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October 18, 2010 01:28 PM

So who's behind all those mysterious attack ads against local Congressman Peter DeFazio?

The answer is a reclusive, conservative Wall Street mega-millionaire who installed a $2.7-million toy train set in his mansion and spent $28-million to buy up adjoining Manhattan apartments for his daughter and would get hit by taxes on large Wall Street speculators proposed by DeFazio, according to reports in the Oregonian, Washington Post and Willamette Week.

Just who was behind "Concerned Taxpayers of America," the group funding the attack ads, was a secret until Friday when the group was legally required to report its donors. The report listed just two "concerned taxpayers"— a Maryland concrete baron who has bankrolled opposition to a Maryland congressman and $200,000 in contributions from secretive hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, a major contributor to DeFazio's right-wing opponent Art Robinson.

The ads have helped Robinson—an irascible, fringe chemist who has called for the elimination of public schools, the EPA and social security and claimed global warming is a hoax and radioactive waste has health benefits—pull within six points of DeFazio in a recent Republican poll. The revelation of who funded the ads now comes after many may have already returned their ballots in Oregon's vote-by-mail election.

October 13, 2010 02:00 PM

Honestly, I'm still not sure what exactly spiced rum has to do with American tattoo icon Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, but it's Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum that's presenting this evening's (21+) screening of the documentary Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry at the Bijou. The film centers on Collins, but is as much a story of a place and time in the way it looks at Hawaii during WWII. It's not all a pretty picture — and a few of the attitudes espoused by some of the old-school tattoo artists are downright cringeworthy — but director Erich Weiss keeps things moving at a steady clip, interviewing those who worked with and learned from Collins. Colorful characters narrate their experiences with Collins, who combined traditional American tattoo style with the influence of Japanese tattoo masters, and whose work was majorly influential both in terms of style and more technical aspects (the stories about Collins' purple ink are particularly entertaining). Rough-voiced and heavily inked, the men who came after Collins — the most charming of which is easily California tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy, though other guys provide more laughs — speak both reverentially and dryly about Collins' work, politics and gruff personality.

You don't have to be a tattoo junkie to find this story fascinating (says the inkless writer) as a vivid, historical look at a subculture and the way it has developed, expanded and — though this is less of Weiss' focus — become commercialized. The old-school dudes (yeah, it's a sausage fest; women mostly appear in old footage as prostitutes, or for decoration) have a hearty skepticism for the ranks of "black T-shirt" kids they see as taking over their art now, and the film ends with a suggestion that before long, it'll be establishment to have tattoos, and rebellious not to. Popularity comes in cycles; Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry traces one story from the upswing of tattoo culture.

Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry screens at 7 pm tonight, Wednesday, Oct. 13, at the Bijou. See here for more details.

October 12, 2010 04:42 PM

Some people use "cute" as a pejorative. I don't. So when I say that the new Ascetic Junkies video is the cutest goddamn thing EVER, what I mean is it's the cutest goddamn thing I've seen in some unspecified period of time. Just look at it! Look at the way the little animated Kali Giaritta goes all frowny and slightly evil when the song rocks out! Look at the way the music appears in squiggled lines! Look at the banjo player's fluffy white cloud of a beard! JUST LOOK AT IT!

Why Do Crows? from Ascetic Junkies on Vimeo.

If you were to click over to that Vimeo page, you'd find that the video was hand-drawn by Junkies bassist Cole Huiskamp, who sometimes has devil horns poking through his cap. In the video, I mean.

The Ascetic Junkies celebrate the release of their new CD, This Cage Has No Bottom, at 9:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 16, at Sam Bond's Garage (21+, $5). I wrote about the band back in January and found, when it came time to preview this week's show, that I basically wanted to say all the same things. It's all true. All of it. (But there'll still be a new preview in this Thursday's paper.)

October 5, 2010 03:36 PM

This coming weekend, Portland’s convention center once again hosts Wordstock, a weekend (and more!) of readings, signings, discussions and other literary events. All this week on EW! A Blog, we’ll review books by authors appearing at the festival, which is super-affordable, should you happen to be a book-nerd with weekend plans that involve PDX: $7 per day, or $10 for both festival days.

If memory serves — and it doesn’t always — my introduction to Throwing Muses was the video for “Bright Yellow Gun,” from the Boston band’s 1995 album University. In hindsight, the concept of a Throwing Muses video seems faintly absurd, but I’m glad it was out there. University was an eerie blessing of a record, resonant and cryptic in all the right ways, and it led me to singer-songwriter Kristin Hersh’s solo album, even more oblique and beautifully ungainly, and to a summer spent wearing out the Muses’ Red Heaven, which still sounds like the background noise to getting my feet under me as a sort-of adult.

I was 19 then. Hersh was just 18 when she had one hell of a year — a year that’s the subject of her fantastic memoir, Rat Girl (Penguin, $15). In a brief intro that comes across as if she’s a little suspicious of herself, Hersh explains that Rat Girl is based on a diary from that year. “That girl isn’t me anymore,” she writes. “Now it’s just a story.”

It’s a really good story. Hersh weaves together the narrative of her year with snippets of song lyrics and scenes from her childhood with the hippie parents she refers to as Crane and Dude. She’s telling a straightforward story about a young band that finds its first successes, but she’s also telling a complicated, emotional tale about a young woman grappling with mental illness and major change.

Rat Girl is never sentimental; Hersh might not be capable of sentimentality. She’s perpetually wary, certain that while she and her bandmates like her band, there’s no reason for anyone else to feel the same way about them. Ordinary things have unexpected outcomes: An apartment fuels the songs she hears with “an evil energy.” The songs, she explains, started to come after “a witch” hit Hersh with her car. In the hospital with a double concussion, she began to hear noise that later resolved into notes, melodies and words. “It’s not me,” Hersh writes. “I don’t talk that way because I’m not always ‘right now.’ A song lives across time as an overarching impression of sensory input, seeing it all happening at once, racing through stories like a fearless kid on a bicycle, narrating his own skin.”

Hersh’s observations about music scenes, music writers and the recording process are fascinating and specific, and all the more so for Muses fans. Her tone is never gossipy, though, and she leaves out identifying details, opting instead for impressions and entertaining descriptions (one music writer is referred to as the Newspaper).

Right in the middle of the book — which runs 1985-1986, roughly spring to spring — Hersh becomes manic. There's no build-up and no romanticization: "I'm falling into a hole in my head — been tripping over my brain not working, a mess." It's not long after she's diagnosed as manic-depressive (doctors use the term, then explain that it’s not called that anymore; she has bipolar disorder) that Hersh finds herself pregnant. The pages leading up to her hospitalization are frenzied, scary and beautiful, but there’s little context for the pregnancy. “Some boys like little rat girls,” she writes quietly in explanation. “Not many, but a few. I’ve always been grateful for the ones that did. Now I’m not so sure.”

Rat Girl is a book like a Throwing Muses song is a song; it starts in unexpected places, is full of peculiar and unforgettable images and has deceptive staying power once it gets under your skin. You might pick out pieces of the narrative and think it’s about a band, or a musician, or a mental illness, or being a teenage mother with a record deal, but it’s a book about the particular way a talented, sometimes troubled young woman walks through the world — a coming of age story, comforting, disconcerting, intense, unfamiliar and, amid all the vivid descriptions of sound and color and light, relatable. Hersh’s world doesn’t look or feel like everybody else’s — for better and for worse. Rat Girlisn’t tidy and inspirational, but chaotic and true.

Kristin Hersh reads at 3 pm Saturday, Oct. 9, at Wordstock’s Columbia Sportswear Stage.

Also at Wordstock and (semi) recently reviewed in EW: Eugene native Robin Romm reads at 11 am Saturday, Oct. 9, at the Powell’s Stage, and Portland writer Robin Cody reads at 1 pm Sunday, Oct. 10, at the Mountain Writers Series Stage #1.

All listed Wordstock events take place at the Oregon Convention Center, Portland.

September 28, 2010 01:57 PM

Here's a video from the Washington Post of local Congressman Peter DeFazio unsuccessfully trying to track down who's funding TV ads against him:

The Post story quotes DeFazio:

"Is this a corporation? Is it one very wealthy, right-wing individual? Is it a foreign interest? Is it a drug gang?" DeFazio said. "We don't know."

September 23, 2010 01:28 PM

Yes, MFNW continued! And continued to be great! And then I got sick and had Chow to finish and ... and ... and ...

And suddenly it's September Twenty-freaking-third and I'd have to do some serious brain-wracking to figure out how we got this far into the month, but ANYWAY, let's just relive the magic of MFNW just a little bit longer, and then I'll shut up about it until next year.

(Saturday's Late Start Due to Food was courtesy of the incredible breakfast at Screen Door, which, for the record, lived up to the hype. I love it when that happens.)

So, thanks to the magic that can happen when you complain about stuff on Twitter, I got my MFNW on a little early on Saturday — starting at noonish at the OPB Music day party at Mississippi Studios. I gotta be honest: This thing kind of made me feel like a rock star. You walk in and there's an espresso cart. Voodoo Doughnut detritus is everywhere. At the bar on the venue side, a guy in a House Spirits shirt is making an endless stream of aquavit bloody Marys and delicious Salt & Peppers. He sets them on the bar. You walk up and take them. Magic. The fact that you're doing this while waiting for some of the most charming of Portland bands to play makes everything just fucking golden.

I missed most of And And And's set, but what I saw — madcap, multi-member, dancing-in-the-crowd, excitable child of indie and drinking rock tunes — was enough that I made a note to go see them later at Backspace. I saw a little more Typhoon, packed in as tightly as the audience at the bar's outdoor patio, and then claimed a great spot in the balcony for Tu Fawning, who just get better and better and better. My showgoing company explained them to someone by saying, "Sometimes they sound like Portishead — but they actually sound like Portishead, unlike all the other bands that people say sound like Portishead."

But they only sometimes sound like Portishead. The band's four members all constantly switch instruments; Corrina Repp and Joe Haege (who I never tire of pointing out is also in the excellent 31 Knots, assuming they still exist) swap lead vocals as elaborate percussion, an extraordinarily long trumpet, delicate keys and more layer into their atmospheric songs, which sometimes are for a little bit of dancing and more often are for swaying hypnotically in time.

We wandered in and out of the Mississippi main room and the back patio of the attached Bar Bar, watching Portland rock royalty stand around and running into former Eugenean Peter Dean, once of the Fast Computers, who now has a handful of projects and had a summer gig doing sound effects for the totally entertaining Trek in the Park.

Then it was time for The Thermals. Again. Still awesome. Wunderkind drummer Westin Glass had a giant green crystal around his neck; was it for mystical purposes, or is he secretly the Green Lantern? Singer/guitarist Hutch Harris was none too pleased with the monitor sound at the show’s start — “Could you make it not sound like shit up here?” he hollered after the first song — but by the end, even he had broken into a smile. The room had been loosely full up until the Thermals set, but everyone in the place seemed to pack in for the party’s grand finale. A couple of people in the front rows even started dancing. A little. The set was too short, mostly new songs plus “Pillar of Salt” and “No Culture Icons” — and from where I was standing upstairs I could see they cut two songs as the show went on — but it was transporting nonetheless. Kathy Foster bobs on her toes and smiles her enigmatic smile; Harris brings a focused ferocity; and Glass just smiles and smiles and smiles, tipping back on his drumstool at the end of a song as if he can hit the snare even harder with his feet off the ground.

We stepped into the sunlight confused. Daytime? Right. Daytime. Collect yourself and move along. Coffee, now, please. (Keep reading...)

Saturday night’s lineup was all over the place. I caught a few Laura Veirs songs, standing in the middle of Pioneer Courthouse Square, wishing I were seeing her in a small, intimate space, like when she played at John Henry’s, but liking the shifting backup band (Karl Blau! Chris Funk! And more!).

And And And packed the kids into the front half of Backspace, a spiffy all-ages venue right on the MAX line and just off Burnside. Members danced into the audience, the songs got shoutier and more exuberant and the crowd cheered madly when the singer introduced a new song called “I Want More Alcohol.” Also, I think there was confetti.

I caught a little bit of Tu Fawning’s second set of the day, over at Crystal Ballroom where they were opening for Menomena; they’d all dressed up and were looking remarkably hot, even if Haege kind of ruined the effect when he bent over the drums and revealed a monster hole in the armpit of his dress shirt. I saw Amy Klein — otherwise known as Amy Andronicus, and the author of quite a few wicked smart, well-worth-reading blog posts about rock and gender — of Titus Andronicus at that show and, later, spotted Hutch Harris squinting in the blinding glow of Smashing Pumpkin’s absurd stage lights. Always nice to see the bands out catching other bands.

Even when one of those bands is Smashing Pumpkins.

To open the door to the sold-out Wonder Ballroom, where the Pumpkins were already playing when we arrived, was to walk into a swampy miasma of damp, stanky man-funk. To our left, an oversized sound and lights board took up a serious chunk of the floor, but it was kind of irrelevant — the crowd was mashed up against the stage, watching Billy Corgan do his thing.

And can we talk about that thing? That thing is essentially cock rock. Maybe it was the arena-style lights giving me that impression — blinding, absurd, strobing things glinting off the gong behind the drummer — but the show had this strutting, overwrought ridiculousness that just grew more intense every time Corgan started on a guitar solo. Of which there were more than I remembered. They played “Today” second, and it didn’t even sound like itself. Poignancy? Gone. Delicacy among the distortion? Mangled.

It was kind of ... ugly, the whole thing. Abrasive, bombastic and cynical, and none of that in the good way. And totally discombobulating, coming after the involved, unironic And And And, the crisp layers of Tu Fawning and the cheery, intelligent bite of the Thermals. We lasted through “Drown” — which made me smile in the way that anything from Singles can make a certain kind of Northwesterner of a certain age smile — and then stumbled free.

We stumbled all the way back to backspace, where Titus Andronicus were closing out the night and sounding just as shouty and incensed and ferociously entertaining as they did at a house show earlier this year, and on a freezing-cold SXSW stage the month before that. The intensity never flags, even when you’re surrounded by six-foot-tall dudes who can’t even be bothered to head-bob.

That was the end of Saturday — I wanted to see Crooked Fingers, but Mississippi Studios was just too far — but Sunday had one last show in store: The National in Pioneer Courthouse Square. I sat on cold concrete and stared at Matt Berninger’s spiffy suit for two hours, willing him to take the jacket off so I could admire the vest. And also I loved the show. This is a band with their banter down, whether it’s about why they can’t move to Portland, or how their version of the Flaming Lips’ confetti is “Four dollars worth of shit!” — a few dozen glowsticks, haphazardly distributed.

The set was heavy on the High Violet tracks; the encore was exactly what it needed to be: “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” “Mr. November” and “Secret Meeting,” if memory serves. They played “England,” which was what I most needed to hear, and the sky grew dark gradually and then all of a sudden, swooping over the square so that the lights on the buildings gave everything a more magical glow. “What’s that building?” Berninger asked at one point. “It looks like a cake.”

It did. The National had a vibe like a band that’s been on tour almost too long: effortlessly in sync, but maybe a little worn. In the urban canyons, the guitars echoed just so — just a certain way — and I finally understood why people compare the band to U2 sometimes. Just a little. It rings out like it’s bigger than it is, and that makes some people dismissively call The National “dad rock” which other people, like me, find a place in that sound to sink in, curl up and remember. Is dad rock nostalgia rock? Is nostalgia always wrong? If it is, I don’t want to be right.

September 13, 2010 11:36 AM

Adventure Galley from traskblueribbon on Vimeo.

Though the news was pretty obvious last Thursday, when a camera crew was in attendance at their swiftly arranged WOW Hall show, it’s now totally official: Eugene’s Adventure Galley has won MySpace’s Rock the Space 2 contest. More than 17,000 bands entered a song apiece in hopes of winning a contract with MySpace Records (and $10,000 in Fender gear). After a couple of rounds of voting, AG’s “Addict” came out on top.

A little more than a week after they got the news, four of AG’s six members strolled into Monroe Street Café looking awfully calm. As keyboard and synth player George Schultz tells it, the whole thing was “just kind of out of the blue.” He saw an ad for the contest and figured it couldn’t hurt to enter. A few months later, the call came: The band had been selected — “by a judging panel made up of industry professionals and MySpace Records executives,” say the contest rules — as a semifinalist. In the semi-finals, bands faced off in bracket-style voting. AG made it to the finals, along with five other bands from around the country. “Last Tuesday,” Schultz says, “I was obsessively checking my email to see if we won, and logged off, and logged back on five minutes later and got the email.”

Yelling and running around the room ensued. Not that you’d guess these guys do a lot of yelling and running around. Over the course of a 30-minute conversation, Schultz and drummer Brock Grenfell do most of the talking; vocalist David Mills — he of the impressive moustache —  barely says a word but smiles faintly; guitarist Aaron Johnson, behind sunglasses and flaking streaks of yellow face paint, breaks in to tell the story of how he and Mills originally formed the band. Though none of the bandmembers are older than 21 — the “elusive” sixth member, Grenfell’s brother Forrest, is still in high school — they project an attitude of mellow confidence. Schultz is the gregarious one, the one who’ll tell all the stories; Grenfell reins him in when those stories get maybe a little too colorful for a young band that’s about to land in a much bigger spotlight.

The attention began with their Thursday night show at the WOW. Though the band couldn’t come out and say they’d won the contest until today’s official announcement, they could, Grenfell says, “hint very heavily” that there was a reason for the quickly scheduled show, which was filmed for a promotional video (earlier in the contest, the group shot a similar video atop the Lorax Manner). Next, Schultz says, “We’re going to be signing a contract, and so in the next nine months we’re going to start working on an album and probably have that released in the next year or so.”

The album will be the band’s full-length debut. Thus far, they’ve only released an EP, The Right Place to Be, eight songs of their energetic, danceable, synth-decorated brand of indie rock. Asked to put AG in a genre, Schultz says, “I think technically it would be post-punk.” “Addict” is thick with catchy melodies and half-shouted singalongs, all set to an insistent beat and embellished with a synth part that twines through the song, giving it an airy feel despite Mills’ sonorous tone. It’s a little like The Killers, a little like Franz Ferdinand, and entirely infectious.

Adventure Galley began, Johnson says, when he, Mills and two other musicians recorded three songs “and did nothing with them.” Without a drop of self-consciousness, Johnson says, “People thought it was the coolest stuff ever.” But the band, in that incarnation, played only two shows, both in Bend. That’s where they found Grenfell. Schultz, already a fan of those three songs, met the band at a UO college party about two years ago and joined soon after. A year ago, the band’s bassist left and was replaced with Jesse Suihkonen, who played his first show with the band on the Fourth of July last year. “I feel like everything has come together a lot better since he came in,” Schultz says.

Grenfell and Schultz are aware that signing with a label means they may have to give up a certain degree of control, but they’re optimistic about the people from MySpace Records being “artist-friendly.” Grenfell says, “As far as I understand it ... we mostly just get to pick what we want to do, and they just have to put their stamp of approval on it.” The grand prize includes a “standard recording agreement” with MySpace records, with a $10,000 advance and $10,000 in Fender gear. The latter probably comes as an awfully nice touch for a band that’s had their own gear stolen twice in the last two years. “We’re due for good karma,” Grenfell says.

Though a contest win is no guarantee of success, last year’s winners, California’s Call the Cops, have been out on multiple tours since winning, including a month on this summer’s Warped Tour. Adventure Galley’s goal — apart from “taking over the world,” which they joke was the theme of the WOW Hall show — is pretty reasonable: They hope to play the Sasquatch Music Festival next spring. “Even if for the first year we do it we’re just on a small stage or something like that, just getting onto the festival circuit, getting the name out there so that the next year when we come back we can take it by storm,” Grenfell says.

With such a major opportunity in their lap, it’s possible Adventure Galley won’t be a local band for long. Though both Grenfell and Schultz are UO students, they say they’d take time off to tour. “You can go to school when you’re older,” Grenfell says.

“It’s our big shot,” Schultz says. “Why not take advantage of it?”
Adventure Galley’s next Eugene show is a house show with Pony Village and the Blimp at 9 pm Saturday, Sept. 25, at the Basement (13th & Washington). Their EP is available at House of Records. "Addict" is also in EW's Next Big Thing contest.

Additional reporting by Vanessa Salvia.

September 11, 2010 04:14 PM

The theme of MusicfestNW — this year for sure, but probably every year — is apparently Getting a Late Start Due to Food. It's just awfully hard to resist Portland's culinary delights, even when you're forced to choose between rock and a sausage. Wait, that sounded weird.

Friday began late for us with Hosannas, who used to be Church (and were briefly Ape Cave, sort of) at Mississippi Studios, where I've basically taken up a permanent location in the balcony. The view from above makes Hosannas more fun; their button-pushing and knob-twisting songs are more interesting than engrossing, and all the more so when you're upstairs watching the glowy lights and the guy with the bare feet triggering stuff on one of his many, many, many pieces of equipment. It felt awfully cerebral, especially without a stiff drink.

Next, we climbed the stairs to the Crystal Ballroom against such a dense flow of downstairs traffic that we thought Okkervil River was already done. Nope — people just weren't into the strangely sloppy/beautiful/sloppy show bandleader Will Sheff was choreographing. Well, some people were: For whatever reason, the place seemed to be full of slightly fratty, more then slightly wasted dudes who chose the oddest moments to pump their fists. The people-watching was more than distracting, especially since the band kept breaking into a nearly goosebump-eliciting song, only to crush it into shreds — and not the good kind — within minutes. Yes, "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe"! No! It's run off the tracks!

It was an odd scene.

Down at Berbati's, Richmond Fontaine was easily charming a late-night crowd with the least ironic, most straightforward, always narratively fascinating set of the weekend. If at least 70 percent of the bar didn't have some kind of crush on singer-songwriter Willy Vlautin, well, you could've fooled me. (Is it the sweetly scruffy voice? The Nathan Fillion-ish profile? The spare and sympathetic hard-luck novels? All of the above?)

The set wasn't quite as perfect as the band's afternoon show at Pickathon, which felt like rock 'n' roll preschool, with much of the crowd sitting cross-legged on the barn's concrete floor, but it still ended with "Four Walls." Wistful, building, sentimental, lovelorn, wishful, longing — it's a song for silent rooms and shivering lighters, late nights and long pours of whiskey. It belongs on every crushtastic mix CD ever made.

So, yeah, it would've been a lovely place to end the night, but the Someday Lounge was on the way home, and there, the nine? ten? (19 are listed on the band's MySpace page) members of Typhoon were crowding the stage. I've only seen Typhoon live — several fractions of shows, now — but if their ramshackle heartache holds up on record, I've got some shopping to do. Every time I hear this band, I think of the Register-Guard's Serena Markstrom, talking, as we walked through their Pickathon set, about male singers who sound like what a mouth looks like when it's blowing a bubble. Round, wobbly, earnest, self-aware — I think that's what she was going for. I think. Typhoon calls its sound "epic indie rock" across the top of the band's website; they sound like carefully orchestrated yearning to me. I think they should come play Sam Bond's immediately — pack us in, sweaty and uncomfortably close together, and fill the space with sound until we forget the details.

And that was Friday. Today has already been the super-extra-delightful OPB Music party at Mississippi Studios; the delight will continue with Laura Viers, Titus Andronicus, And And And and more. There will also be a Smashing Pumpkins show. Whether "delight" is a word even faintly applicable to such a thing remains to be seen.

September 10, 2010 03:53 PM

MusicfestNW 2010 began, for me, with cocktails and pickled things at Secret Society. Sorry, Phantogram, who I wanted to see; it’s just that I had a feeling sustenance would be needed over the next few hours.

Phantogram were opening for Ra Ra Riot at one of the Nike Wonder Ballroom shows, which you know are Nike shows because the TVs on the sides of the stage just show big swooshes until the band starts. (This is an improvement over ... last year? The year before? when a giant wooden structure thing took up a chunk of the floorspace and had something to do with ... something brand-y.) The Wonder wasn’t as packed as I’d expected — expectations based on the line for RRR’s SXSW show — but it gradually filled in, dudes in plaid button-ups sharing floor space with dingy kids who were trying their hardest to look like they hadn’t washed their hoodies in several years.

It was a funny crowd and a funny show. Ra Ra Riot’s albums are sweet, swoony things, fully deserving the “chamber pop” tag, thick with cello and violin and dominated by singer Wes Miles’ earnest choirboy voice. The lyrics tend to the sweet, honest and self-deprecating (“My life is dull and my body aches,” Miles repeats on the first song on the band’s new record, The Orchard), but there’s pep in the airy arrangements and insistence in the drums.

So why did the show seem so one-note? It wasn’t just Miles’ tendency to the occasional really literal gesture, or the imbalanced sound that lost a lot of the strings unless you were standing right up front. Something just seemed off. I haven’t seen a lot of bands in the last few years with singers that mostly just sing — it takes some serious charisma to stand in front of crowd nearly empty-handed, singing your heart out, and Miles seemed happy but unprepared. No one was carrying the show; there wasn’t a sense of band energy, either, except from violinist Rebecca Zeller, who seemed more engaged. It wasn’t a bad show. It was just uninspired — though a few tracks, like “Too Dramatic” and “Ghost Under Rocks,” had a little more snap.

We caught just a little bit of Past Lives at the Crystal, but while the song we heard the end of was energetic and angry and interesting, the next three — the last three of the set — were oddly forgettable. It’s not a word I expect to apply to former Blood Brothers members, but there you have it.

And then: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists! Leo has been doing his steady thing for so long now that — confession time — I like him (musically and on Twitter) without really knowing his stuff. I just know that I like it. (And I love “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?”) It’s punk rock but it’s not: If you watch Leo, pacing the stage with his wristbands and his spiky short hair, he looks like a punk rock boy. But what he plays is this giddy, endless stream of smart, solid rock songs, jangly and jaunty and a little bit frenetic. The show was the opposite of Ra Ra Riot: Propulsive, sweaty, over too fast.

But since it was over in order for The Thermals to take the stage, you won’t hear any complaints from this corner. The tone of the Thermals show was set when their perpetually smiling drummer, Westin Glass, came out to soundcheck, and left the stage only after high-fiving as many people in the front rows as he could reach. The word of the night, despite the intensity of the band’s new album, Personal Life, was, to my mind, gleeful. Every time I’ve seen the Thermals, there’s a wash of delight coming from somewhere, or maybe everywhere — from the band members, the kids dancing up front, the smiling people in the bar who seem on the verge of tossing their drinks in the air and busting out some strange dance moves.

This show was no exception. The songs were all just right. The older songs, especially from the political and pointed The Body, The Blood, The Machine, sat perfectly next to Life’s, well, more personal content (for more on that, take a peek at Willamette Week’s interview with singer-guitarist Hutch Harris about what it all means, or the Mercury's super piece, in which Personal Life is rightly called the "finest breakup album since Frightened Rabbit's The Midnight Organ Fight").

“A Pillar of Salt” was a highlight; the bitterness of “Not Like Any Other Feeling” was cathartic and gorgeous and intense; but it was the double perfection of the encore that sealed the night: Weezer’s “My Name is Jonas” — you could hear everyone in the crowd singing along as the last ssss of “Jonas” faded — and “No Culture Icons,” which, impossibly, gets better every time they play it.

I left the Thermals with a shit-eating grin on my face (as the stragglers walked out, Glass was once again on the edge of the stage, signing things and talking to fans) and went to meet Todd at the Roseland, where Major Lazer was rattling the doors like they may never have been rattled before. Nobody was getting in, though — not the drunk guy with a scratch above his ear, or the drunk girls advising each other to “stick out your boobs” in an attempt to charm the door guy, or the two dudes on bikes asking why there were so many V-necks on the men lingering around the door.

Didn’t matter. The Thermals win MFNW. Again. (Look for Todd’s photos from the crazy Major Lazer show soon, though.)

Tonight: Okkervil River? Hosannas (formerly Church)? Shaky Hands? Jared Mees and the Grown Children? One thing I know for sure: At midnight I'll be drinking whiskey and watching Richmond Fontaine. See you there!

September 8, 2010 02:38 PM

Holy crap! It's already time for my other favorite Portland festival (the other one being Pickathon, of course). Willamette Week's MusicfestNW starts tonight with just one show — Devonwho and Animal Collective's Panda Bear — and really gets rolling tomorrow. MFNW sprawls all over town, meaning sometimes it's a pain when you want to get from Holocene to the Crystal Ballroom in a hurry, but there are enough interesting shows that you can usually keep busy just skipping from venue to venue around West Burnside.

This year's MFNW lineup ranges from a generous gaggle of Portland bands to, oddly enough, Smashing Pumpkins, who play Saturday night at Wonder Ballroom. I'll head to Portland tomorrow to try to decide between the following Thursday night shows:

Ra Ra Riot, whose The Rhumb Line was one of my favorite unexpected records of 2008
Past Lives, the other post-Blood Brothers band
• The unstoppable Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
• Heartstring-plucking Seattle singer-songwriter Rocky Votolato
Major Lazer, because EW art director Todd Cooper says it's going to be awesome
• And, most of all, The Thermals, whose 2009 MFNW show was probably one of my Top Ten Shows of All Time, if I kept a list like that (which of course I don't, but I could try to make one; it might be fun). The Thermals' new record, Personal Life, just came out this week, and while I haven't had enough time to properly absorb it, I know two things: 1. It's too short! I want more! and 2. It's fantastic.

Lots more blog posts – from myself and Mr. Cooper, who'll be taking photos — and the occasional bit of Twitter snark to follow over the next few days, concluding with The National on Sunday night. Then and only then will I believe it's actually fall. It can't be until this weekend is over.

August 28, 2010 12:48 PM

We've been so focused on Best of Eugene voting that this one almost snuck by me: Eugene band Adventure Galley is one of the six finalists in MySpace's Rock the Space 2 contest. Six finalists! Out of 17,000 entries! That's pretty nifty. The band's entry into the contest is "Addict"; their contest page currently has more than 27,000 pageviews, which is well above four of the other bands — and well behind the 394,000 pageviews boasted by a duo with a corny power ballad as their entry.

Adventure Galley stands to win a load of Fender gear, a recording contract and, I imagine, a decent dose of national attention. A goofy video on the contest page has them playing on the roof of the Lorax Manner and talking about why they want to win. Their Franz Ferdinand-esque, Killersy song is a catchy little number, pretty accurately described by the first press quote on their MySpace page: "Reminiscent of so many bands of yesteryouth, muddled with our generation’s lazing indie spirit."

In an email, drummer Brock (the fellas go by one name apiece, it seems) writes, "Out of all the finalists, we are the only one from the entire Pacific Northwest, so we are kind of representing the Northwest's music scene to the 100,000s who have visited the contest's site. We need votes to win the final round so we are trying let people know about it so they can listen and vote, and support Eugene's local music scene on a national scale."

You heard the man. Go out and vote! The voting period ends on Aug. 30, and you only get one vote, unless you're some crazy geek with a driving need to fool the system. In which case I'm sure you'll figure out some way to get around that.

August 26, 2010 03:58 PM

The Jazz Station — the small, all-ages downtown performance space that's made a home on Broadway between Willamette and Olive for five years — is getting bigger. In a letter sent to Jazz Station members on Monday, board president Chris Orsinger announced the news: The "new, improved" Jazz Station is expected to open in January at 124 W. Broadway, in a space leased from Lord Leebrick and nestled between the theater company and DIVA.

The volunteer-run Jazz Station will remain an all-ages venue. The new space allows for the addition of a rehearsal room and a backstage "green room" for performers.

This weekend, the Jazz Station is one of the downtown venues hosting music for the Eugene Celebration. Stop in and check 'em out before they get bigger! Here's the venue's lineup for the EC:

Friday, Aug. 27
6-8 pm: Souljazz

Saturday, Aug. 28
Noon-2 pm: Zenith Quintet
3-5 pm: Jazz Singers' Showcase
6-8 pm: Joe Manis Trio

Sunday, Aug. 29
4-6 pm: Jazz Station Jam

August 21, 2010 04:41 PM

Nathan Fillion, right, and Jon Huertas in the Arcimoto Pulse prototype

It's not every day that you might spot Captain Tightpants Nathan Fillion cruising the streets of Eugene in a locally built electric car prototype. The current Castle star (and hero to many a nerdy girl and boy thanks to his roles in Joss Whedon's Firefly and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog) Twittered about Arcimoto's Pulse just a few weeks ago — posting "I found it! I found my spaceship! It's real and I'm getting it!" — and today arrived in town to test-drive said spaceship.

Fillion and his Castle costar Jon Huertas took the Pulse out for a spin (tailed by a posse of men with cameras, shooting footage to use in promoting the Pulse), took photos with fans (some of whom drove down from Portland in hopes of meeting him) and headed to Pizza Research Institute for pizza and beer while the car charged up for a second run. Arcimoto president Mark Frohnmayer invited me to join them as he, Fillion, Huertas, and other Arcimoto staff discussed the Pulse's specifics and, inevitably, everyone's love for Firefly. I didn't directly interview Fillion (to whom I was never introduced to as an EW writer), but listened as he told stories about his favorite Firefly horse, Fred; answered questions about the Pulse for his more than 600,000 Twitter followers; and generally seemed enthusiastic about Arcimoto's commuter car, which his costar described as "like driving a shark."

More to come just as soon as I can get some transcribing done! Look for a longer story soon!

August 18, 2010 12:50 PM

I can't decide which gave me a bigger squee in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: the tinkling fairy fountain music from Zelda? Or Nega Scott's super-resemblance to evil Link. Or maybe ... no ... yes ... I CAN'T PICK!

(You read and watch enough Scott Pilgrim, you'll start being indecisive in all caps too, OK?)

ANYWAY, to my delight, the OC Weekly jumped on the question of Just How Many Video Game References Are There in This Movie, Anyway? They didn't catch 'em all, but the commenters to this blog post have been pretty helpful in that regard.

I totally want to play Ninja Ninja Revolution.