Tag Archives: Darren Hicks

LIVE: Sylvan Esso, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

By Darren Hicks

I guess I don’t go to the Crystal Ballroom that often in the summer. I’d forgotten how hot it gets up there. As soon as Sylvan Esso started playing though, I didn’t care. And I’d been waiting for a long time.

For clarification, I bought my ticket to the August 17th show at the end of March, so you can imagine my bated breath getting heavier as I was heading upstairs, the temperature climbing ever higher with each step. We’ve all been there, I don’t have to explain any further. Plus having to think of all this flowery language is exhausting. Let’s get to the meat of this thing.

I got my 2 beers and promptly ran into an old friend with whom I chatted until the opener, Flock of Dimes, came on stage. Jenn Wasner (of Wye Oak) was a sole beacon of light on the Crystal Ballroom stage, playing mostly songs from her record released this year, If You See Me, Say Yes, and the sound was as big as a full band. I told a friend during her set that she reminded me of “how Neko Case would sound if shere were in [Portland artist] Pure Bathing Culture”. She closed with an outstandingly beautiful cover of “No More I Love Yous” from Annie Lennox and the room went nuts. She was extremely gracious and thanked Portland and its crowd throughout the evening, even going as far as to call out a different city for the “feral animals” that populated theirs (I won’t say who).

Sylvan Esso walked on to “Sound”, the de facto intro to this years What Now, then went right into “Dreamy Bruises”, a standout banger from their debut, then followed that with another synth sucker punch – and my early favorite for 2017 Track of the Year – “Kick Jump Twist”. The night was a sweaty, dance-filled grab bag of tracks from their two albums, and it was a blast. For just a two-piece, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn are fun to watch, but I will be honest and say the times I did watch were few, for I quickly got sucked into the crowd’s own kicking, jumping and twisting. I’m sure I screamed wrong lyrics in somebody’s ear. I gave people my number who I’m certain will never text me and then find it in their phone years from now and have no idea who’s it is. Those are the crazy things you do when shows are this fun. Maybe just me. I will say though that “Radio”, “Hey Mami”, “H.S.K.T.”, fan favorite (and feature of a very cool Song Exploder episode) “Coffee” and closer “Play it Right” were also definite highlights.

I left the Crystal Ballroom a sloppy, sweaty, tired, beer-y mess that night. I also left with a new found appreciation for people. We all just wanted to go out and dance like maniacs and forget about things for a little bit, and we did that.

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LIVE: St. Lucia, Hawthorne Theater, Portland, OR

By Darren Hicks

New York (via Johannesburg, South Africa) synth-pop band St. Lucia shook the very structure of the Hawthorne Theater last Friday night. But before that, a couple of other things happened.

Doors opened to the sounds of Sex Life, the DJ before the main event, who didn’t say a word until the very end of his 90-minute set. The energy in the room was kept up (a drop of “My Song 5” by HAIM sure got a lot of people’s attention) then as soon as Sex Life left the booth/table/whatever (he wasn’t present on stage), opener Sir Sly strolled on. A good number of people around me knew EVERY WORD to EVERY SONG, and seemed to have an established rapport with the lead, who admitted he was very sick before the show, although it wasn’t noticable in the least. They are a very dynamic live band, complete with canon-like drum-pounding. Very fun to watch.

As was the headliner of the evening. The opening synth-swells of When the Night lead track “The Night Comes Again” welcomed St. Lucia to the stage, and the party was on. The band blazed through their set with infectious energy. Playing most of their debut, a handful of songs from their first EP, and a few others. Lead singer Jean-Phillip Grobler seemed positively overjoyed the entire time, commanding a crowd jump-along to the bridge of fan favorite “Elevate”, and getting everyone to let loose (“It’s Friday night, come on!”) which we all happily conceded to. There was a killer drum solo leading into “The Way You Remember Me”, a massive rendition of “Too Close”, and the group sauntered off, only to return minutes later to close out the show with the disco-infused “September” and the seemingly 80’s training montage inspired title track from their record, “When the Night”, which included Grobler jumping around the stage guitar in hand, very reminiscent of Marty McFly when he “invented” the new sound. At song’s end, Grobler promptly collapsed to the floor while the others walked off, then got up, shook people’s hands, and left. It was a fantastic capper to a fantastic night, and you should plan on going when the night comes again.

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LIVE: Polica, Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR

By Darren Hicks

By the time I got to the Wonder Ballroom, not many people had arrived, possibly since doors opened around 2 hours before show time. In the time between my arrival and the downing of the lights, the place had filled out.

There may have been about less than ten people in the ballroom when i got there, and I imagine even less knew what to expect from opener Marijuana Deathsquads. Of the three drum kits assembled on-satge, two were utilized, and both drummers were in full force, sounding like a full belt of bullets being unleashed. If one closed their eyes and thought too hard, WWII-esque flashbacks could be conjured. Put that together with Isaac Gale’s distorted and played-with to the point of unrecognizable guitar, and that is just the tip of the iceberg of the sonic assault of Marijuana Deathsquads. Polica frontwoman Channy Leaneagh came out briefly to guest on one of their songs from this year’s Oh My Sexy Lord, and it was a perfect fit. I’d rrecommend looking up one of their performances.

Awhile later, Polica strutted on to play their Minneapolis-born, dark, goth-pop. Songs from both their LPs (this year’s Shulamith and last year’s Give Up the Ghost) were given new life in a live setting — especially the more recent material — and Leaneagh’s vocals filled the room with magic. Every sound was nice and crisp, and it was lovely way to spend a Friday evening.

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LIVE: OK Go, Stott Center, Portland, OR

I don’t know about you, but I find school spirit contagious. Perhaps it was the free pizza, coconut water and coffee that got people fired up, maybe the prospect of t-shirts being lobbed got people going, but the celebratory mood was palpable.

OK Go was to play in the Peter Stott Athletic Center as part of Portland State of Mind, which seemed to me to be a weeklong campus event, culminating in tonight’s festivities. Egg shakers, tambourines and glowsticks in all fashions were passed out, and the event was ready to begin.

After some pre-show words and T-shirt tosses from KPSU’s finest, the massive March Forth Marching Band’s 10+ members graced the stage. Again, the energy from everyone on stage was clear. A few seconds of suspense, and the wild rumpus was underway.

Busting right out of the gate with a New Orleans funeral groove and stilt-walkers (STILTS!), M4MB mesmerized and did not ever let up. Acrobatic stunts, sychronized and Vaudeville style dancing (with audience participation involving spanking the person on either side of you), and of course more stilt work (!) wherein one reporter would wonder if the Stott’s ceiling was high enough for such things, all on top of fantastic, groovy, sexy big band music. I haven’t been so thoroughly engrossed in a performance by a band I’d heard absolutely nothing about beforehand in a long while. Many members mentioned they were Portland natives and PSU students, and I could not be prouder.
Following a few minutes of what I’m calling “Breathin’ Time”, There were a few announcements/raffle giveaways/etc, then the main attraction stormed onto the stage. Frontman Damian Kulash explained this was their first performance in over two months, and no flecks of rust showed. They opened with fan favorite “Do What You Want” and played a myriad of others, including “1,000,000 Ways”, “Get Over It”, “Invincible” and “Here it Goes Again”, unfortunately without the exercise equipment they’ve become known for. They played a rendition of “Return” around a table equipped with handbells, Kulash infiltrated the crowd for an acoustic round of “Last Leaf”, and metric tons of confetti were dropped on the unsuspecting public, sometimes 3 or 4 times in a song. After leaving for a few seconds, they returned (don’t think i didn’t notice that pun) in light-up clothing and had laser shooting guitars at the ready for an almost otherwise completely unlit “WTF?” then the army of March Forth was brought back up to assist in the epic closer that was “This Too Shall Pass”.
 And with another few blasts of shredded paper, the evening had reached its end. PSU students left to wander back to their dorms or to whatever massive party was inevitably underway in someone else’s. TOGA. TOGA. TOGA.

— Darren Hicks

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Two Boys, One Show: Pure Bathing Culture and Widowspeak

PBCWidowspeak // Photo Credit: Cory Butcher

By Cory Butcher and Darren Hicks

Darren Hicks and Cory Butcher attended Pure Bathing Culture and Widowpseak at Bunk Bar last week. Darren had  to split after PBC but Cory stuck around. Here’s what they thought.
Darren: Deep in the industrial district of Portland, Ore (and by that i mean across the Morrison Bridge and down a few blocks), a passerby notices a lovely breeze of sound entering their ears. It could be a nearby train, the humming bass of a passing car, or the music of Pure Bathing Culture emanating from Bunk Bar. Okay, word picture over. Let’s get to the main event.
Portland’s dream pop darlings opened for New York’s Widowspeak, a band which I unfortunately had to miss (hashtag Hillsboro problems). They played selections from their recent LP Moon Tides, and all four tracks from their brilliant debut EP. They also played their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” from the Rumors Revisited compilation.
The band’s recent addition of a live drummer is definitely noticeable and beneficial, adding much more weight and at least doubling the strength of their already rock solid material. Songs like “Dream the Dare” and “Twins” were transformed into something much more powerful.
Before this sounds too much like a book report, I’m just gong to tell you this: Go see Pure Bathing Culture. They sound nice.

Cory: The crowd shrank considerably after PBC finished their set. Widowspeak hit the stage around 11PM. This was the second time I’d seen the band in the last couple months. Even though they are on Captured Tracks records, they don’t share the same poppy, synth-heavy sounds as most bands on the label. Instead, they are more reminiscent of artists like Sharon Van Etten and Wye Oak, but a little more shoegazey. Vocalist Molly Hamilton’s haunting voice really carried the hazy, dreamy songs, while the fretwork of guitarist Robert Earl Thomas propelled the songs to another level. Definitely a band worth checking out.

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LIVE: Kimya Dawson, Backspace, Portland, OR

kimyaKimya Dawson // Photo Credit: Darren Hicks

By Darren Hicks

When i arrived at Backspace last Tuesday evening i came across a sight I’ve begun to see more often at this particular venue: A line out the door and halfway down the street. A long succession of people (now referred to by me as Tweeplosion) were awaiting their stamps and bracelets for the night to come. When i finally entered the building, i noticed somethingIi’ve NEVER seen at Backspace. The place was near to at capacity, most everyone sitting cross-legged on the floor. The 10% or so of us standing were constantly (and rather politely as well) asked to keep the walkway clear, in case of fire marshal intervention. Our opener was onstage as people were filing in. Alex (i forget the last name): the Professional Zaniac. Your everyday boardwalk variety act. There was juggling, balancing (also while juggling!), breaking celery stalks with playing cards, and because why not, some borderline contact juggling with a hat! All while spouting the best “dad” jokes one could possibly offer to a large group of indie kids.

After the zaniness, Paul Baribeau graced the stage. His stage demeanor was very, very laid back. Before each song, he’d briefly explain what the song was about. This came in forms of anecdotes a la VH1 Storytellers, or just in general theme.

Kimya took the stage a short while after. She played a great mix of things. There were a few children’s songs played. Not out of place seeing that many people arrived with their little ones in tow. Among the songs was the title track to her children’s record “Alphabutt”. Other highlights were “I Like Bears” (“a song about big, hairy, gay men”), “Same Shit/Complicated”, “Singing Machine”, and toward the end, a greatly expanded version of “Tire Swing” accompanied by Baribeau and complete with Michael McDonald impersonation, which sounded more like Cookie Monster but kudos to Mrs. Dawson for the effort. Between songs were stories of her daughter, Panda, their road trips and their song choices on them (among them being the fantastic “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae) and their school adventures with neighbor Alex the Professional Zaniac! Revelatory! And the mystery as to “why is that guy here?” is solved.
Also included were frequent allusions to Jewel, Bonnie Tyler, Avril Lavigne and others. One of the final songs she played was a seemingly on-the-fly cover mashup of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” and Jewel’s “Hands”. The last line sung of the evening: “Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?” And the last roar of applause sounds as we’re all left to ponder that impossible question.

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