At the Altar of Bad Religion
Formed in the seething, angsty, anti-Reagan Southern Cal scene that bred such seminal, late ’70s, early ’80s punk bands as Black Flag, the Minutemen and the Circle Jerks, L.A. outfit Bad Religion has outlasted, outsold and, many would argue, outdone their mentors and peers to such an extent that you’d need an algorithmic formula to chart their ongoing evolution. “And eternity, my friend, is a long fucking time,” founder/vocalist Greg Gaffin growled in “You,” from 1989’s No Control — and that was the band’s fourth album. Three decades might not be an eternity for formaldehydic greedhead geezers like the Rolling Stones, but for a punk band, it’s bloody close. Just this year, Bad Religion released its 15th full-length, The Dissent of Man, which — after years of line-up shuffles — features three of the band’s original members. That’s a miracle of sorts. Obviously, the suicidal stick-pins of Sid Vicious and swinging ropes of Ian Curtis don’t apply to these grizzled survivors. Bad Religion might not be more popular than Jesus, but at 31 and going, they’ve damn near outlived him.
What you get, stylistically speaking, depends on where you drop the needle on Bad Religion’s sesquipedalian discography, but some things have remained constant over time: Intelligent, playful and politically charged lyrics that opt for questioning over confrontation and heat over hate; melodies, harmonies and pop know-how that borrow more from the Descendents than D.R.I.; and an almost marital sense of social responsibility that was the putative raison d’etre of their mohawked forebears (their closest related progeny, these days, might be Against Me!). Now can you hear that four-click count-off, signaling another breakneck mosh anthem? Lace up your Docs, people, and get to the church on time. The big bang is back.
Bad Religion plays with Bouncing Souls and Off With Their Heads at 8 pm Thursday, Nov. 18, at the McDonald Theatre. $23 adv., $25 door. — Rick Levin
Faun’s Grim Fables
Never was there a more aptly-named musical endeavor than Faun Fables. Listen to the band’s new album, Light of a Vaster Dark, all the way through, and you’ll be transported to Middle Earth to frolic among the wizards and elves … OK, perhaps not unless you’re on hallucinogenic drugs, but that’s what your imagination is for, right? Remember when people had imaginations? Faun Fables frontwoman Dawn McCarthy does, and that’s why her band is so neat. Faun Fables write madrigals for the 21st century that come off like the musical equivalent of fairy tales, but not the schmaltzy Disney variety; the band crafts haunting melodies with instruments both ubiquitous in indie/art rock (guitars, violins) and uncommon (bass clarinet, shakuhachi flutes). The resulting story-songs are sumptuous and sinister: think Pan’s Labyrinth, or Grimm’s Fairy Tales. If those goofy Renaissance fairs could get bands like this to play, perhaps they’d have a better audience. One thing’s certain, though: Dawn McCarthy and Joanna Newsom need to hook up and make a record, stat. Faun Fables play at 9 pm Thursday, Nov. 18, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $8. — Sara Brickner
We Knew Her When
The word “Eugene” doesn’t appear in Marin Alsop’s biography on her website, which might lead a casual reader to assume that the career of the world’s most celebrated female conductor, and one of the finest of any gender, commenced with her 1990s appointments to orchestra posts in Bournemouth, Denver and California’s amazing Cabrillo Festival of new music. You have to go to the site’s timeline to see that in 1989, Alsop, who became the first woman to direct a major American orchestra when she took over Baltimore’s three years ago, was appointed music director of the Eugene Symphony.
In her glorious seven year tenure here, Alsop gave Eugene plenty, with her attractive blend of sincere, low key charisma; genuine warmth (no haughty maestro ‘tude); then-rare audience explanations from the podium; formidable skill onstage and in rehearsal; and innovative programming, with a welcome focus on American music past and present.
Alsop helped build a strong classical music community here, put the ESO on the national map (enabling it to attract promising young talent thereafter) and, professing a lasting affection for the area, has returned more often than we any right to expect from a figure so globally celebrated. Every time she scores another success — and there have been many, from NPR appearances to acclaimed recordings to prestigious guest slots with the world’s most famous orchestras — we can take a little pride that our orchestra and its perspicacious search committee saw her potential early on, shrugged off the field’s sexism and gave her her first real break. Welcome back, Marin!
At 8 pm Thursday, Nov. 18, at the Hult Center, Eugene Symphony conductor laureate Marin Alsop returns to conduct her old band in all three of her favorite orchestral delights: Russian music (Tchaikovsky’s dramatic Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy), Brahms and American music, in one of the 20th century’s great violin concertos, her mentor Leonard Bernstein’s scintillating Serenade After Plato’s Symposium, with Colin Jacobsen soloing. $15 — $64. — Brett Campbell
New Orleans Meets West Africa
What is it about the kora that attracts jazzers? The glittering sound of the West African lute meshed elegantly with piano when Foday Musa Suso joined forces with Herbie Hancock a couple of decades back. After exploring music in Africa, Portland pianist/composer Andrew Oliver enlisted a Seattle kora virtuoso to form one of the region’s most exciting jazz bands. And now the Grammy winning, jazzy Neville Brother, Charles Neville, lends his restrained, sultry sax lines to Youssoupha Sidibe’s sparkling, reggae inflected African harp, the latest in the Senegalese virtuoso’s collaborations with Western artists including Matisyahu, Michael Franti, Bela Fleck, India.Arie and more. They’ll have rhythm (or riddim) backing from the drummer for Afro-funk Experience and a Wailers bassist. Judging by their shimmering new album, Tree of Life, it should be a compelling multiculti combination. Charles Neville, Youssoupha Sidibe, and the Mystic Rhythms Band perform at 9 pm Friday, Nov. 19, at the WOW Hall. $14 adv., $17 door.
— Brett Campbell
Listening to Shawn McDonald’s most recent album, Roots, it’s hard not to notice a couple of things. First, the Seattleite who was born in Eugene has vocal talents and musical influences that are at times reminiscent of another Eugene-area native, Paul Wright. And second, while stylistically McDonald is playing the sort of acoustic pop that guys everywhere try to learn so girls will fall in love with them, the tracks from Roots go far beyond such endeavors.
On “Captivated,” McDonald is in such awe of the beautiful creation that surrounds him that he feels compelled to thank God for it; similarly, on the funky ditty “Clarity” the stress of life leads him to acknowledge that all he wants are peace of mind and to simply “be with my King.” And even on the mellow “Light,” where its soothing and reassuring tones and words could make you believe for a moment that this is one of those aforementioned love songs, it becomes clear partway through the track that McDonald is actually speaking words of encouragement and love from Jesus’ perspective.
In lesser hands, this material could get hammy and corny in no time flat, but McDonald’s simultaneous belief in the divine and his acceptance that life’s tough realities still exist in spite of this belief give both the album and his performance authenticity and an appropriate level of gravitas. Shawn McDonald plays at 7 pm Friday, Nov. 19, at the McDonald Theatre. $20 adv., $25 door. — Brian Palmer
In 2008, Sean Hayes made a cameo appearance as Jesus in the indie film Evolution: The Musical, and he sort of looks and writes a bit like a bearded Bohemian messiah. On his MySpace page he pontificates, “We are dinosaurs walking around in a sea of digital realities. Things do not weigh as much as they used to.”
It’s obvious from first listen that Sean Hayes is trying to make profound statements like this with his music as well, playing an earnest brand of soulful gospel-tinged acousti-bluesy-stomp along the lines of Ben Harper, Jack Johnson or Iron and Wine.
Hailing from San Francisco, Hayes got his start playing traditional American and Irish music with a band called the Boys of Bluehill. Since then he’s been the guy behind a lot of songs you might’ve heard even though you’ve never heard of him. His work has been featured in TV shows such as Kyle XY, Parenthood and HBO’s Bored to Death, and has been covered by the Be Good Tanyas and Blame Sally.
In 2010, Hayes released Run Wolves Run, and it’s been steadily gaining heat, positioning Hayes as the next big thing in the world of folk-rock. On “Honeybees Falling” Hayes sings, “Go ask the birds, listen to the wind, go ask the honeybees, listen to the breathing in” over a mild reggae backbeat. Even if he never breaks into the mainstream like other terminally mellow folk-poppers such as Jason Mraz, lyrics like this promise packed houses in Eugene for years to come. Sean Hayes and Jeff Martin play at 9 pm Friday, Nov. 19, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $10. — William Kennedy
If Pretty Lights has a problem, its that its band name and EP titles do not describe the style of music in which producer Derek Vincent Smith traffics so effectively. In 2010, Smith released a trilogy of EPs: Spilling Over Every Side, Making Up a Changing Mind and last month’s brand-new Glowing in the Darkest Night. If you knew nothing else about Smith or Pretty Lights, you might expect to hear yourself some insufferably twee indie pop. You’d be wrong. Smith makes electronic music, and his compositions sparkle like a clear New York City night. The guy obviously took his cue from the school of Ratatat, and in time, it’s likely that he’ll be as well-known: the tracks from Glowing in the Darkest Night are laid back like Del but bump like Jay-Z. On tour, Smith enlists a live drummer, Adam Deitch, who fills out his live shows with the flesh-and-blood percussion that can make the difference between a middlin’ show (see: guy standing onstage alone futzing with laptop and MPC) and a great one (live drummers are way more fun to watch). Maybe Kid Cudi should hit this guy up when he makes his next album. Pretty Lights, Thunderball and Gramatik play at 8 pm Saturday, Nov. 20, at the McDonald Theatre. $22 adv., $25 door. — Sara Brickner