Tag Archives: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Notes On Night Vale

By Hollister Dixon

Those three years I spent doing a podcast taught me a lot about myself, but one of the most important things I learned was about the love, adoration, and respect I have for anyone who is able to turn in a quality radio production with any regularity, and get people to listen. In this respect, then, getting to see a live performance of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor’s Welcome To Night Vale – a bi-monthly podcast with a legion of fierce, loyal, and rabid fans – in the opulent Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall was like being a Little League short stop at a Red Sox game. Radio is a fickle beast, and the nature of podcasting is such that you have to fight tooth and nail, at times, to really grab people’s attention. And yet, four years on, WTNV’s fanbase is devoted enough that they were not only able to justify being at the Schnitz, but were able to sell the place out for an hour-and-a-half of music, surrealism, and ghost stories.

The unfortunate thing about Welcome To Night Vale’s live shows is that, to get the full effect of everything, you need to actually hear it. As the show’s credits-reader/proverb-deliverer Meg Bashwiner highlighted in her pre-show delivery of the show’s rules noted, the story of this particular tour will be released as a live recording after the tour is complete, so even giving major details about the plot are hard to justify. In lieu of a traditional review – which is hard to truly do for something like WTNV – I’ve compiled a series of observations about the show as a whole. Please enjoy.

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Sufjan Stevens is Coming to Portland!

By Hollister Dixon

One of the most wonderful things about Sufjan Stevens is that you never quite know what to expect from him, both on record and live. He’s someone who has swung wildly from intimate and banjo-intensive, to heavily-orchestrated or even downright epic, all with the same level of passion and dedication. His live shows aren’t any different; I personally have seen him on two occasions: the first of which being a neon-lit blowout at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on the Age of Adz tour, and again at the Aladdin Theater, where he brought the house down with a show almost entirely populated with Christmas songs, with a stage that looked like a thrift store had exploded all over it and the massive Song Wheel he’d brought with him. The latter ended with him climbing a stack of speakers while inflatable unicorns bounced around the crowd.

Stevens’ career has been littered with gigantic gaps in activity, occasionally peppered with odd projects he’s worked on, but the release of an actual, full-on album feels like an event now, considering his forthcoming record, Carrie & Lowell, is only his second studio album in the decade (!) since Illinois came out. And, of course, a new album means that you’ve got a fantastic chance to catch him in a live setting.

This April, Stevens will embark on a lengthy tour of North America in support of Carrie & Lowell, which will include a stop here in Portland, right back at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, on June 8th. Tickets for the show go onsale this Friday, January 30th, and you can read more about the show right over here.

After the jump, you can check out Asthmatic Kitty’s trailer for Carrie & Lowell – which will be out March 31st on Asthmatic Kitty Records, and check out the rest of his tour dates.

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LIVE: Old Crow Medicine Show, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, OR

By Jacob Heiteen

After walking out of their performance at the Schnitz, all I could think was how much I wished more bands were like the Old Crow Medicine Show. For those who don’t know, OCMS started life a group of buskers playing high energy takes on old-time folk songs, when bluegrass legend, Doc Watson, heard them playing outside a pharmacy. He then invited them to play is annual MerleFest, introducing them to a very wide audience and jumpstarting their career.

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The Tyranny of Distance: On Seeing Pixies Live

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Pixies (bass drum) // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

By Hollister Dixon // Photos by Yousef Hatlani

  1. I spent a decent amount of time deciding on a name for this review, and I realized that the best title possible was not by the Pixies, but by Ted Leo. The title has been stuck in my head for longer than I can remember at this point, and I think it says a lot about the band that the Pixies are: they are four people who managed to form one of the most important bands of the late 20th century, despite actively hating each other. In a phone interview included in the film loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies (a film that documented the return of a band that’s return always seemed like a nice dream rather than a possibility), Frank Black, the cantankerous, screaming frontman of the group, said this of the relationship: “We don’t talk to each other that much, and not because we don’t like each other. It’s just the kind of people we are.”
  2. Let’s address the elephant in the room: people have a troubled relationship with the band at this point in time. The band have been reunited for a decade at this point, but have only released 10 songs, one of which was a deleted song from the Shrek 2 soundtrack, a Kim Deal lead number called “Bam Thwok”, which the setlist archiving site Setlist.FM says has only been played five times since the song’s release. None of these songs have been well-received, but it’s possible that the band’s checkered history in 2013 might help explain this. In June of last year, Kim Deal, the exuberant and incredible bassist of the band, left abruptly, for reasons that have yet to be completely explained. Pixies fans view Deal as an integral piece of the puzzle, providing the charisma the band sorely needs. At one point, guitarist Joey Santiago stated that the band mourned the loss of their long-time comrade for a scant three days, before chugging along with their new EP (simply titled EP1) with Muffs bassist Kim Shattuck – who was then replaced by Entrance Band/A Perfect Circle/Zwan bassist Paz Lenchantin late last year. Because of all of this, Pixies are viewed as the shell of what they used to be. This is unfairbut we’ll get to that soon.

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    Best Coast // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

  3. Before we progress, let’s talk about the show’s opener, Best Coast. I’ve been waiting a good long while to see Best Coast, and have been prevented from doing so by other obligations the night of every single show the group have played in Portland (most notably the VitaminWater Uncapped performance Best Coast did with up-and-coming hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar, which fell on the same night as a reunited Codeine). The unfortunate thing is, Bethany Cosentino and her group played to a very tough (and half empty) crowd, and their sound was lost to the corners and cracks of the Schnitz. Best Coast are a fantastic band, but they are one who’s sound is coated with a thick layer of grunge, and though that sound works in this space, their particular brand of it is better suited for nearly any other small-to-mid-sized venue in Portland. Had this show taken place at the Crystal Ballroom or the Roseland, they would have torn the roof off the place. It’s truly a shame, because they played their hearts out, sounded fantastic, and were clearly grateful to be opening for a band like Pixies.

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    Pixies // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

  4. The first three songs of the Pixies set were played perfectly, and served as a strange miniature history of the band, in only six minutes. Starting with the still pretty bizarre “Bone Machine”, followed by “Wave of Mutilation”, and then the classic “U-Mass” from the band’s final album, Tromp Le Monde. As someone who has been waiting to see the Pixies for as long as I can remember, the show could have ended right then and there and I would have been extremely happy.
  5. No matter how dubious the crowd was, those fears did not prevent everyone from rocking the fuck out. I’m not very familiar with the two EPs that have come out in the last six months, but it was always clear which songs were new by how the crowd reacted: if you looked around and only saw one or two people singing, it was a safe bet to assume that it was something new. As I consult the setlist, this appears to be entirely true. During other songs, those classic songs, like “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Where Is My Mind?”, the crowd went bananas. During the show’s final songs, “Vamos”, Joey Santiago spent a few minutes going ballistic on his guitar, milking every last ounce of love from the crows that possibly could by goofing off, as Frank Black stared and grinned. When the song finally concluded, the rare joy pouring out of Black was visible from anywhere in the room, especially as he wandered to the edge of the stage to high-five the fans. A friend of mine joked that, if Frank Black smiled that night, spring would come early. Considering just how happy he was there at the end, I’m surprised summer hasn’t come early.
  6. That joy was not the norm, though. And that was part of the bizarre spectacle, and it’s why I was driven to write this review in the way I have written it: the show was great, but it may not have been good. The band was on top of their game, enough that they blasted through 31 songs in just over an hour-and-a-half, never seeming to miss a beat. They managed to capture every nuance of every song, from the woozy stumbling of “Caribou” to the goofiness of “La La Love You” (featuring an equally crowd-milking David Lovering continuing his criminally underrated croon for a minute longer than usual, though it was all in good fun). Everything sounded like it did on those records, but maybe that’s the problem: in replicating the atmosphere of those songs, the band may have forgotten to put their hearts into it. It’s unfair to say that it was “phoned in”, but I don’t doubt that the argument could be made very well.

    Pixies // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

    Pixies // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

  7. A quick, brief note about Paz Lenchantin: she’s no Kim Deal, but absolutely nobody will every be Kim, not even Kelley Deal, her identical twin. I spent a few songs with my eyes closed, and if I lost myself in the music just enough, I could forget that it wasn’t her. But, then, it’s never that easy, is it? Deal was the strange, wonderful heart of Pixies, and even though Lenchantin did a great Deal impression, she could not manage to capture that which made her integral to the band. And that is absolutely not her fault.
  8. I keep going back and forth about what I thought of the show, and the truth is, I’m still somewhat unsure. So, I’ll break it down like this: as a whole, the show was fantastic, and it was everything that I wanted, and possibly a little more. I knew going in that I was going to be seeing a band that I love in a slightly weakened state, and got a band that was still incredibly intense, and powerful, and fun. But, that show could have been so much more if that ice-breaker moment, in which Joey Santiago played his guitar backwards, were one of the first moments of the show, and the band had spent 31 songs enjoying themselves and the impact they’ve had with (almost) each and every one of them. I would have been happier if I’d seen a band less marred by the tyranny of distance, and had let the crowd see them as something more than one of the world’s best, but most dysfunctional, bands. Pixies may never again be the band we expect them to be, but that does not change the fact that you should, above all, go see them and make up your own minds about them.
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LIVE: Pet Shop Boys, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, OR

Pet Shop Boys // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

By Arya Imig

On a clear autumn’s eve, Pet Shop Boys beamed in from the future and turned a hall where the Oregon Symphony plays into one giant disco club. While it seems unbelievable that this was the group’s first ever appearance in Portland, the setting couldn’t have been more appropriate. When the historic building that houses the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall first opened in 1928 it housed vaudeville acts, and later films by Paramount. This is a fact Pet Shops Boys would no doubt appreciate. After all, the group’s aesthetic draws on the style and class of the classic film era of the 40s and 50s, and even the cabaret stylings of the vaudeville era, while also engaging the future. Take, for example, the group’s seamless segue from their all time classic “West End Girls”, to their cover of the even more classic West Side Story cut “Somewhere”. Yes, I really did just use the word classic three times in two sentences. That’s the kind of show this was though.

This was one of the most spectacular productions I’ve seen in as relatively intimate a space as the Schnitz provides. There were huge screens, hearkening back to the theater’s yesteryears (Eat your heart out, Warren Miller!), multiple costume changes, lasers, an incredible light show, with strobes a’plenty, fog, dancers, and a massive explosion of confetti. These displays accentuated a stellar performance as Pet Shop Boys presented an immensely memorable and enjoyable evening of their trademark sound, one which in many ways synthesizes(pun intended) the detached cool of Kraftwerk and the propulsive rhythms of their British peers New Order.

Over a 90 minute set that spanned the group’s 32 year career Chris Lowe, who turned 54 on the day of the show, and Neil Tenant, who turns 60 next year, had an awestruck crowd standing on their feet dancing the entire time. Their throbbing electronic beats, managed by the ever stoic Lowe, thrust forward while singer Tenant’s croon oscillated between urgency and nonchalance as it glided over head. Tenant and Lowe are progenitors of a generation of artists who draw inspiration from the duo’s sound without quite matching the specific feel that the group evokes. Sounds we’re hearing today from James Murphy, Cut Copy, Empire of the Sun, et al, all owe a debt to Pet Shop Boys, which is enough to remind us they’ve been beaming in from the future since their formation in 1981. Often imitated but rarely duplicated, Pet Shop Boys understand and communicate the connections between our ever present past and ever oncoming future. In other words, they’re simply timeless.

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LATE NIGHT DISPATCHES

We’ve decided to record a small segment after every show we go to, while the experience is fresh in our heads. We intended to put them up immediately, but we didn’t get the chance. We have three, two of which are packaged together. The first one is for the Built to Spill secret show at Bunk Bar in October, combined with a review of Snow Patrol and Noel Gallagher’s co-headline set at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Click here to listen/right-click to download.

The second is from the homecoming show by Menomena, at the Crystal Ballroom, with special guest and friend of the show, Anna Mackay. Click here to listen/right-click to download.

Enjoy!

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