Tag Archives: Reviews

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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LIVE: The Twilight Sad, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR

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By Hollister Dixon

A little over a year ago, a strange thing happened: The Cure, the unbeatable godfathers of poppy goth brilliance, covered “There’s a Girl in the Corner,” the opening track for The Twilight Sad‘s 2014 album Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave. While The Cure didn’t break apart the song in a way that transformed the song into something wholly unlike the original, their cover of “Girl” was a weird moment of game respecting game. For nearly a decade, The Twilight Sad have built an identity around loud, breathtaking, masterfully-done sadness rock, operating as the missing link between the songwriting chops of Arab Strap and the near-deafening sonicscapes of Mogwai. They’re an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” band, where every release serves only to tighten their core aesthetic, rather than radically alter it. As such, despite their debut album Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters being their most complete sounding record, they’ve done nothing but get better as songwriters and musicians since then.

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Sasquatch! Music Festival 2016: The Zack Perry Report

 

 

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The Gorge Amphitheater at Dusk // Credit: Zack Perry

By Zack Perry // All Photos by Zack Perry

Author’s Note: While this began as an outline for a piece that was going to be much more conventional and formal, I realized that this outline encapsulated the energy of Sasquatch better than any conventional write-up. Sasquatch is a festival of such incredible magnitude that the magic all blurs together – everything that winds up standing out is just a moment in time. Sasquatch is just this 5 day stretch of time threaded together by one incredible moment after another, there really is no conventional way to capture it. I don’t claim or pretend to believe that the way I recount my experience is the “proper” way to do it, I just believe it’s the one that best suits me. So, please, enjoy.

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LIVE: Aimee Mann & Ted Leo,R

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By Hollister Dixon

Two summers ago, I saw The Both – comprised of Aimee Mann and Ted Leo – at Project Pabst here in Portland. Aside from being phenomenal musicians and songwriters on their own, their combined forces may not be totally groundbreaking, but feel warm, comfortable, and an absolute treat to listen to. But, this is only half of what makes the duo work: anyone who has had the opportunity to see Leo and Mann perform knows that they’re masters at witty stage banter, effortlessly filling the downtime between songs with jovial chatter – with each other, with the crowd, with anyone. During that particular show, during a long-winded (but still thoroughly enjoyable) rant wherein Leo revealed himself as a massive Tolkien nerd, I found myself thinking that, if these two ever wanted to just put down their instruments and put on a solid hour of crowd-work based comedy, I’d gleefully be there with bells on.

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LIVE: Sloan, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon

Before watching Sloan perform, I spoke with Music Millennium owner Terry Currier about popularity disparity of Canadian bands like Sloan or the Tragically Hip, and how it seems like there’s “an invisible barrier between the US and Canada”. He told me about the last time he saw Tragically Hip perform in Portland, at the Roseland, and the show was full of people who had come down from Vancouver for the chance to see the band in such a small space. The invent of the internet should have completely evaporated these barriers, but it seems bands like Sloan are just old enough to still be affected by this invisible wall.

It’s our gain, though. Sloan have been around for 25 years, and getting to see the band in a small space is a treat. The faithful were treated to two brilliant sets by the band: one comprising the entirety of their landmark 1996 album One Chord to Another, and a second spanning the band’s entire career. I’ll be completely honest: despite enjoying Sloan from afar for a long time, the band’s allure has never quite clicked with me. Despite this, watching the band perform at such a brilliant, breakneck pace was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Sloan are the most unassuming rockstars you’ll ever see. They perform like they’re the Rolling Stones, and look like they’re all members of different bands, from the lost brother of R. Stevie Moore and J Mascis (Patrick Pentland), to the Canadian cousin of Thurston Moore (Chris Murphy) to a drummer who looks like he’s been plucked from a Damn Yankees tribute act (Andrew Scott). Yet, as a unit, all of these people work in brilliant lockstep, roaring through every song like it should be the biggest hit on the planet. They ripped through One Chord to Another as though it was made of sonic butter, and returned shortly after to give the same treatment to the rest of their catalog; When Chris Murphy’s comment on how the song from their 2003 record Action Pact would likely be the only one from the album they’d play was met with a couple loud grumbles from the crowd, he responded by jovially reminding the crowd that there was just no way they could play everything people wanted to hear.

Still, after watching the band’s onslaught of jangly indie pop, I found myself wanting to be one of the faithful in the subterranean space. This was a performance for the megafans and the die-hards. Seeing them perform left me wanting to go home and listen to every last record they had, but it disappointed me that I’d have to wait until their next time around to get to belt out all of those songs with the same upright zeal as everyone else in the room.

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LIVE: The Joy Formidable, Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon

At this point, I’ve seen The Joy Formidable perform three times, though only once have I gone out of my way for them. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a fantastic band, but the first two performances were completely on a whim. The first performance was on tour for their debut, The Big Roar, opening for Brand New at the Wonder Ballroom as part of MusicFest Northwest. Despite their massive sound, the band seemed timid and unsure of themselves, talking happily (but nervously) with the crowd in between songs. The band’s demeanor, especially that of frontwoman Ritzy Bryan, stood at odds with the roaring (pardon the pun) sound of The Joy Formidable at that point in time. It almost came off as quaint, though distinctly Welsh.

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Treefort ’16: The Zack Perry Report

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By Zack Perry // Photos By Zack Perry

It’s difficult to be critical of something you have nothing but positive feelings for. This review has taken at least 5 different forms and after nearly pulling my hair trying to figure out how to materialize my feelings on this past weekend, I grabbed my scribble filled notepad to grasp at straws. That’s when I read a note about Charles Bradley and I realized this weekend was really about one thing for me: live music. While Treefort is a lot of things, many more than I can detail in this article, it truly meant that from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, I would be returning to live music. While I have still seen concerts intermittently, I hadn’t been to a concert in a photographic capacity in months.

Full disclosure, photography is my first love. Writing might be a hell of a drug, but taking photos is what I enjoy most, especially of live music. Something about capturing the exchange of energy between artist and audience has always invigorated me. So when I say I hadn’t been to a show in a photographic capacity in months, I really mean that I hadn’t felt alive in months. The sensation I receive when taking a good photograph of an even better live musician is incomparable. It’s the best high there is, to tell the truth.

My second love is music, and if nothing else, Treefort was overflowing with music. At any given time during 10 am and midnight you could walk around downtown Boise and hear at least two different bands or artists performing. Needless to say, there was a mighty hefty lineup of musicians. Seeing as I only had a limited time there, I had to condense it into as many as I could fit while maintaining sanity. To avoid the risk of running verbose I’ve narrowed it down into the ones who truly touched something in me, or made me move like I hadn’t before: Stonefield, Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, Thundercat, Oddisee, Aesop Rock & Rob Sonic, and Youth Lagoon. Somewhere in there was a film screening, a panel talk about local food, the best biscuits and gravy I have ever had(shoutout to Capri Restaurant on Fairview), and me laying in a hammock which was later dubbed “Hammockfort” by fellow Forters.

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LIVE: Modest Mouse, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

12313650_10153192559870779_4624775635157579718_nModest Mouse // Photo By Hollister Dixon

By Hollister Dixon

One of the most enjoyable things about Modest Mouse as a live entity is that they know they have two audiences: the ones who want to hear the hits (“Float On” and “Dashboard” still get people riled up, after all), and the ones that want to hear deep cuts. The band are in their 21st year with 11 releases under their belt (6 albums and assorted other EPs and compilations), meaning the well that they get to pull from is pretty deep. I started seeing the band perform much later than I probably should have (It took a decade to get around to it), but I’ve since attempted to make up for it by seeing them wherever possible, be it at a festival or at a tiny benefit show in a hole-in-the-wall bar. This weekend, I decided to go whole-hog and see the band’s two-night stint at the Crystal Ballroom, as part of 94.7 KNRK’s “December to Remember” run of shows.

Before we get into those two shows, let’s talk about openers. Saturday night’s opener was a no-brainer, almost to the point of being safe. Mimicking Birds, longtime members of Isaac Brock’s Glacial Pace Recordings, played this same stage with Modest Mouse back in ’09 for MusicFest Northwest’s Glacial Pace showcase. In truth, though, the nature of the show meant that Mimicking Birds was almost a little too sonically safe; Nate Lacy’s group trafficks in patient and twinkling folk-rock, the kind designed for small parties and long car rides, rather than as a complement to a band as raucous as Modest Mouse. and though their sound works quite nicely in the Crystal Ballroom, I couldn’t help but find myself yearning for a much, much smaller venue, or at very least with the band as a headliner. Despite their flirtations with grandeur, the crowd seemed to get a little restless around the halfway point, though the band’s performance didn’t suffer in the very least.

The mild restlessness of the crowd during that set was nothing to the following night. So, Mattress. I take a lot of pleasure in seeing a crowd react to a completely mismatched opener – seeing Big Freedia open for The Postal Service in 2013 was worth the price of admission – but there was something funny in the air Sunday night. Rex Marshall’s music is just insane enough to be absolutely brilliant, but from the moment he wandered onstage bedecked in a gold suit, it was clear that the crowd just was not having it. Were Mattress an actual band the crowd might have reacted differently, but as Marshall swayed and bounced on the mic like the half-cousin of Nick Cave and Richard Cheese, the crowd began to lose their patience, fast. It has been a long time since I heard a crowd so loud during an opener, and it felt like such a waste. Somehow, I can’t get over the image of Isaac Brock sitting backstage, laughing to himself, completely happy in the decision he made.

12308560_10153192450215779_6214355496953956434_nMattress // Photo By Hollister Dixon

But, his performance was undoubtedly wonderful. That Nick Cave/Richard Cheese thing is built upon stratified layers of shifty Las Vegas casino crooners and gurgling, queasy synthesizers, and he knows how to work it. There’s an uneasiness to Mattress, where you almost wonder if Marshall, somewhere in his mind, believes himself to be performing these songs at the MGM Grand with an orchestra rather than in whatever room he’s in, accompanied by a small synth array and a silver-painted table. But, just like those Vegas crooners, that’s part of the act. “I never in my life thought I’d sell out the Crystal Ballroom,” Marshall said midway through, poking the bear that was the unhappy crowd. Just like the aforementioned Mimicking Birds, I was left wanting a smaller show from him, though I’d happily take many more sets just like this one, full of squelching bass and confused twentysomethings.

I’ll get the most unfortunate thing about Modest Mouse‘s weekend at the Crystal out of the way first: it felt, by the end of it, that I’d just watched to very unequal halves squished together. Taken as a whole, the band ran the gambit: 36 different songs from each record, with the only three songs played both nights (“Lampshades on Fire” and “Of Course We Know” from this year’s Strangers to Ourselves, as well as fan favorite “Dashboard” from We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank). Both nights, Isaac Brock was in fine form, rambling at full force in between songs and seeming genuinely happy to still be playing these songs. However, the first night was the weaker of the two, with the energy of the show coming to a grinding halt between what seemed like every single song – or at least, that’s how it felt – while Brock rambled about the heat, cats, the length of their encore break (roughly 8 minutes both nights). And, while that set got an appearance by the unretired ol’ chestnut “Float On” (which, to its credit, sounded hungrier and more ferocious than it has any right to be) and gems like “Grey Ice Water“, “Shit Luck“, and “Night on the Sun“, the set was a lot like their set at MusicFest Northwest earlier this year: standard in a lot of ways.

Perhaps the biggest issue was that the band seemed to have organized the two nights as though it was one giant show. Ending the first night with the loud, bizarro Lonesome Crowded West cut “Shit Luck” felt like foreshadowing for the deep-cut-heavy, Isaac-Brock-rant-light second show – a show which, if I’m being honest, is the best Modest Mouse show I’ve seen yet. To pick a highlight for this one almost feels impossible: was it the long-dormant gem “Bankrupt on Selling“? (Spoiler: yes, it was, and it reduced me to tears) Was it belting out “Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset” arm-in-arm with a stranger next to me? Was it finally getting to see Good News banger “Bury Me With It“? (Also probably this one, really) Was it the fact that they played standard show-closer “The Good Times Are Killing Me” and then two more songs, including “Never Ending Math Equation? Truly, the only actual dud of the evening was Strangers cut “Pistol“, a song that is truly worse than even the half-baked Dial-A-Songs from rarities collection Sad Sappy Sucker. That can be forgiven, though.

All of this said, the setlists and the amount of rambling was the only place where the sets differed. 20+ years is a long time for a band to maintain momentum, and the gap between We Were Dead and Strangers likely served to keep the band feeling fresh. At this point, Brock and drummer Jeremiah Green are the only remaining founding members of the band, but the strengths of a band’s hired guns (for lack of a better term) is dependent on the strengths of those there from the beginning. It’s a testament to the power of the band as a live act that even the stale “Float On” could be made to sound as ferocious as “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes“, but even after a half-dozen shows in four years, I’m still consistently floored by the live arm of Modest Mouse. They are, at once, one of the most tight, and most unwound, live acts I’ve ever seen. The band is past the days of Brock slicing his arm open or fighting fans or ranting about “Freebird” (okay, maybe they’re still there, but still!), and now what remains is a group of weirdos led by a man who is equal parts affable and curmudgeonly.

While walking out of the Ballroom sunday night, I wondered to myself if I ever really needed to see Modest Mouse again after that two-day stint. And, despite the oversaturation I’ve experienced in the last week while prepping for the shows – an oversaturation I haven’t felt since I was 13 in rural Washington, imagining Isaac Brock feeling like I did just two towns over – I can say, without hesitation, absolutely. Their strengths are great enough that I’ll happily turn out any chance I get, and even if a show feels like a dud, it’s still likely to be a satisfying performance.

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Episode 139: I Know It’s Over

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Thanks to Katy Hampton for joining us this week! You can check it out above, or download it here!

Topic:

  • The Smiths and Morrissey!
  • We discuss our love and passion for The Smiths and Morrissey, the things that make both feel unique, our relationships with Morrissey (the person), and – as always – talk about how they’re never reuniting.

Songs:

  • Wilco – “EKG”
  • The Smiths – “Rusholme Ruffians”
  • Morrissey – “Sing Your Life (KROQ Version”
  • Stiff Little Fingers – “Suspect Device”

 

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LIVE: Hot Chip, Roseland Theater, Portland, OR

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By Hollister Dixon

Well over a decade – and six full-length records – on, London’s Hot Chip are one of the most consistent bands on the planet. Though their material isn’t always groundbreaking, it feels as though patience and love was put into the creation of each of their records. Though I didn’t give the band’s last album (In Our Heads) the time it deserved, I was more than happy to put their newest record, Why Make Sense?, on repeat since its release. As such, it made perfect sense to correct my long mistake of never seeing Hot Chip perform live, despite being hopelessly in love with them since The Warning was released nearly a decade ago. It was worth the wait. More on that in a minute, though.

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