It is rare that I make the lengthy pilgrimage to the Fixin’ To in the northern climes of St. Johns, but I was glad that I did a couple Fridays ago for M.A.R.C. and the Horsejerks’ album release party. It was a night of high novelty, art rock and goofy theatrics.
RLLRBLL started the show with a rousing set of their gothy synth-led art rock. Their dark, earnest songs made them somewhat of an odd band out on a bill with two bands that deal heavily in camp and tongue in cheek humor, but their performance was still incredibly engaging. Beautiful, delicate ballads crescendoed into cacophonous climaxes in inventive compositions executed with precision and intensity by musicians who have been playing together for more than 20 years.
Latter Day Skanks graced the stage next, clad in missionary/punk drag and rocking hard-hitting drums, screaming flying-V guitar, crabcore stances, and hilariously obscene lyrics. Their music is an in-your-face comedy/novelty take on hardcore punk and hard rock with a satirical blade pointed at the Mormon church and other institutions that discriminate against queer folks. Each member possesses a stage name and rank within the Church of Latter Day Skanks, with Prophetess Josephina Smith on lead vocals and bass, Elder Bring ‘Em Hung on guitar and vocals, and Elder Milfred Trimley on drums. They also have some pretty choice song hymn titles, like “Jesus Plasty” and “Under the Boner of Heaven.”
M.A.R.C. and the Horsejerks converged upon the stage with its six wig-clad members, over a dozen instruments, and multiple horse props. Frontman M.A.R.C. Horsejerk (who may or may not have associations with other area bands like Nasalrod, Mr. Frederick, and General Electric) remained in character throughout the performance and even during soundcheck. He embodied the role of a cartoonish, grizzled horse rancher with a penchant for cheese, animal husbandry, shopping at Sears, and bellyaching about his neighbors, singing and speaking with a vocal timbre somewhere between Captain Beefheart and Yosemite Sam. M.A.R.C.’s backing band had a variety of whimsical stage names and instrumental talents, with Tawny Winufer Sandasin on bass and foot tambourine, Toots/Tater on banjo and guitar, Twiggy Barndust on washboard, glockenspiel and auxiliary drums/percussion, Mouse Milk on keyboard and viola, and Bobby Butts on trumpet, guitar and auxiliary percussion. Despite being flanked by such a robust ensemble, M.A.R.C. also had a bit of a one-man-band setup with foot-pedal-operated bass and snare drums that he played while strumming an acoustic guitar and yawping about his bucolic dreams and misadventures. While the off-kilter vocals and goofy, deranged lyrical content was consistent throughout the set, they began with a number of folksy and melodically pretty numbers that were at times reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens or Andrew Bird. As the performance progressed, the band began to rock harder and stranger, revealing a unique brand of avant garde folk-rock with some faint echoes of poly-genre weirdos like Butthole Surfers, Mr. Bungle and perhaps even Terry Riley. In addition to all this, M.A.R.C. peppered the set with comical and sometimes incoherent ramblings, audience members danced and hollered, a hobby horse was passed around the room, and at some point I found myself pumping a plastic horse statue up and down in the air in rhythm with the music. It was definitely a good set!
Normally I cover music, but today I’m branching out and covering P.L.O.W.! What is P.L.O.W.? one might ask. It stands for Portland Legends of Wrestling, so one may infer that it is a wrestling league. Perhaps this is true. Their shows do feature over-the-top personas, bitter rivalries, silly costumes, ample trash talking and an untrustworthy host -all hallmarks of a proper wrestling company! However, there is no actual wrestling involved in their performances -though there is a splash zone! Consider yourself warned.)
They claim to have lost their wrestling license, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this is all an elaborate ruse to get wrestling enthusiasts to watch long-form, character-based improv comedy built around loosely scripted plot points. But I could be wrong. Perhaps we’ll never know.
What I do know is that the Wednesday, May 22nd show I attended was P.L.O.W.’s first installment at the new Kickstand Comedy Theater space. They had just recently moved from a small space above the Siren Theater to the former Brody Theater space. I was happy to see them move to a theater and to see the Brody’s building continue to be used for comedy/improv performances. However, there are still some kinks to work out. The venue doesn’t have full curtains at the moment, leaving the room fairly bright on a late Spring evening and making it somewhat difficult to follow the show’s very funny pre-recorded video segments. Hopefully this will be remedied before their next show.
The show opened with the aforementioned video segments, which recapped P.L.O.W.’s ongoing saga. We learned that, in the previous installment, things ended with no discernible champion. Interviewer and show host, Ed Hosea, played by comedian Shane Hosea, was given an ultimatum by the league’s Benevolent Overlord, the stone-faced, shades-wearing Jane Demeanie, played by comedian/actor Ann Zander, to name a champion or be fired from the show. In an act of haste and absurdity, Hosea declared the P.L.O.W. champion to be 90s sitcom star Fran Drescher. So the question loomed large at this night’s show: will Fran show up to claim her title?
After the video intros, the aforementioned harried host and official interviewer Ed Hosea introduced the show. He sported a rumpled but professorial tweed jacket, a ponytail, and retro aviator glasses, and had the demeanor of a man whose life could fall apart at any moment, embodying a strange mix of WWE sleaze and small-town-indy-promoter desperation.
After this introduction, Ed began interviewing a series of characters, the first of which was Frank Drescher, a banal, shades-wearing, East coast dude played by comedian Steven Wilbur. Frank explained that he showed up to claim the championship belt only to learn that he had misinterpreted a tweet about Fran Drescher being awarded the the title. He was flummoxed and enraged to learn this, claiming that Fran is his arch nemesis!Next, the crowd was offered a diversion from the show’s typical wrestling-adjacent shenanigans by visiting stand-up comedian and television actor, Ron Lynch. He performed a set of absurd jokes, one-man sketches, and even a bit of prestidigitation!
On the heels of this stand-up comedy interlude came arch-heel “Hollywood” Chris Khatami from San Francisco, strutting up to the stage to the gauche sounds of Santana’s “Smooth” feat. Rob Thomas. While his name initially seems like a confusing identity/geography paradox, it perfectly encapsulates his character as a distillation of everything artsy Northwesterners hate most about wealthy, neoliberal Californians. He wore a Nancy Pelosi t-shirt and taunted the audience with claims of San Francisco’s superiority over Portland, generating a rumble of boos and jeers. He also performed his signature gross out move, chugging and spitting La Croix onto himself, the stage, and a few audience members!
Tensions mounted as the NPR-loving, trash-talking Paula Poundface was summoned to the stage. However, the in-your-face character previously (and in the pre-show videos) played by Natalie Haddad had been inexplicably replaced with a more mild-mannered version of herself, played by actor Dan Heise in a shoulder-length brunette wig. Ed Hosea seemed perplexed by this surprise, but the league’s Benevolent Overlord Jane DeMeanie insisted that this was the real Paula Poundface. So Hosea reluctantly began officiating the closest thing to actual wrestling in the show: an arm wrestling competition between “Hollywood” Chris Khatami and Paula Poundface.
Khatami triumphed much to the chagrin of the audience as the question still loomed: will Fran Drescher show up to claim her title?! That question was answered as The Nanny herself* entered the room in a loud but stylish floral jumpsuit, oversized rose tinted glasses and open-toed heels. She gracefully and nasally accepted the league’s shiny new belt between awkwardly long laughs. However she faced opposition from her nemesis Frank Drescher as well as other wrestling characters, and there were even some unexpected shenanigans at the hand of Ed Hosea’s twin brother Shane Hosea (also played by Shane Hosea)!
*portrayed by local comedian and illustrator Carolyn Main
If you’d like to follow the continuing drama, check out P.L.O.W’s Facebook page for more videos, promos, and forthcoming details about their next quarterly installment coming up in August.
I took advantage of the recent holiday weekend and indulged in one of the Rontom’s back patio Sunday Sessions the evening on May 26th. This particular session featured performances by two seasoned and well-loved local bands that I hadn’t seen live before: the raucous outlaw country balladeers, Jenny Don’t and the Spurs, and the epic, 7-piece spaghetti western orchestra, Federale.
The patio was packed, but I managed to muscle my way to the front and get some sketches of the bands. Jenny Don’t and the Spurs got everyone bopping with upbeat, classic sounding country tunes delivered with rock ‘n’ roll energy and expert musicianship. Frontwoman Jenny Don’t does a great job of blending traditional and more modern country elements, playing a twangy Gretsch guitar and singing with the shimmer and ebullience similar to Patsy Cline as well as a knowing sass reminiscent of an artist like Sarah Shook. She and her band were also decked out in all the appropriate gear -ten gallon hats, a bolo tie, a gingham button-down, a bright red dress with sparkling star and horseshoe appliques- making for a shit-kicking good time!
Afterwards, Federale began setting up a multitude of instruments on the stage. Once they were fully prepared and assembled, the seven members launched into the first of many intense, cinematic, Ennio-Morricone-style ballads. Each song featured multiple dramatic crescendos, memorable pentatonic melodies, and rich, inventive instrumentation. Multiple guitars, keyboards, trumpet, drums, bass, pedal steel, and an arsenal of various percussion instruments flanked the lead vocals and haunting whistling of frontman Collin Hegna as well as backing vocals from multiple other band members and the soaring operatic soprano of Maria Karlin. In fact, the most striking part of the band’s sound may have been the intense and plentiful lyric-less hooks performed by Karlin and trumpeter Sebastian Bibb-Barrett in parallel harmony with each other. All of these instruments and elements combined to create lush emotional and narrative swells, evoking scenes of drama and pathos amid a barren, desert landscape.
I drew this sketch at an intimate patio gathering at Barrio on Foster, with a mix of humans and canines in attendance. The performance was part of the launch party for Gritty Birds Podcasting, Jeni Wren Stottrup’s new full-service podcast editing and production business.
Jeni Wren has been hosting a podcast called Gritty Birds about the personal and professional stories of musicians from Portland and beyond for the past four years, and has recently started a podcast production company of the same name. Because she is a musician herself, she opened her launch party with a set of mellow, looper-based songs with jazz style vocals and piano and synthesizer sounds. Her live performance was followed by a lively seat from DJ Pacemaker.
Local psych rock trio Motorcoat recently released a new digital single and b-side called Heads & Tails in anticipation of their upcoming full-length album. I’ve long been a fan of their lush, expressive sounds and wild, humorous performances, so I made sure not to miss their release party at Kelly’s Olympian, which also featured performances by the bands Draves and Low Flyer.
Draves opened the show with a rousing set of tightly composed garage rock tunes with unexpected flourishes such as proggy rhythmic interludes, melodic lead lines played on bass, and novel lead guitar pedal effects that sometimes even sounded like synth patches. This was one of the group’s first shows, making their tight and energetic performance all the more impressive.
Draves at Kelly’s Olympian on 3-23-19
The second band, Low Flyer, was another group I hadn’t heard before, but they quickly impressed with solid songwriting, and a well-blended, expansive sound that seemed to be somewhat influenced by 90s/00s neo-psychedelia and post-rock. They excelled at playing slower, elegant ballads with cathartic climaxes, but also deftly delivered energetic rock numbers, making for nice variety of mood and tempo throughout the set.
Low Flyer at Kelly’s Olympian on 3-22-19
Motorcoat headlined with a whirlwind of sound, stage antics, and goofy banter. Alex Fulton and Michael Vincent posed and jumped around in a sparring pantomime, staring each other down and shredding while wielding bass and guitar like swords. Meanwhile drummer Matias Morel played frenetic rhythms while triggering dense keyboard samples on an electronic drum pad without missing a beat. At one point Alex jumped offstage and danced with the audience while continuing to play speedy bass runs, and Matias even spit up fake blood between a couple songs, adding to the comical intensity of the performance. All three members’ ferocious chops combined with the artfully programmed drum pad samples created an enveloping psychedelic sound that morphed in tone from doom-ish heaviness to upbeat blues rock riffs to breezy trip-hop grooves with ease.
I had been wanting to see a full set from Jazz Boyfriends since catching just the tail end of their performance at Noggin Fest this past Fall. They had a sound that was adventurous but also cozy and inviting. That desire was fulfilled on a clear March night at The Liquor Store on Belmont. The group filled the room a warm blanket of sound: sizzling cymbals, smooth but powerful vocals, lilting strings and enveloping upright bass notes. Chibia Ulinwa and June Magnolia, the group’s primary songwriters and former Portland State Symphony members, traded duties on keyboard and various stringed instruments throughout the set, with Ulinwa on violin and Magnolia on Viola and guitar at times. The deft harmonic interplay of the their vocals and lead instruments soared above the skillful and dynamic drumming of veteran percussionist Clancy Hanes Feahr and the rich tones of double bassist Kyle Lissman. They take a great deal of inspiration from jazz, as their name implies, but also seem to draw a lot of influence from acoustic folk, soul and classical music to create a unique sound that doesn’t easily fit into a single genre.
Maurice and the Stiff Sisters displayed an impressive mix of showmanship, humor and earnest commentary by presenting their set as a religious ritual. Band members plodded onto the stage in even-metered steps, draped in ascetic monk’s robes to the soundtrack of a warped, pre-recorded Gregorian chant as front-man Maurice Spencer made a procession through the crowd and up to the stage. He was waving an incense thurible and styled like a hippie Christ, or perhaps a haphazard mash-up of Andrew W.K. and Peter O’Toole in The Ruling Class. Once he ascended to the stage and picked up his guitar, the chant cut out and the band launched into the first of many peppy, soul-infused nerd-rock numbers. In addition to an energetic rhythm section of Michael Doherty on bass and Dave Shur on drums, the group featured a tight horn section with Aaron Mattison on tenor saxophone and Bryant Byers on trombone, adding emotive flourishes to the songs’ driving phrases and catchy melodies. About halfway through their performance, Maurice took a moment to deliver the rock club equivalent of a homily while the rest of the band left the stage for a costume change. He described live music performances as a form of ritual and and community in a secular world, explaining the band’s gimmick and also making a compelling statement about the spiritual power of live music. After the good word was shared, the band returned to the stage sans ecclesiastical garb and continued to play more vigorous, danceable power-pop tunes.Kool Stuff Katie is long-standing Portland garage rock duo. Members Shane Blem and Saren Oliver manage to make big pop rock sounds with a drum kit, a guitar, and vocals -and admittedly also a robust array of effects pedals. They finished off the night with a set of straight-forward, but expertly crafted tunes. Their infectious rock riffs, hard-hitting drums and tight vocal harmonies were the perfect accompaniment for both dancing near the stage and relaxing at the back of the bar with a beer. They also included some choice covers, showing equal facility in interpreting Black Sabbath and Bikini Kill. It was a satisfying close to a typically eclectic night of Portland music.
Sam Densmore’s new single “Damn the Consequences” puts him squarely in the genre of pop philosopher. The new single has sensibility of Elvis Costello, but with the rich instrumental layering of R.E.M., and a vocal timbre that sounds just a tad like a combination of Michael Stipe and Tom Petty. But the lyrics are what make this song really special. It’s a kind of coming of age song, a song with brilliant lyrics that shine with the wisdom gained from making it to middle age. He rhymes “love, like time, is a construct of the mind” in catchy and insightful opening lines. The chorus, “live like there’s no tomorrow,” and “damn the consequences, and regrets too” could be a calling to pursue the frivolous behavior of youth or to set out on a full on mid-life crisis.
Sam Densmore - Damn The Consequences (Official Music Video) - YouTube
Densmore released the song on Feb 27 with an entertaining video featuring Sam and a naked Portlander riding around town on scooters, which means that it must have been filmed last year when scooters were still legal in Portland.
Check out Sam’s discography, including his 2017 album, Open Marriage, which was also expertly written, on Bandcamp and his website. Follow Sam on FB, and stayed tuned for his upcoming EP, Black Velvet Unicorn, to be released in the fall. His next gig is guaranteed to be awesome. April 13 he is playing a rare all-ages music video festival and concert alongside Skulldiver and Camp Crush at Clinton Street Theater. Congrats to Sam for kicking off 2019 with such a great single and amazing upcoming gigs!
Last but not least, if you’ve enjoyed this music review, please consider clicking on the sidebar to subscribe to the Portland Notes music blog so you can stay in tune with Portland’s amazing local music.
Two local bands, The Cabin Project and Camp Crush combined forces this past January 31st at Doug Fir Lounge to release a new full-length album and a new EP, respectively (check out Ramune’s review of the Cabin Project’s new album, Decenter, here). Both bands are defined by their strong emotive and melodic songwriting, but each has very different genre hallmarks.
Camp Crush, a synth-pop duo consisting of Jen Deale on keyboards and lead vocals and Chris Spicer on drums, quickly got the room bobbing with tight rhythms and big, anthemic choruses. Their sound combines the icy textures and dance beats of new wave with the bombast of 80s pop and hair metal. I couldn’t help but imagine some of their emphatically belted choruses being delivered by Bonnie Tyler or Foreigner. The duo also brought out bassist Benjy Rickard (Labradora) and guitarist David Ricardo (The Zags, The Cool Whips) for a few enjoyably dramatic songs near the end of their set. Both Rickard and Ricardo played on Camp Crush’s new EP, Run.
The Cabin Project quickly drew in the audience with their ethereal Americana songs that combine the intimacy of folk music with the orchestral flair of indie pop. Frontwoman Katie Sawicki’s warm, reverberant guitar tones blended effortlessly with two part vocal harmonies (from Sawicki and drummer/vocalist Zanny Geffel), melodic basslines from Kelly Clifton, and sweeping, pedal-modified violin phrases from Jean Mastaler. Additionally, Geffel’s dynamic drums perfectly complemented the melodic and emotional swells of the tunes. Sawicki took some time during the set to speak about the meaning and and intention of their new songs as personal reflections of queer women living in a trying and frightening political climate, and many of the attendees were longtime fans who sang along passionately with songs, adding to the intimacy and connectedness of the concert experience.
It has been fun to watch Tara Velarde change and grow as a musician these past 5+ years. After graduating with a BA in Music Education from Pacific University at Forest Grove in 2013, Tara wasted no time forming a band and playing out. That band was The Tara Novellas formed with her brother Jamos and sister Cally. As she got more involved in the vibrant Portland music community, the initial band morphed a bit, and then released a 4-track EP.
During this time, Tara sported her signature short haircut, the likeness of which was painted on their bass drum. We joked at the time about how she could never change her hair. A while later, Tara dropped the band name, reinvented herself as a solo, and released a full length CD Get Out and Walk. You can hear her do many of these tracks live today. Last year, she grew out the hair and released two singles Touch You and Willow Baby both of which we’re pleased to be playing on Portland Notes Radio.
In keeping with the theme of change and growth, here’s a video of Tara’s “A Man” at McMenamins Grand Lodge.
As if she didn’t have enough to do, Tara started a new project in the form of a podcast called “Making the Move”. It is all about independent musicians making the move into music full time. The goal is to provide relevant insights for musicians, and a bit of inside-baseball for the rest of us. Find it on Spotify, and Apple Podcasts. The podcast is hosted by Vortex Magazine. Stay up to date at the @makingthemove Instagram page.
Dropping this aesthetically strong video on the first day of 2019, Tazha The Diviner has unleashed an infectious beat into the world. With a lavender confidence, this spellcaster, graphic designer, musician, and artist has given us a great gift to start off the new year. Part call to arms, part motivational speech, “Living” has a healing quality to it, and if you let it, it can flow through you.
Diviner - Living - YouTube
You can stop their main website to see all the amazing projects they do, and follow them on instagram @Tazhathediviner