Tag Archives: Live Music

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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Notes on Pickathon 2017

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By Hollister Dixon

“Your favorite band two years from now is playing two sets this weekend at Pickathon.”

-Peter Shaver, Sound Advice

Pickathon is the festival that I want to be, but as a person – sonically omnivorous, ceaselessly welcoming, and full to bursting with life and love.

It’s hard to know just where to begin with a festival like Pickathon. I’m still a newbie to the festival (this is only year two for me, and my first year camping [or, at least, attempting to]), but I could talk for hours about everything the festival does perfectly right. There’s a willingness to grant concertgoers the ability to truly experiment and see bands they never knew they needed to see, and for those who get the chance to see those sets, it gives them the ability to tell all their friends, “Go see them again with me tomorrow.” It’s a festival that breaks down what it means to even be a festival in 2017, shrugging off corporate sponsorship and mass appeal for something much, much more interesting: the spirit of curation, and the thrill of discovery.

It’s also hard to really explain Pickathon in some ways, because it’s so unlike other festivals. There’s a magic in walking up a hill in the woods and hearing the steadily growing sound of “Freak Scene” by Dinosaur Jr. being played by Dinosaur Jr., or wandering down a random path and discovering a band playing a tiny set in the middle of nowhere.

I saw bands that shook me hard enough that I started pre-apologizing to people for how much of an insufferable fanboy I knew I’d become, and on one occasion I did so directly to the band. I got to see bands I’ve loved for years play sets that felt almost too good to be true, in places I never expected to get to watch them.

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LIVE: The Avalanches, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

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By Hollister Dixon

The Avalanches put out one legendary album, Since I Left You, back in 2000. A kaleidoscopic core sample of half-remembered music, Since I Left You was a tour de force that made guest vocals redundant. But that was 2000, and when they made Wildflower sixteen years later, having a stable of guests was almost a no-brainer. Why not have Danny Brown and MF Doom on a track? Why not have David Berman of Silver Jews deliver his own John Hughes monologue? Why not have Biz Markie talk about eating food loudly? And you know what? That experiment worked. I loved Wildflower – even if I skip “The Noisy Eater” about half the time (misophonia is real, friends!). I played it constantly. I still do – it was my “Album Of The Summer” last year, and it’ll be that again this year. You can count on it. It’s an album fueled by pure joy. It’s also fueled by those guests.

There’s a part of me that wonders if Daft Punk didn’t tour behind Random Access Memories because it would have required the presence of its guests. It would be prohibitively expensive to bring along Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder, Panda Bear, Julian Casablancas, and Chilly Gonzales on tour, even for a short one. Even if you only do “Get Lucky” – which, let’s be real, would be as mandatory as “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” – you still need Pharrell and Nile, and that’s a mint alone. On the other hand, Gorillaz are equally as big and when touring behind Plastic Beach, they had no trouble having Miho Hatori stop by to do “19-2000”, or bringing De La Soul along to do “Feel Good, Inc.” If you’re going to build your music around the presence of others, it’s all or nothing – you either play pre-recorded vocals, or you bring the real deal out with you.

With that in mind, I don’t know what I was expecting from The Avalanches as a live act, but I can’t pretend to not be a little disappointed. I wanted to love The Avalanches as a live act, because I think The Avalanches are a phenomenal band. Really, the biggest problem is that The Avalanches aren’t a typical “band” at all, much in the same way, say, Girl Talk is not a band – the people onstage may have created the music, but the sounds are not always their own. So, to help them bring this music to life in an engaging way, they brought Spank Rock and Eliza Wolfgramm – and this is where the trouble begins. I’m unfamiliar with Wolfgramm, and only passingly familiar with Spank Rock, who is fine in his own right. The problem is, Spank Rock is not Danny Brown, nor is he Biz Markie. He’s not MF DOOM, which he clearly knew, because he opted to not perform his verse on “Frankie Sinatra”. Danny Brown’s verse on “Frankie Sinatra” works because it’s quintessential Danny Brown, but when performed by anyone else, it becomes pointless, and the same is largely true of Biz Markie’s “The Noisy Eater”, though Spank Rock thankfully rapped his own lyrics for this one. While I understand and appreciate the motivation behind bringing an actual human being along to perform these songs, it ends up detracting from the performance and, in the end, it just feels like the audience has paid to watch a really, really legitimate cover band.

It wasn’t all bad, though. The songs where Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi got to lock into the grooves they built seventeen years ago were the highlights of the 70-minute set (one hour set plus a two-song encore). Wolfgramm’s presence was mostly relegated to bringing to life samples on Since I Left You and Wildflower, chiefly “Since I Left You” and “Subways”, and it felt more natural to have someone singing the hook from these songs rather than attempting to fill the shoes of the distinct performers who took part in the songs of Wildflower. However, these moments were woefully few and far between, and it was hard to believe that Chater and Di Blasi are wholly pleased with the tools they have to bring this music to life for their audiences. But hey, I’m not going to pretend getting to dance to “Frontier Psychiatrist” being performed by The Avalanches wasn’t a treat, no matter how lackluster the rest of the show felt.

There was a time when it was questionable whether or not The Avalanches would ever release their follow-up to Since I Left You, and I still truly feel like Wildflower was the best return we could have gotten from the band in 2016. Despite my biggest hopes and dreams, it would be somewhat impossible to do justice to the material on that album, or at least very difficult to do as a full tour, and that’s the biggest disappointment of them all. The Avalanches may not be Gorillaz or Daft Punk, but their music deserves to be brought to life with the same care that the band put into making the music itself. Bring out the turntables – leave the karaoke out of it.

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LIVE: The Mountain Goats, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

The Mountain Goats // Photo: Hollister Dixon

By Hollister Dixon

A few songs into Sunday’s Mountain Goats show at the Crystal Ballroom, frontman John Darnielle told a story about going back to his old apartment, and finding a mark he’d left on the door when he lived in it decades earlier. In the hands of a lesser artist, this might seem like an innocuous thing to sing about – but Darnielle turned the experience of turning his return to his 13th and Taylor apartment into a song – “We Shall All Be Healed”, a song which was sadly left off the album of the same name – about the simple joys of making it out of a horrible situation alive: “Stared down demons, came back breathing.”

It’s easy to forget, but Darnielle’s Portland roots go deep – We Shall All Be Healed was a semi-fictional account of his time in the city, and he talked a lot throughout the show about people he’d known in our town, going as far as to dedicate Transcendental Youth‘s “Spent Gladiator 2” to those that were lost to the same foul drugs he sung about on Healed. This was my second Mountain Goats performance, and while the first one felt like a great show, this one felt like I was getting to watch a performer, at long last, come home. Darnielle is a typically happy performer – which has always worked perfectly against his typically depressing fare (he made an album called Get Lonely, for god’s sake) – but his energy felt electric on that stage.

The newest album, Goths, isn’t an amazing record. It is packed with exactly the kind of great, witty, aware songwriting that you’ve come to expect from a Mountain Goats album. It’s the very first album that features absolutely no guitar (bass is acceptable – this an album about goths, after all), but most every song from the album they played was given a guitar-based live treatment – a move which truly elevated the songs past where they were. Despite this being an album promotion tour, and thus being heavy on Goths songs, each new song played felt like an old friend that was being trotted out for the excited fanbase. Call it having the right energy, call it having the right crowd, call it being a statesman of lyrically-rich indie folk rock – somehow each of the songs just worked

“I’d never want to be a Mountain Goats completist,” Spectrum Culture’s Dave Harris said to me a day after the show. I’m with him on this one; there’s just one thing on my Discogs wish list, and it’s the tour-only Come, Come to the Sunset Tree, which rarely dips below $200. Mountain Goats fans are a rabid, obsessive, almost religiously fervorous lot, and the sold-out crowd for that show illustrated all of the best parts of that. When Darnielle needed the crowd to shout, we shouted, and when he needed it to be silent enough that you could hear a pin drop, we sat with baited breath. Even during “Spent Gladiator 2”, when he dropped his mic to allow only his shout carry his words across the ballroom, the faithful helped carry the message to everyone. There’s a lot of magic in that.

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Guided By Voices Announce Spring Tour

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By Hollister Dixon

Guided By Voices are an amazing band, but their catalogue is an extremely dense collection to get into. Where do you start? Is it Bee Thousand? Is it Alien Lanes? How do the post-breakup albums stack up next to the rest? And what of Robert Pollard’s other projects, like Boston Spaceships (featuring Eyelids members/Faces on the Radio veterans Chris Slusarenko and John Moen) or Circus Devils (who released their final album, Laughs Last, on February 24th)? What about all of Pollard’s solo material, or the three (!) Ricked Wicky albums that came out in 2015? And what about the Suitcases?

One of the best ways to take in everything, though, is to just see Guided By Voices play live. I went into my first GBV show as a mild fan, and walked away a rabid obsessive, and part of this is Pollard’s willingness to play as many songs as can be fit into their time onstage. You want to watch a band play 40 songs with the gusto of a band a third their age? You got it.

On April 7th, Guided By Voices will release the double (!!) album August By Cake, the band’s 23rd album to date. That seems like a lot, sure! But it’s even more notable that this is the one hundredth (!!!) album with Uncle Bob’s name on it. That’s a hell of a lot to process! The band’s last, Please Be Honest, was mostly recorded by Pollard on his own, but this album finds him reunited with former member Doug Gillard, and backed by new members Bobby Bare Jr. and Mark Shue. This spring, the band will support the album with a lovely tour which includes a few nice and small rooms, including the ridiculously small Doug Fir Lounge here in Portland and Seattle’s Neumos – with a neat little stopover in Indio, CA for Coachella.. They’ll have a hell of a lot of great support on the tour, everyone from Rogue Wave to DTCV (fronted by James Greer, former GBV member and the man who literally wrote the book on the band).

After the jump, check out the band’s dates and support, as well as new tracks “Dr. Feelgood Falls Off the Ocean” and “Hiking Skin”.

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Fleet Foxes Announce Tour

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By Hollister Dixon

Do you have any idea how long it has been since Fleet Foxes did a tour? I do: roughly five years, when they were supporting Helplessness Blues, an album now old enough to be in grade school. The band took some time off while frontman Robin Pecknold went back to college, but they’re finally back, at long last, with Crack-Up (working title: Robin Goes to College*), out on June 16th on Nonesuch Records.

They’re going to be going on a tour of much bigger venues later, but Pecknold & Co. are going on a tiny tour of the Northwest in a series of intimate venues, including Spokane’s Knitting Factory (tickets here!) and Portland’s Crystal Ballroom (tickets here!). Their last Portland show was at Edgefield Amphitheater, so this will be a decidedly more cozy show than their last time through.

Below, you can check out their tour dates – which includes an incredibly enticing date at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom, and see the lyric video for Crack-Up lead single “Third of May / Ōdaigahara”.

*Not an actual working title

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Low Announce Co-Headline Tour With Mono

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By Hollister Dixon

Low, the (other) pride of Duluth, MN, the world’s best slowcore band, have been somewhat quiet since 2015’s fantastic Ones and Sixes. They’re a beautiful force on record, but they’re an entirely different beast when they’re playing live, especially in smaller rooms – their Doug Fir Lounge performance during the tour for Ones and Sixes still holds up as one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in that space. This June, west coast fans of their brand of patient music will get a chance to see the band play an all-too brief tour co-headlined by Japanese post-rock mammoths Mono.

This tour lasts just a week, starting at Los Angeles’ Globe Theater and snaking up the coast until they reach the Imperial in Vancouver, BC. For Portland-based fans, this will include a stop at the Wonder Ballroom on June 15th. Canadian fans will also be able to catch them at Calgary’s Sled Island Music and Arts Festival, as well as the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival in Saskatoon.

After the jump, you can check out the dates for this tour, and listen to “No Comprende” from Ones and Sixes, as well as “Requiem For Hell” from Mono’s lovely album of the same name.

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LIVE: Clipping.

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By Hollister Dixon // Photos by Yousef Hatlani

It’s a difficult task to try to categorize Clipping. Their closest well-known contemporary is Death Grips, but only because both are experimental hip-hop acts, though boiling both bands down to just that sells them short. Since their self-released debut, Midcity, they’ve built and perfected a sound that feels fresh and unique by striving to infuse power electronics and noise music with genuine songsmanship, all hinged around the intersection between the organic sounds created by producers Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson and the laser-precise rapping abilities of Daveed Diggs. His flow feels inhuman, which work perfectly with the harsh and often beautiful landscapes Snipes and Hutson create.

The first time I saw Clipping perform was in 2013, in a parking lot in the July heat in Seattle. It was Sub Pop’s 25th anniversary festival, the Silver Jubilee, and Clipping were there to serve as an announcement that they had been signed to the label. While the fiercely urban settings of Clipping’s music made an Airport Way parking lot a fantastic place to see the band, there’s a lot of subtlety and artfulness in what the band does, and as a result those subtleties were lost in exactly the kind of urbanscape their characters walk through every day.

This time, I got to see them at Holocene, a room I rarely visit but greatly enjoy because the room just sounds so damn good. From the moment the band began “Inside Out” from 2013’s CLPPNG, it was obvious that this was not only the right room for the band’s sound, but the right crowd to appreciate it. I know few fans of the band, so getting to see them performing to a sold-out crowd rapping along with every word was a treat. The band’s last album, Splendor & Misery, is an immaculately produced record full of cold, sterile environments – most likely intentional, as the album is one that takes place in the vacuum of space – and it was almost a relief to be able to get a reasonable amount of the detail during the six-song suite of songs from the album they played.

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My biggest worry going into the show was that the material from Splendor & Misery would feel difficult to enjoy when blended with the band’s other music. The album functions substantially better as an album than as several disconnected songs, as they’re built around a single story. Giving the album a long stretch in the spotlight was the best way to handle this, allowing those songs to exist together as intended, bolstered on either end by songs from the band’s other works. The band have crafted the Splendor & Misery suite to function as a great piece of their set, though, starting with a teaser of “The Breach” before going into “Wake Up” and “Air ‘Em Out”, which may become a set staple for the band if the crowds continue to react to it like Holocene’s did. My greatest disappointment here is the (most likely necessary) exclusion of “All Black”, though the almost acapella nature of the song would likely make for an underwhelming concert performance.

The other side of the Splendor suite was full of hits. “Work Work”? You got it. “Summertime”? Bring it on. “Body & Blood”? Of course. Diggs spat fire on “Taking Off”, and even utilised former collaborator (and show opener) Baseck to do his part from Midcity cut “Bout.That”. Reports from friends who saw them at other shows suggest that Diggs is a little on the rusty side with the band’s older material, but it was hard to see any creakiness here. They felt much more polished than they did during my first trip into their world, but it was still a brilliant trip.

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It Started With a Mixx: A Los Campesinos! Primer

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By Hollister Dixon

Over the last decade, Los Campesinos! have been an incredibly dynamic beast. Starting as a too-smart tweepop band, they’ve morphed into a band of consistent and surprising depth. The band’s frontman, Gareth Paisey, is one of the sharpest lyricists working today, and though the rest of the band’s lineup has shifted pretty constantly over the years, he’s always been surrounded by other, equally talented players. The band are days away from the release of their 6th LP, Sick Scenes, and are about to embark on their first major North American tour in five years.

We present to you 10 songs over the course of the last six albums. It would be easy to do an equally wordy rundown of all of the band’s non-album material, but for the sake of ease, I’ve decided to stick to their albums.

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INTERVIEW: Clipping.

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By Hollister Dixon

This week, Los Angeles experimental hip-hop group Clipping. will be embarking on their North American tour in support of their new album, Splendor & Misery (out now on Sub Pop). I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to ask William Hutson, one of the band’s producers, about the inner working of the band, their creative processes, and how Splendor & Misery came to be. 

You can find all of the band’s upcoming dates – including their upcoming Portland performance at Holocene – right here.

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