Sunday, December 03, 2006

Quiet Power!

A couple of alternate titles to this blog might be: "Happy Birthday, Amy! Damn You!" or "Tonight I was rocked by Canadian rednecks!" But I think "Quiet Power!" says it best.

A buddy of mine went to see Flipper tonight at Dante's (Flipper, for those of you not familiar with them, are a San Francisco experimental noise/punk outfit from the 80s; they're one of those bands that are, as my friend John says, "referred to as 'seminal' in the press"), and honestly, I was tempted to go along. I also considered seeing New Model Army (another "seminal" 80s band, this time from England) at the Fez, which might very well have been a once in a lifetime show. But I turned both of those opportunities down to see Amy Millan (say "Mill-ANN") at the Doug Fir. Those of you who follow Canadian music will probably know her name from her work with Stars and Broken Social Scene. These days she's touring as a solo artist.

Now, many of you who know me here in Portland know that I've been bitching incessantly of late about the country/bluegrass curse that's befallen Stumptown over the past few years (thankfully, that curse is beginning to lift). Well, I have to say, tonight I saw that oft-mangled musical genre done right! Amy Millan made the Fir her own with her "anti-Tammy-Wynette" down home antics. "Kentuckified," the critics are saying about her. Now, I've never been to Kentucky, so I can't comment on that, but she's from Canada, I know that much, and I don't think there's a Kentucky up there... And at any rate, Slint and Love Jones were both from Kentcky, and there's really no comparison to either, so critics, I would say you need to fish around for a better word! Of course, I'm not a music critic myself, so I really don't know what else I can say about her other than that her voice is the perfect vehicle for her beautifully crafted songs, thin and plaintive at the right moments, fat and soaring the rest of the time. The band she's surrounded herself with back her up with equal parts subtlety and force, with the stand-outs being a lap steel player, a mandolinist (mandoliner?) and a multi-instrumentalist who switched from trombone to guitar to saw. Yes, the saw, more on that in a bit. You can check out her music at In doing so, you'll get the Amy Millan solo experience. Which is all well and good, but imagine those songs fleshed out by an astoundingly capable six-piece band, and you'll have a good idea of what we all experienced tonight at the Doug Fir.

I saw a couple of firsts at this show: One was a Thunderbird mandolin (I didn't know such a thing existed! This is of interest to me, as I play a Thunderbird bass). The other was a saw solo! Yes, that's right, the aforementioned multi-instrumentalist played a saw (just what it sounds like), with a bow, like a cello. Only it was a saw. Which of course we've all seen before on Hee Haw, but this guy soloed on the thing like he was Jimmy Page. Amazing!

And yes, it was Amy's birthday. Or rather tomorrow is. A few of us in the crowd tried to sing "Happy Birthday" to her at a couple points during the show, but she cut us off, determined not to be the center of attention (ironic, yes). If any of you happen to be at Amy's show in Eugene tomorrow night, don't let her wiggle out of it! And have fun, you will not be disappointed!


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