Eugene Weekly : Music : 1.31.08

To the Moon

I just can’t help it: The first thing I thought of when I saw the band name Rocket was the Def Leppard song of the same name. Thankfully, Rocket-the-band doesn’t sound a lot like “Rocket,” which just doesn’t hold up that well (“Rocket! Yeah! Satellite of love!” what now?) however astray Def Lep may have led me in 1987.

Instead, Rocket sounds like the bubblegum-snapping, sassy-dressed sum of the members’ influences, which cover ground from T.Rex to Teenage Fanclub, Alice Cooper to Adam Ant, Turbonegro to t.A.T.u. The young Southern California fivesome, who in 2005 sold out L.A.’s Viper Room for their first show, sounds like a guilty pleasure you don’t actually need to feel the least bit bad about, even if they were on a FOX show last fall called The Next Great American Band (oh, reality TV. More America’s Next Top Model, less everything else, mmkay?). The band’s bio says, “The all-girl group mixes ’60s girl band innocence with ’80s hair metal bravado,” and … it’s right. Both genres, despite their drastic differences, come with high-gloss harmonies, an abundance of energy and, often, a wink and a smile. “Future X Boyfriend” layers a thick guitar with a sweet synth and shifts smoothly into a pop-radio-ready chorus that Avril Lavigne would envy (as does the ’80s-tinged “Another Mistake”). “I Wanna Love You” suggests the band spent some time listening to early Mötley Crüe (among other things). But Rocket isn’t the second coming of The Donnas; this is a different kind of sass and attitude, one that loves pop punk better than metal and would rather smile than scowl. Rocket plays with Station Wag and The Mission Orange at 10 pm Friday, Feb. 1, at Diablo’s. 21+ show. $6. — Molly Templeton


Relieve the Screaming Meemies

When you’re feeling cranky after a long, bad day, sometimes listening to music reflecting that frustration is the only remedy. Some choose mind-numbing screaming metal, which may elevate the desire to punch a hole in the wall; others may go with a slow, lonely ballad. To each her own, sure, but Leigh Marble‘s Red Tornado might be a welcome change — and it might help alleviate some of that angst.

The Portland-based, folk-rocking singer-songwriter’s latest album incorporates common themes born from the highly emotional states which inspired each tune. Marble’s songs take on lives all their own and take flight, lifting off from what one might imagine a traditional folk song to be. Rough around the edges, Marble takes chances with different styles on Red Tornado and gets down and dirty in a very good way.

Defining Marble as folk should be considered a very loose description, as his music is very contemporary and incorporates many different sounds and styles. Rock has a strong influence, and the cynically brilliant “Lucky Bastards” (Tornado‘s opener) warrants comparisons to Northwest favorite Modest Mouse. Or maybe Beck. Marble definitely has the potential to produce the next “Loser.”

Marble’s music can remedy a bad day, or at least commiserate with you, minus the unnecessary screaming. Be it a good day or a bad one, Leigh Marble plays at 10 pm Friday, February 1, at Luckey’s. 21+ show. $3-$5. — Anne Pick

Hard Earned Blues

Every music writer — heck, every music fan — has a list of The Unaccountably Neglected, those veteran musicians who, year after year, sometimes decade after decade, produce work of such quality and mainstream appeal that we just can’t believe they’re not stars. Sometimes, a few of them (Randy Newman, Lucinda Williams, say) will somehow make a midcareer vault from Cult Favorite to Pretty Well Known. This may finally be that moment for Chris Smither. Now in his ’60s, the New Orleans-born folky bluesman, who’s been winning critical praise since emerging on the ever-fertile Boston folk scene in the late 1960s, finally seems poised to break through to a wider audience. Smither’s always been a strong songwriter — he wrote some of Bonnie Raitt’s biggest hits — but has never quite found the wider audience his smart, evocative lyrics and compelling live performances deserved. (A constitutional preference for integrity over slickness and a decade-plus silence fueled by now-vanquished alcoholism just as his career was taking off didn’t help.) But Smither’s brilliant 2006 album Leave the Light On, featuring fiddle and mandolin great Tim O’Brien, not only garnered his usual critical hosannas but also airplay on roots-music oriented outlets in public radioland and beyond. His world-weary voice lends a poignancy to his quiet ballads of reminiscence and regret while underlining the sharp political satire of songs like “Origin of Species” and the barnburner “Diplomacy.” Fans of bluesy, Southern inflected songwriting — John Prine, Lyle Lovett and everything in between — should give Smither a try. He’s a long-buried American musical treasure whose value is finally being revealed, neglected no more. Chris Smither plays at 7:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Shedd’s Jaqua Concert Hall. $18-$26. — Brett Campbell


White People Can’t Play Harmonica

By the time Muddy Waters met Paul Oscher at the Apollo Theatre during the mid ’60s, Oscher had only been playing harmonica for three years or so, after being given one by his uncle at 12 years old. But when Waters returned to New York in 1967 with no harp player, Oscher was there, ready to fill in. After Oscher played two songs with the band, “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Blow Winds Blow,” Waters hired him on the spot, and Oscher became the first full-time white guy to play in an internationally known touring band of black musicians. He played with Waters on stage and on record for the legendary Chess label from 1967 through 1971, when he left Waters’ band to strike out on his own under the name Brooklyn Slim. As a young white man from Brooklyn playing with one of blues’ greatest legends, Oscher learned a thing or two that he took to his own band. He’s known for his appreciation of the deep blues and his mastery of their delivery despite the fact that he is, you know, a white guy. His phrases and timing, which evoke the great Muddy Waters, have earned him both praise and criticism for sounding so much like his former bandmate.

At Cozmic Pizza in conjunction with The Rainy Day Blues Society, Oscher will present his solo show “Alone with the Blues.” This event showcases Oscher’s solo talents on harmonica, bass harmonica, guitar, and piano. Paul Oscher plays at 8:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 2, at Cozmic Pizza. $15 adv., $18 door. — Vanessa Salvia


Symphonic Golden Jubilee

Didn’t get enough of Aaron Copeland’s Variations on a Shaker Melody at the Eugene Symphony on Jan. 24? Well, lucky you! The Eugene Symphonic Band fills your desire for more “Gift to be Simple” — along with a multitude of other pieces, like a big ol’ orchestrally scored version of “Over the Rainbow” and Saint-Saens’ Pas Redouble — at its winter concert.

The band, a venture that began in 1957 and hasn’t stopped ticking even as its members come and go, celebrates the deep devotion of community musicians to their craft. Some of the members are professionals, but many are folks who work hard at their instruments while holding down a variety of jobs in other sectors. They perform with each other on a volunteer basis, and though it’s an excellent thing for musicians to be paid, it’s also excellent for music-lovers to have a variety of options to play and hear complex notational pieces. To celebrate this 50th anniversary concert, local mezzo (and dancer) Nancy Wood sings both the Judy Garland classic and less familiar (but just as American) Sandburg Variations by Lewis J. Buckley, and the band, under the baton of Portland’s G. Mancho Gonzalez, continues its tradition of enjoyable music at an affordable price. The Eugene Symphonic Band performs at 7:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 5, in Beall Hall on the UO campus. $5, $3 stu./sr. — Suzi Steffen


Damaged and Beautiful

John Adam Weinland Shearer spent the last six years working in Oregon’s mental health system, and needless to say the job gave him a lot of material for his music. Working with emotionally disturbed teenagers, Shearer was smack in the middle of the complications that come with a flawed system. The struggles that he and his friends faced are at the core of his songwriting. Releasing music under the name Weinland, Shearer and his band weave a soft tapestry of stunning and sorrowful tales that offer glimpses into an often upsetting, but ultimately hopeful world.

On Weinland’s new album La Lamentor, Shearer sometimes sings in his close-to-cracking, Neil Young voice about moments of loss and misfortune. On “With You Without You,” over a frail and pleading piano, the singer creaks, “You have to love another to be happy but alone.” And on “Curse of the Sea,” a wandering guitar picks out a whirling pattern next to scattered mandolins and bells while Shearer sings, “If I’m the boat, you’re the shore that shipwrecked me / But if I sink you should think what’s that boat supposed to do? / Only ship in this sea fit to carry you.” But like any complicated tale, there are moments of promise and redemption, too. “Gold” is a Harvest-esque ballad that is filled with thoughts of a better future, and “Desiree” is a playful tune that tells the story of a girl who is happily lost in her own world. In the end, Shearer’s songs won’t fix a broken system, but they at least make those souls stuck in it seem beautiful and real. Weinland plays with Baitball and Matt Sheehy at 9:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 2, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+ show. $5. — Jeremy Ohmes


God Bless the Freaks

If you’re into decaying animals, scary dollies and nightmare-inspired mythology, I would highly recommend checking out Liz McGrath’s website ( many visionary (and annoyingly talented) people, McGrath casts her eye for the unusual beyond just her primary projects (in her case, macabre folk art). She’s also a fashionista and pixie-faced chanteuse, the frontwoman for the L.A.-based Miss Derringer, a band whose membership combines two of Eugene’s most well-represented “scenes”: vintage-loving artsy types and black-clad emo agonists. Musically, Miss Derringer falls into another category entirely, offering a hauntingly American tribute to retro 20th century music wrenched from the souls of survivors who go on in spite of themselves: alcoholic lovers, used-up women, aimless drifters with nowhere left to go. Dare we call it goth-a-billy?

Accompanied by husband Morgan Slade on guitar and bassist James Wilsey (known for his Chris Isaac-backing past), McGrath and Miss Derringer have been both stunning and creeping out audiences all over the West Coast, and now they’re coming to Eugene. So, let’s see, we have corpse art, vintage fashion, guys wearing eyeliner and a bunch of really sad songs that for some reason get stuck in your head and make you feel really good. Sounds like a recipe for a night of fun-filled fusion infusion.

Appearing with Miss Derringer is Eugene’s own Dead Americans, those rock ’em, sock ’em (if by “’em” you mean “the man”) rollers who grind, scream and harmonize with every ounce of their anti-establishment beings, all the while mesmerizing with their eyepopping stage show. Come see society reflected through the eyes of two very different but highly stylized artistic entities. Miss Derringer and The Dead Americans play at 10 pm Wednesday, Feb. 6, at Luckey’s. 21+ show. $3-$5. — Adrienne van der Valk