Tag Archives: Portland

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: The Avalanches, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

The Avalanches

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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This Month at Live Wire Radio: March

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By Hollister Dixon

If you’ve never been to a Live Wire Radio recording, you’re missing out on one of the most fun things to do in Portland. The long-running show – hosted by Luke Burbank and recorded at the Alberta Rose Theater – gives you a chance to watch an exceedingly great range of comedians, actors, writers, musicians, and a heck of a lot more making always fantastic, frequently surprising public radio.

This month’s shows are nothing to sniffle about. On Thursday, March 9th, they’re bringing in Welcome to Night Vale‘s Mara WilsonMy Drunk Kitchen‘s Hannah Hart, comedian Jim Norton, and singer-songwriter John Craigie. Later, on March 16th, they’ve got appearances by Saturday Night Live’s Sasheer Zamata, comedian (and Last Comic Standing winner) Alonzo Bodden, and A Real Good Day author Ayelet Waldman. Both are can’t-miss shows!

For tickets to these two tapings – and to see any of the other amazing shows on the horizon – head on over to Live Wire Radio‘s site. See you there!

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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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Clipping. Announce 2017 World Tour

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By Hollister Dixon

Los Angeles experimental hip-hop collective Clipping. have been steadily warming their engines since their triumphant return following frontman Daveed Diggs’ exit from his role in the smash hit Broadway musical HamiltonThis year saw the release of the Wriggle EP, and their first LP since 2014’s CLPPNG, called Splendor & Misery – a densely packed story of distant future space slavery and digital love (as only Clipping. could tell it). Today, the band have announced a lengthy world tour to support Splendor & Misery, which is slated to start in early December and go straight on ’til April. For all of you in the Northwest, you can get tickets to their Holocene (Portland) show right here, and their Crocodile (Seattle) here.

The band also stopped by Conan to perform Splendor cut “Air ‘Em Out”, which you can check out over on the Team Coco site. After the jump, have a look at their tour dates and check out the videos for “Air ‘Em Out” and Wriggle‘s “Shooter.” Both Splendor & Misery and Wriggle are out now on Sub Pop Records and Deathbomb Arc.

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LIVE: Sigur Rós, Keller Auditorium, Portland, OR

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Sigur Ros // Photo: Hollister Dixon

By Hollister Dixon

There’s something remarkable about the career trajectory of Sigur Rós. Their lyrics and song titles are almost entirely in Icelandic, except for ( ), their 2002 album sung entirely in Vonlenska (otherwise known as Hopelandic), a completely made-up language. Icelandic is an impossible language that a scant 300,ooo people speak – to put that into perspective, the population of Portland is just under 600,000, so if every Icelandic-speaking person lived in this city, there would still be another half of the city that didn’t understand a word of it. And yet, for the last 20 years, the band have built an obsessive and adoring fanbase all over the world who have fallen in love not with the words frontman Jónsi is singing, but with the sound of his angelic falsetto, the sound of a guitar being played with a cello bow, and the breathtaking landscapes they create with their music. They are emotional on the same level as bands like Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor: the words may not exist (or, in Sigur Rós’ case, may not be understandable), but they’ve gotten unbelievably good at emoting without the need for a shared language.

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MFNW Presents Project Pabst (Night Two): The Hollister Dixon Report

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Ween // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

This review is part of a series on MusicFest Northwest Presents: Project Pabst. This include Digable PlanetsGuided By Voices, and Day One of the festival.

By Hollister Dixon

When the merger of MusicFest Northwest and Project Pabst was announced, I had my concerns and doubts. There’s always a worry that it’ll be a “too many cooks in the kitchen” affair, where everything adds up to be less than the sum of its parts. I’ve been a die-hard fan of MFNW for years, but when compared to the lineups of Project Pabst in the two years that the festival has been at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the newcomer Project Pabst has completely outpaced the longer-running festival with a focus on acts that make you say, “Wait, they’re playing Project Pabst? That’s so cool.” To put it simply: it says a lot about that festival that Violent Femmes performing their first album front-to-back is an act that had to be relegated to the undercard in the first year. MusicFest Northwest at the Waterfront was a blast both years, but it was hard to ignore that the lineups both years felt a little too predictable at times.

The marriage of two minds that lead to MusicFest Northwest Presents Project Pabst (or just Project Pabst for short; sorry MFNW, but the full thing is just a mouthful), a two day (or five, if you count the night shows) Waterfront Park blowout with the likes of Ice Cube, Ween, Duran Duran, Tame Impala, Drive Like Jehu, and more.

My biggest disappointment this year came in the form of adulthood getting in the way of the full immersion I’ve always loved to engage in. Other than seeing Guided By Voices at the Crystal Ballroom, I completely missed the first day of the festival because of work, leaving Arya Imig to pick up the slack. Here’s what I saw during my few hours at the festival on Sunday:

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LIVE REVIEW: Guided By Voices, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

This review is part of a series on MusicFest Northwest Presents: Project Pabst. This includes Digable Planets and both Day One and Day Two of the main festival.

Guided By Voices // Photo Credit: Hollister Dixon

Guided By Voices // Photo Credit: Hollister Dixon

By Hollister Dixon

I started 2014 as a passive fan of Guided By Voices. I’d heard Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes just like the next guy, but they never connected with me in the way they did with some people. I was never into lo-fi recordings, finding them hard to really connect with when you have to wade through muddy production just to hear the good stuff. Then, in June, I discovered the secret: I actually saw Guided By Voices. This show was – and there’s no way around the word – transformative. I walked away from that performance ravenous for everything Robert Pollard had ever done. I obsessed over their music. I alienated people around me with this obsession. In August, just two weeks before getting to end my Summer Of Pollard with another Guided By Voices show, I branded myself with the GBV rune and the word “Incurable”, from the song “I Am A Scientist” (“I am a journalist, I write to you to show you: I am an incurable, and nothing else behaves like me.”)

One week after I got that tattoo, Guided By Voices announced that they were not only cancelling their entire tour, but breaking up entirely. “Guided By Voices has come to an end. With 4 years of great shows and six killer albums, it was a hell of a comeback run. The remaining shows in the next two months are unfortunately canceled.” Even as a new acolyte, it felt less like the band had broken up, and more like Bob Pollard had personally broken up with me. This was short-lived, though: in February, another reunion was announced – though it deviated entirely from the classic lineup entirely. Pollard recruited Bobby Bare Jr. (who opened for GBV at that first show, funnily enough), Kevin March, Nick Mitchell, and Mark Shue. In mid-July, the reunion added former guitarist Doug Gillard to flesh everything out. Sure, it was less a Guided By Voices reunion and more of a “Bob Pollard + Doug Gillard + a few hired guns” tour… but, any chance to hear GBV songs is worth it. Right?

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LIVE REVIEW: Digable Planets, Portland, OR

This review is part of a series on MusicFest Northwest Presents: Project Pabst. This includes Guided By Voices and both Day One and Day Two of the main festival.

By Hollister Dixon

While waiting for Digable Planets to start, my show companion (Colin McLaughlin) and I had a long discussion about truly underrated hip-hop albums. For me, the band’s Blowout Comb – their second and final record, released in 1994 – is a shoe-in for that Top 10. Blowout Comb sounded like it was from the future back in ’94, and listening to it now it’s striking how ahead of its time it still sounds. At times, it feels as though the trio – made up of Butterfly (Ismael Butler, later of Shabazz Palaces), Ladybug Mecca (Mary Ann Vieira), and Doodlebug (Craig Irving) – built a time machine with the sole purpose of seeing what soul and funk sounded like in the 3070’s and bringing those vibes back to the 90s. The band broke up shortly after, though they’ve reunited sporadically in the 20 years since.

There’s always a worry that any reunion is a lazy cash-grab, done “for the money”. Let’s set the record straight, before we go on: if Digable Planets are playing for us again “for the money”, it presents an entirely compelling case for capitalism.

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