Saturday, October 28, 2006


This weekend's musical event took place at the Doug Fir. No surprise there, eh?

The opening band, Moonshine Hangover, are a country-rock outfit who are vaguely reminiscent of a cross between, maybe, 38 Special and the Black Crowes. I'm sort of done with the country-rock lately, but they were really good, better than most bands of this genre, here in Portland anyway. I think they'd play very well back in my home state of Michigan. The bass player, Will, has been best friends with my buddy Jim since their high school days in Beaverton, and we had a chance to chat him up after their set. He had the goods on Jim! Good cat.

Next up was a woman called Morgan Grace, who apparently just recently won a songwriting award on the on-line "underground" version of American Idol. Her band is a four-piece, with Morgan on vocals and guitar, a bass player, a drummer, and a sax player. They had a little bit of an edge to them, and at times really seemed to hit their stride. But on the whole, they didn't quite do it for me. Having a sax player is an interesting angle for a band like this, but he didn't really contribute much. It almost seemed like they'd just recruited a sax professor from Portland State to stand in for the night and improvise once in a while. And Morgan's voice was a bit off key from time to time (but yes, the songwriting is pretty solid). They could use some work, but I may give them a second chance sometime down the road. Oh, and I do have to say, their drummer, Sam Henry, was amazing. He's been playing around Portland since the late 70s, and was in the Wipers and Napalm Beach, both very influential Portland punk bands from (sorry...) back in the day. As my friend John noted, Sam displayed about as much musicianship as the other three combined. He had a very interesting way with the cymbals, sort of reminded me of Jeep MacNichol from the original Samples line-up.

The headlining band was the Heartless Bastards, a blues-rock trio from Cincinnati who've been getting a bit of attention in the music press lately. I don't know what it is with Ohio these days. First the Black Keys, now these guys. That Detroit garage rock thing must be creeping south, because the Buckeye state is producing good bands like nobody's business lately. The Heartless Bastards just tore the roof off the Fir. Portlanders tend to be a bit cynical when it comes to their music, and that seems to be especially true of the Doug Fir crowd, but these guys had the audience from the very first note! I've never seen a crowd at the Fir react to a band like they did tonight, not even at the Mission of Burma show. Singer/guitarist Erica Wennerstrom doesn't have a lot of range, she's very firmly planted in alto territory, but man, is her voice strong! Those are some very powerful lungs for such a petite gal! The folks at Pitchfork have said that Erica's limited range keeps the band from truly opening up, but I disagree. I don't think it limits them in the least. At any rate, the rhythm section more than kept up with her, and I should note that the bassist plays a Rickenbacker 3001 (as the more observant bass players among you may have noticed in the photo), which is noteworthy because it's such a rare thing to see. I can't think of anyone else who plays that bass other than the guy who played bass in the Posies back in the mid-90s. That's probably due to the fact that the 3001 is very, very heavy. I know, I used to have one. I do wish I'd kept that thing, but I'm really coming to like my Thunderbird. But enough about me, if the Heartless Bastards come to your town, make sure to check 'em out. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Give our best to Derek and Wolfgang: Todd Skinner, 1958-2006

Todd Skinner was a legend by the time I started climbing (all those years ago). It saddened me, as I'm sure it did many of you, to hear of his death from a 500-foot fall while rappelling off a project last Monday in Yosemite. Words will fail, but for what it's worth, he went out doing what he was meant to do. You can read the Denver Post article here.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

This weekend's musical accident!

I headed out to the Alberta Street Public House tonight for the first time with a friend of mine. I can't believe I'd never been to this place. It's a very charming little english/irish style pub which is apparently divided into two spaces when there's live music, one half being given over to the show, with no bar, and the other half retaining the function of pub. We went into the pub half to grab a couple pints and an order of fries, which according to Barfly magazine are some of the best in Portland. They were better than average, though far too skinny. Before the fries arrived, the last musician to go on, Seattle's Camille Bloom, came over into our half of the pub to invite us over to check out her set for a $2 donation in lieu of the cover charge. We missed most of her performance due to the enormity of the pile of fries which eventually showed up, but we managed to catch her last three songs. The basic idea seemed to be fairly aggressive DiFrancoesque folk. She handled her guitar well, and sang, with a very strong and clear voice, songs of unrequited lust and interpersonal struggle. She also covered "Sunglasses At Night." Good stuff.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Yaki Taki Ooh-Wah" or... "You say hotdog, I say whisky!"

My friend Jenni's had a bad week. So I talked her into seeing some music on Wednesday to take her mind off of things. The original plan was to see the Decemberists at the Crystal Ballroom, but upon perusing the Willamette Week music listings, I found that the Detroit Cobras were playing Sabala's, and being a big Cobras fan, insisted that we see them instead. And as it turned out, the Decemberists' show was sold out so this worked out just fine.

I'd never been to Sabala's, so I really had no idea of just how nasty a place this is. Now I do. We got ourselves a couple beers, and after making our way across the sticky floor to one of the booths along the back wall, I immediately had to head back to the bar to steal a bar towel to clean off our table. Considering the pathogens that must live in those bar towels, this may not have been a good idea, but at the very least we managed to rid our table of crusty ketchup residue. Sabala's is so disgusting that you barely notice the holes punched in the bathroom walls because you're distracted by the fleas hopping around on the toilets. You think I'm kidding. I'm not. In short, it's my kind of place!

The first band to go on was Portland's own Divining Rods, who play a sort of updated 60's style psychedelic garage rock. Their singer isn't winning any awards, but on the whole I'd say they pulled it off well enough.

Taylor Hollingsworth and the Spider Eaters, of Vegas, Alabama (that's right, Vegas, Alabama) were next. They were actually pretty good. Punkabilly is probably the word I would use to describe their sound. Well crafted, well directed songs played tight and precise. Taylor's a competent singer, and his guitar work is impressive, if a little derivative (somewhere between Johnny Ramone and Brian Setzer). And he has a good rhythm section backing things up.

The next band, if they can even be called a band, were terrible. There's really no word in the English language that can convey just how bad they were. I asked Jenni to try and come up with one, and all she could manage was "crap." But the problem with that word is that is doesn't have enough syllables to convey the message. If you could somehow combine the words heinous, horrendous and horrific into one big long unpronounceable diatribe, that might begin to do the trick. Basically, this was two singer/guitarists cruelly misusing a drum machine (or perhaps I should say a drum machine cruelly misusing two singer/guitarists), who for all of their effort could come up with nothing better than a horrible screeching noise reminiscent of the sound the fan belt in your car makes when it's about to give way and shred the electrical system. A couple songs into all of this one of them, bafflingly, changed into a dress and a purple wig. He presumably remained in the dress and wig, but I can't say for sure, as Jenni and I sat out the rest of their set in the hallway. It's pretty rare that I walk out on a band, but these guys were that bad. I don't know if they were going for irony or what, but I could find nothing to redeem what they were doing. They were an absolute waste of everybody's time. I didn't catch their name, but I wish I had so I could warn you all off of them. On the upside, Jenni and I managed to have a decent conversation out there in the hallway as we were waiting for the Cobras to go on.

And once they did finally take the stage, the Detroit Cobras were, of course, amazing! For those of you not familiar with the Cobras, their basic M.O. is this: take obscure R&B songs from the 50's and 60's, Otis Redding B-sides and the like, and give them a punked-up garage rock treatment. Frontwoman Rachel Nagy (who, as band lore has it, worked in the past as both a butcher and a stripper) is a boozy punk-burlesque torch singer who shows off her cleavage almost as well as she shows off her vocal chords, and the other "leader" of the band, Mary Ramirez, is a capable and engaging rhythm guitarist who I could easily see filling the Malcolm Young role in Helle's Belles. Most eyes were trained on Rachel for the way she's built, but my eyes were trained, for much of the show anyway, on Mary for the way she plays.

Jenni managed to stick it out for five or six songs of the Cobras' set, and I have to give her an enormous amount of credit for this, as she had to be at work early the next morning. As you're reading this, she is undoubtedly suffering in the office. You are a trooper, Jenni! Thanks for coming out and supporting the Cobras!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Copilot's blog

I rocked the Lucky Labrador tonight! Not singlehandedly, mind you, I had some help from Mortimer and Porter the rottweiler this time around. Anyway, most of you reading this probably know by now that that there's something wrong with me, although I'm not really sure what it is (editor's note: Copilot's lungs are being colonized by a friendly and industrious family of cancer cells), so I talked Tommy into having a little get together for me at my favorite brewpub while I'm still in reasonably good shape. And believe me, I got a workout! Between showing off my extensive collection of tricks, chasing that tennis ball with a squirrel tail attached thing, and humping Mortimer's head, I'm beat! The photo, for those of you not familiar with my friends (Tommy likes to think they're his friends, but really, they're mine. We just sort of let him hang around), is of, left to right, back to front, Jim, Jenni, John, Adam, me (that's Tommy behind me), Sarah, Mortimer (with Lowrey behind him) and Robin. Off camera are Josh (taking the photo), my roomie Bill (off fielding a phone call) and Porter the rottweiler, who was at that moment hanging with his people. By the way, that mosaic behind us on the wall is a memorial to the dozen or so dogs that were poisoned by paraquat-laced meat in Laurelhurst Park a few years back. Tommy and I used to hang out in that park! Man, did I dodge a bullet there! Oh, and a big shout to Bronwyn! Take care of that spleen, my friend!

A fun time was had by all, and while I may not be at next year's Dogtoberfest, I assure you that this will not be my last trip to the Lab! Thanks for reading!

Crotch sniff,

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"My mother taught me three chords..."

"...and the rest I just stole as I went along. I learned everything by ear or by watching people."

That, my friends, is James McMurtry! He's one of the best singer/songwriters to come out of Texas in the last couple decades, and he put on a very good show a couple weeks ago at the Alladin Theater (I'm a bit late in posting this, I know, buy hey...). Many thanks to John Mellencamp for "dicovering" this guy! He just blew each and every one of us in the Alladin away that night.

Bernie Sanders (D, VT) is currently using McMurtry's recent protest song in his campaign. Do check it out, it's pretty good!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

House Show!

...which is pretty much just what it sounds like (the photo, however, is not of a house show). We showed up at "The Pink House" at 8:00 to what would have been a run-of-the-mill North Portland twenty-something hipster party, which it was, I suppose, until the music started in the basement shortly after 9:00.

The first band to play were called Swim Swam Swum. Sort of a cross between Weezer and Pond (for those of you non-Portlanders who aren't familiar with Pond, well, google 'em), they're Portland's best-conjugated band, and able performers as well. Their rhythm section is VERY tight, though their singer/guitarist should stick to guitar (I must stress that he really is an impressive guitar player, but he does need to hand off the vocal duties to someone who can actually sing. If that ever happens, these guys may have something).

The next band, Deer or the Doe, I'm sorry to report, I pretty much missed. I did catch a couple of their songs, but for most of their set, I was hangin' out upstairs on the front porch, so I can't really offer any kind of description of their performance, other than to say that the two songs I heard were pretty good. A catchy, indie-pop sort of sound.

And finally, there was Point Juncture, Washington. It's definitely a treat to see this band in such an informal setting. They could well be the next band to "make it out of Portland" (they've got it all over the Decemberists, but don't tell anybody). They're just that good. I managed to schmooze them a little before they went on (my friend John knows Amanda, the singer/drummer), which is always cool, but the real fun was watching them play cheek-by-jowl in a basement which was itself about the size of an average stage. At one point Amanda remarked between songs that it was the most fun show they'd ever played, and I wouldn't doubt she was telling the truth. They looked like they were enjoying themselves.

So there you have it. Good bands, fifty-some-odd spectators, suprisingly good acoustics for a basement, and tasty IPA flowing upstairs in the kitchen. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday evening.