $5,000. That kind of money would allow for the major fix-ups that the theater requires in order to open its doors — new bathrooms, new electrical systems, etc. — and from there the revenue generated by functions will pay for all those other, minor cracks to be spackled.

The Whiteside Jam runs 11 am to 11 pm Sunday, Sept. 19, at Benton County Fairgrounds, Corvallis. $12. See www.whitesidetheatre.org for more info. — Andy Valentine



The Banjo Blues

What happens when a modern girl meets the old-time world of finger-pickin’ banjo riffs and songs about love gone wrong? Hurray for the Riff Raff is a New Orleans-based trio that exists in that unusual space between indie pop and soulful blues.

Vocalist Alynda Lee Segarra first started learning banjo as a teenager while hopping trains and traveling across the country. She ended up performing on the sidewalks of New Orleans with traditional jazz bands, and eventually banded together with Yosi Pearlstein (drums and violin) and David Maclay (electric bass) to form Hurray for the Riff Raff — a modern band with a dash of honky tonk.

Young Blood Blues, their new LP, winds up slowly with the first track, “Is That You?” “I saw your ghost at the grocery,” Segarra says. “Is that you? Is that you?” The song builds in tempo, rising toward a crescendo of forceful vocals and emotionally charged melodies. In other tracks, like “Too Much of a Good Thing,” Segarra keeps her voice more neutral despite the wallowing nature of the melodramatic background. Segarra’s sincere, unwavering voice is rich, not sugary-sweet like many other female vocalists, and lends well to the emotional intensity found in these tracks. Even a pick up in tempo doesn’t take away from the overall mournful tone. “Bricks” has a waltz-like quality and is less bluesy than some of the others, but maintains a similar emotional quality to the rest of the songs.

Listening through the album feels like taking a slow saunter through an old-time farm — one of the tracks even has some whistling in the background. Overall, Young Blood Blues works well as a whole, and stays consistent to the band’s old-time blues-meets-pop sound. Hurray for the Riff Raff plays at 8 pm Monday, Sept. 20, at the Wandering Goat. All ages. Donations. — Catherine Foss