Going Back to Campus
The UO’s long-running Willamette Valley Music Fest is, as is its wont, changing again. Last year, the festival — once a three-day, folk-centric affair, it’s changed duration and focus in recent years — took place at the Cuthbert, with a lineup ranging from mariachi to blues to noisy art-rock. This year, the WVMF returns to campus, where it sprawls out over three stages, hooks up with Cinema Pacific’s Adrenaline Film Project, includes campus-area museums and encompasses “The Village,” which includes the Bike Music Festival, a media swap, a tie-dye station, the ASUO Street Faire and more.
Music starts at 10 am in the EMU Amphitheater, 11:30 am in the Ben Linder room and 10 am in the Buzz Café, meaning there’s enough to keep you busy running from place to place. The Ben Linder room’s lineup spans Hawaiian (Hano Hao) to Balkan dance (Kef) to rockabilly (The Porch Band); the Buzz Café is home to the annual Singer-Songwriter Competition as well as local acts including Red Pajamas and the Swingin’ Marmalukeys. On the main stage, more locals including Circa Vitae, Greenlander and the Tolkien-loving Sea Bell trade off with familiar Portland names like Y La Bamba and The Joggers. Locals Adventure Galley, who celebrate the release of their new EP at the Campbell Club Friday, May 7, bring their Killers- and Franz Ferdinand-influenced, danceable sound to the stage in the late afternoon. Out-of-state highlights include Atlanta’s CunninLynguists, who close the show, and Title Tracks, led by John Davis (formerly of Georgie James and the angular, underappreciated early-oughts D.C. band Q and Not U), whose retro-pop sound sometimes recalls certain moments in Ted Leo’s repertoire. Phantogram (pictured), a New York duo whose mix-and-match style yields what their bio calls “beat-driven dreamlike pop songs,” takes the second-to-last timeslot; don’t leave before they’ve played “Mouthful of Diamonds.”
The Willamette Valley Music Fest runs from 10 am to midnight Saturday, May 8, in and around the UO’s EMU. Free. For full schedule, see musicfest.uoregon.edu — Molly Templeton
The Montreal four-piece The Besnard Lakes has made a career out of combining shoegaze and vintage psychedelia in proportions that neutralize each genre’s flaws while complementing their strengths. The trippy, bombastic ’70s stoner-rock moments lend the music both a sense of a movement (not to mention the essential head-banging moments that hold a listener’s interest), while the ethereal falsetto and layers of distortion lend the band a sense of identity that keeps it from sounding like Led Zeppelin redux. The band’s sophomore release, The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, showcases this harmonic balance perfectly, and not just because members of well-respected Canadian acts like Stars and Godspeed You Black Emperor! contributed to the record. But it’s the Besnard Lakes’ newest effort, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, that proves the band has defined a unique sound that pays homage to rock and roll’s past while ushering it gently into the future. The Besnard Lakes are touring with Julie Doiron, a Canadian songwriter whose first foray into the world of indie rock was as the bassist for the long-defunct Sub Pop outfit Eric’s Trip. Doiron spent the years following that break-up building up a solo career. Her frank, conversational lyrics read like letters to a friend as much as songs, and while that particular style of songwriting can seem amateur in the wrong hands, it’s the graceful sincerity with which Doiron delivers her unpoems that works so well. The Besnard Lakes, Julie Doiron and On the Tundra play at 9 pm Saturday, May 8, at WOW Hall. $10 adv., $12 door. — Sara Brickner
Greg Laswell Is Just That Good
Everyone loves Greg Laswell. For the past few years enthusiasts have told me how awesome his tunes are and how great of a lyricist he is. Artists he collaborates with think he’s a god of some kind. Webzines and prominent publications across the country have bowed down to worship at the altar of Laswell, praising everything from his deft musical skill to his ability to make even the depressing sound uplifting.
Now that I’ve heard his latest album, Take a Bow, I officially get it. Laswell is a major talent, and his indie rock-meets-piano-pop sound is layered, rich and wondrous. Take a Bow is a musical rollercoaster ride through life’s delicious ups, deflating downs and sticky in-betweens, with everything from somber pianos to swirling guitars augmenting the power of each word as it floats into your ears and impresses itself deep into your mind long after each song has finished.
“Around the Bend” is vocally mesmerizing and musically arresting in its epic grandeur, “Lie to Me” is affecting in all its self-explanatory unhealthiness, and “Off I Go” is a fearless jaunt into an unknown physical landscape accompanied by an ethereal, majestic soundscape. For a sense of the album’s tone, not to mention the juxtaposition of content and music, check out the first single, “Take Everything,” and then catch the backwards-filmed video. Once you’ve done all that, go check out his show, as it’s sure to be a blast.
Greg Laswell, Jimmy Gnecco and Brian Wright play at 9 pm Friday, May 7, at the WOW Hall. $12 adv., $15 door, $20 reserved. — Brian Palmer
Like a Preacher with a Sax
Born in Stringtown, Miss., in the late ‘30s, Eddie Shaw as a teenager cut his teeth jamming with Ike Turner’s band before moving on to the thriving blues scene in Chicago’s legendary West Side, where he played with the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Shaw, known for his elegant, economical playing, has likened his sax work to the “good attack” of old-school Baptist preachers, where you “try to stay with the basics and tell a good story” with your instrument. He credits his mentor, Howlin’ Wolf, with the evolution of his straightforward style. “[Howlin’] didn’t have too much education, but he was very wise, street wise, and I learned my band finesse mostly from him,” he says. In the early ‘70s, Shaw and his Wolf Gang (which before his death Howlin’ Wolf urged Shaw to carry on) finally started cutting their own work, kicking out such vinyl beauties as The Back Door Wolf, Living Chicago Blues and Have Blues — Will Travel. With years of touring and recording under their belt, Shaw’s current band — which includes bassist “Shorty” Shaw, pianist Detroit Junior, drummer Tim Taylor and Shaw’s son Eddie “Vaan” on guitar — represents the finest of Chicago-inflected delta blues, a sound as rollicking and rolling, deep and rich as the flowing waters of the old Mississippi River.
Eddie Shaw & the Wolf Gang play at 8 pm Thursday, May 6, at Mac’s at the Vets Club. 21+. $13. — Rick Levin
Cult Icon Returns
Icon, acquired taste, odd, charming, genius, idiot savant: These are all words used to describe Jonathan Richman. From punk to folk, acoustic to world music experiments, appearances on Conan O’Brien and in Farrelly brothers films, Richman’s career has been filled with surprises and contradictions. What’s for certain is Richman is a bona-fide cult hero, and you never know what you’ll get at a Jonathan Richman show. He may be the most famous musician you’ve never heard of, and he’s returning to Eugene.
In 1970, Richman founded proto-punk garage rock legends the Modern Lovers. The Modern Lovers also included Jerry Harrison and David Robinson, later of the Talking Heads and the Cars, and are most famous for the heavily Velvet Underground influenced tracks “Pablo Picasso” and “Roadrunner.” “Roadrunner” hit number 11 in the UK pop charts.
By 1983, Richman had gone solo and his experimentation with different music styles and genres began in earnest, from pop efforts in the early to mid ’80s to country music on 1990’s Jonathan Goes Country and Spanish language songs on 1993’s Jonathan, Te Vas a Emocionar! In the mid to late ’90s, Richman’s hitherto underground status received some mainstream exposure with a series of appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and as half of a Greek chorus-like duo performing songs in the Farrelly brothers film There’s Something about Mary.
While Richman has had a prolific recording career, he’s equally known for his live performances. Usually performing with just his longtime drummer Tommy Larkins (who also appeared in There’s Something about Mary), Richman puts on live shows that are spontaneous, eccentric, casual and fun; his childlike enthusiasm infects the whole crowd. Jonathan Richman plays at 8:30 pm Sunday, May 9, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $12. — William Kennedy
There’s a tendency among “instro-metal” bands today to think that if a listener can inhabit and enjoy the soundscape of a long song, then longer must be better. Eugene’s Ninth Moon Black understands that sometimes the opposite is true. Their latest (and third) release, Kalyug, is a four-song masterpiece at only 30 minutes. According to drummer Kasey Marcusky, it’s a themed album intended to be listened to in one stretch, and the shorter duration makes it really easy to soak it all in.
In a live setting, you can feel every push and pull of the atmosphere Ninth Moon Black creates, and this album manages to capture that. Ninth Moon Black conjures emotions and then sweeps them away with beautiful tones and textures and driving drum loops. The beauty here blooms like a dark flower — not melancholy, not bleak, but majestic. Interludes of samples (used with permission) by Michael Cremo, an American Hindu creationist, reinforce the themes presented on Kalyug, that humanity moves through cycles and is currently in an age of destruction. “Rather than consciously evolving, we are actually devolving,” says Marcusky, “moving deeper into a less connected and egocentric mindset.”
The band is playing in Eugene midway through a 10-day West Coast mini-tour, appearing with a band from Germany, Blackwaves, and old friends from Oakland, Embers. CDs will be for sale at the show, and the band is also making available a name-your-price digital download. Ninth Moon Black, Blackwaves and Embers play at 9 pm Sunday, May 9, at Oak Street Speakeasy. 21+. Free. — Vanessa Salvia
I can’t think of another band that has engendered as strong a reaction in the metal community in recent years as Mastodon. People don’t just say “not my thing” about this band. Mastodon makes people want to argue. Over their four albums, Mastodon has evolved from what was touted as metal’s big new thing into a band with more progressive time switch-ups, more melodic singing, more layers, more fuzz, more dabbling. More! And that has left some people feeling violently allergic.
Mastodon’s not easy to describe. Try to put your finger on a Mastodon groove, and it runs off in all directions. First a gallop, then a jog, left, right, up, down, finally a sprint to the song’s first real riff halfway in. It’s never comfortable or simple. It’s wild, not unlike their plot concepts: Crack the Skye, their fourth album, is about a kid who astral travels through a wormhole and meets Rasputin, who then enters the kid’s body to escape assassination. Not even the band can adequately explain it, because it’s not really about that at all, just like Moby Dick isn’t really about competing with a whale.
Mastodon is the surface of a deep and possibly unfriendly pool. Diving in takes courage and stamina. It may be “too much,” but it’s brave, and in a live setting, it’s a force of awesomeness. That should be true even without their second guitarist, Bill Kelliher, who at the time of this writing was hospitalized for an undisclosed illness. Two members of Baroness have been helping out on songs at recent shows. Mastodon, Between The Buried And Me, Baroness and Valient Thorr play at 6:30 pm Monday, May 10, at McDonald Theatre. $25 adv., $28 door. — Vanessa Salvia
Millions of Dead Fill in the Blanks
If society creates its own tinder, then punk rock is the match to set it off. Punk holds up every injustice, every stratification, and exposes it to the harsh light of day. Most punk bands had something to say about capitalism and religion, but in their day, MDC was one of the few early bands that touched on homophobia. They managed a fast and furious assault on common American values that was also somehow catchy. The now-legendary hardcore band formed in Austin, Texas, in 1979, and is now based out of Portland. If you haven’t yet watched such movies as Punk: Attitude or American Hardcore, both of which feature interviews with and recollections of MDC, you owe it to yourself to dig in a little deeper, to understand the place of this band in music’s history.
Touring with them on their “Mobocracy” U.S. tour are The Restarts, London’s punk and oi! spawn circa 1995. Both bands are known for unapologetically tackling tough social and political issues: MDC changed the meaning of their name with each album, variously calling themselves Multi-Death Corporation, Millions of Dead Children, Millions of Dead Cops and Millions of Damn Christians (on an appropriately titled LP, This Blood’s For You). The Restarts, who took their name from government “Restart” programs aimed at getting people back to work, stated in a release regarding this new tour that “we feel the social importance of punk rock takes priority over the ‘marketability’ of a rehashed trend. [We] have never stopped liking the music we listen to, live by and make (even when it wasn’t popular).” Punk is a little more popular now than it used to be, but no less important, or incendiary. MDC, The Restarts and Pirate Radio play at 7 pm Monday, May 10, at Wandering Goat. All ages. Requested donation. — Vanessa Salvia
The Business of Pop
In a city inundated with indie pop bands, separating the wheat from the chaff can be a daunting task. But Seattle five-piece Ivan & Alyosha quickly rose to the top of the heap with a selection of fresh, earnest pop songs capable of reviving a genre that — thanks to the onslaught of bands that are still trying to jump on that overcrowded, battle-scarred bandwagon — is starting to wilt like week-old lettuce kept out of the crisper. Part of Ivan & Alyosha’s success can be attributed to the limited amount of music the band’s released thus far: To date, I&A’s catalog consists of one EP, The Verse, The Chorus (Cheap Lullaby Records). In pop, it’s all about songcraft, and those who subscribe to the school of “quality over quantity” tend to succeed. When it comes to album releases, flooding the market doesn’t really work in a market that’s already flooded — especially when the music’s just OK.
When it comes to shows, though, the rules are different, and there, too, Ivan & Alyosha’s business decisions have been spot-on. Constant performances and a month-long Seattle residency helped, but the band also didn’t waste any time making the trek to SXSW, where they attracted the attention of NPR. What does this prove? When it comes to pop, there’s nothing like having a good business plan, especially when you’ve got a small-but-stellar catalog to back it up. Bands angling for success should be so wise as to follow Ivan & Alyosha’s example — and indie pop fans should check out what will surely be one of Ivan & Alyosha’s last free shows. Ivan & Alyosha perform at 8 pm Thursday, May 13, at the Axe and Fiddle, Cottage Grove. 21+. Free. — Sara Brickner