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.


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