Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ten Albums I Liked This Year

I know I know I know, I already said I hate top ten lists and I do! But I was one of 1,500 i*l*l*u*s*t*r*i*o*u*s music journalists asked to submit a top ten for the Village Voice's poll, so I bit the bullet and put one together in hopes that Rob Harvilla who I think is probably the music editor at the Voice (and if not is at least someone important) will see my picks and go, "Oh my God, Jason Simms, you have such amazing taste! Would you like to write a weekly column about the best underground bands in the country, for, say, $1000 dollars a week?"

OK before you can stomp all over my dreams, I'm going to deafen you with the sound of my amazing top ten!

10. These Arms Are Snakes - Tail Swallower and Dove.

9. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash. Honestly, I really didn't know the first thing about Malkmus until I was assigned to write about him. I'm glad that happened though because I like this album and when I listen to it, it sort of feels like an album that I made, which I gather is the appeal for a lot of people.

8. Jaguar Love - Take Me to the Sea. I know several critics who hate this album and this band. Fuck 'em. Johnny Whitney is a genius with a unique and bizarre world view. This album is pure fun and a great way to follow up his more seriously strange career with Blood Brothers.

7. Dirty Mittens - Pinky Swear

6. The Rainy States - In Basement Air. I really wish the lyrics were intelligible on this album. I would know them all now if they were. Instead I just hum along this sweet and tuneful Portland indie band which sounds like Elliott Smith when the clouds part and it's raining and sunny at the same time.

5. Blue Giant - Target Heart. Two things happened in 2008 that made me proud to be an American for the first time ever. Barack Obama and this band.

4. White Fang - Pure Evil. I feel like this is one of those albums that people are going to look back on and realize it founded a new kind of core.

3. PWRFL POWER - PWRFL POWER. This album is so self-conscious and hilarious that Pitchfork hated it. They had to--it somehow manages to call out everything they represent with sweet, awkward love songs. But the reason this album is great is its frequent and innovative use of noise in a singer-songwriter format.

2. Mr. Gnome - Deliver This Creature. Versatile, emotional drumming, and an elemental female voice are just two reasons this Cleveland two piece got some decent media attention this year. 2009 is going to be their year.

1. Trees - Lights Bane. This album is all punishment, no reward. There is no rhythm. There is no melody. The most structured element is the unforgettable witch's growl. Yet, it is probably my most listened to album of the year. I have it on both CD and vinyl.

Image: Lenny from Trees.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Evelyn Benson's 90th Birthday Party

On Thursday, when it becomes '09, Evelyn Benson will hit the big 9-0. I interviewed this skydiving, waitressing great-grandmother for
this story earlier this year, so she invited me to her birthday party today at the Refectory in outer Northeast Portland (which is oddly where I first saw this GNR tribute that I wrote about in 2006).

I stood out a little as the youngest person there by a about 30 years. But I had a good time and got to visit with a couple of sources from this story I wrote last year about the neighborhood where Evelyn lives. Apparently the area has gotten a little better over the last year.

Before we had lunch there were a few speeches about Evelyn and one of them mentioned that she likes to come to the Refectory and flirt with guys and then take them out to see her car. I thought it was a joke, but by the time I left I gathered it wasn't--apparently she removes some magnets that say how old she is before brings the boys out!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tail Swallower and Dove

Tomorrow's Oregonian will have a story I wrote on These Arms Are Snakes, a story which jumps through several hoops not to use the phrase "post hardcore," a term that I think sells the band short, but is certainly convenient.

I was very qualified to write this story because I've been following the band since their inception. But it also made it tough to write, since I wouldn't let myself get away with anything I didn't think was totally accurate.

As always with A&E, the edit was really gentle and smooth. I had thought about ending it where it does, but sent in another couple of sentences that didn't make print. It takes the edge off that last quote in case you were rolling your eyes or considering suicide: "That almost sounds like something Marilyn Manson would say, but it means more coming from Snere, whose performances and music are in no way a caricature, but rather, an honest, complete expression."

Photo by Christine Unten from TAASpace.

Monday, December 1, 2008

In Praise of Lord Stephen the Marquis de Colbert

The Colbert Report website has a call for bands to submit covers of the show's theme song featuring the sweet graphic seen above. So far there are only two (2, count 'em) legitimate entries. Probably because you have to register to see the contest page and you have to submit through an obscure video portal called Viddler. Anyway, it seems the odds of this video or at least a split second of it appearing on Comedy Central are pretty good, but you saw it here first!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

50 Years of Family Business

This fall, Portland's Lewis family can be thankful for 50 years of business at their Southeast Portland hardware shop, through good times and bad. I visited with them in late October, and I think it's somewhat appropriate that the article was held until today.

Theirs is truly a remarkable story and very different than anything I, or most people in this day and age have experienced. So take a look at this piece, which comes complete with economic hard times in the neighborhood, armed robbery, a man welding into his 90s, and a Moroccan grandson who married into the family and now works at the shop.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Part of the plan earlier this year when Dagger of the Mind changed its name to the Metal Shakespeare Company was to become more of a performance group than a band. Our show at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival solidified that direction, and here's our first stab comical YouTube videos.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Z Day Is Coming

Portland Zombie Walk 2008
It is impossible to rule out the possibility of a zombie apocalypse. Really, it is. It seems rather unlikely, I'll admit, but it is possible in a number of different ways. But I'll let the experts explain that.

Yesterday I had a story in The Oregonian about the walking dead. When I sent it off, my editor called me and said, "These people can't be serious. They must be pulling your leg."

It took some doing, but I assured her that there are actually a significant number of people who are actively preparing for the zombie onslaught in one way or another. Here are some choice quotes that didn't make it into the story.

Andrew Migliore, Zompire film festival director on the movies he shows:

All these films are training films. Some of them might be more amusing than others, you can argue about the merits of the special effects and stuff, but you know, I think the person who's really looking for more of a home-defense point of view is taking it from a perspective that these are all training films and they're looking to see filmmakers try to surprise them so that they can prepare for the unexpected.

Rick Emerson, a radio host on AM 970 who once interviewed Max Brooks, the leading contemporary zombie writer, explains why zombies could happen.

Nature is full of things that we would think impossible....We know that there are viruses that make people behave in strange ways, that can affect your metabolism and your immunity to certain things. so the idea the idea that there would be some sort of reanimative properties in viruses is not so far off the mark. We have such a limited understanding of the human brain. They still don't even know why people die. Things that seem impossible are often only improbable.

Explaining his own plan for Z day:

Preparation takes many different forms. My obsession is trying to think of the perfect refuge during the coming zombie apocalypse--because it's a matter of when, not if. The place that I came up with is Costco. It's big. It's spacious. There's everything you could need there. Costco has food. Costco has tools. Costco has outdoor tools, specifically things like hatchets and saws. Costco has it's own fuel supply. It has a huge selection of electronics like radios and televisions so you can communicate with the outside world. Costco has books. It has music, things for entertainment to sort of keep you sane while you're hunkered down. Costco has huge metal shutters and it's fairly open and spacious which it's going to be a relatively comfortable place to reside while you're waiting out the horrors of the living dead.

And on the appeal of zombie lore:

Stephen King had this great thing that he said about horror movies and roller coasters and haunted houses. Basically all of the things that are entertaining and based in a morbid or terrifying sensibility, they're all "rehearsals for death." They are all attempts to come to grips with our own mortality and to rehearse it so it's no longer so awful, it's no longer so fearsome. Maybe it helps us prepare for the inevitability of our own deaths.

Abel Oelson, zombie walk attendee on why the idea of the zombie apocalypse is appealing:

I think it has to do with that lack of adventure in the modern world. The ability to be the hero. But if I got taken down in the zombie invasion and turned into a zombie, I think I'd be alright with that. It's the prolonged life and immortality.

A. Scott Glancy, president of Pagan Publishing on the real nature of zombie preparation:

To me, the whole concept of zombie preparedness is on the one level, you're making fun of all these other preparedness crazes like the Russians and Y2K. But to prepare for zombies is twofold. You're actually prepared in a way that could help you in the way of Katrina, or a big earth quake in San Francisco or Mt. Rainer, which is real threat and could actually blow up in my lifetime. It's got all of those elements to it, but at the same time, you're sort of thumbing your nose at all the fear mongers. It's a combination to me of actually looking out for yourself a little bit, but at the same time not taking it too seriously. Because if you took it too seriously, it would suck all the joy out of your life preparing for the end. However, if you're prepared for the end in this sort of ludicrous fashion, you still have your sense of humor, which you're going to need as much as you'll need the dried food.

Miscellaneous quotes from Schyler Reis, Reptilian Civilian frontman and future Z day survivor.

Well, it could be happening right now. it doesn't necessarily have to be a single day.

The whole thing about zombies attacking you is critical mass. One, five, ten zombies aren't going to get you, but hundreds? I don't live in the city anymore because of the possibility of zombie attacks. [He recently moved from North Portland to Boring, Oregon].

[Director George A.] Romero could be one of the zombie prophets.

Zombies are going to attack in some way or another, be it real zombies or zombies as a metaphor for a brainwashed army like the red Chinese.

What happens if a zombie starves to death? Does it rot? Is there zombie fungus? Could they then release zombie spores that could get you later?

When I was young, in kindergarten, I think, I was home alone and they had Night of the Living Dead on TV for Halloween and it really scared the shit out of me. The scaredest I've ever been. I was so certain there were zombies everywhere. It was black and white so it seemed more important or something.

It's one of the things that keeps me going if I'm ever down. the idea that I need to be around to see [Z day].

It might be a way for the Earth to cleanse itself. I'm taking environmental science classes and Earth's human population is too much. It might be a necessity to save any people. in order to save humanity, there must be massive zombification.

The main dilemma is one of your loved ones being zombified. You have to be ready to kill them right away.

I think [zombie walks] are propaganda to try to make people less able and ready. I also think that would be a great time to strike with your zombie army.

I thought [Max Brook's Zombie Survival Guide was really stupid because it just made stuff up like it was true. It's a real thing, just like there are really people who suck blood and think they're vampires because of a disease.

Photo by Brent Wojahn for The Oregonian.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Coquis in California


When I arrived in LA in September 2007, the first thing I asked my friends was if they had any good leads. Matt, who was born in Puerto Rico, said he suspected that a breed of frog thought only to live on the island and Hawaii was inhabiting a hotel pool at Disneyland.

So when an Orange County toga party turned out to be lame, we headed for that place of which children dream. Sure enough we heard the distinct call of the coqui. Seeing no one around we began to look for them in the plants, soon discovering the might of Disneyland's video security. We were politely ejected.

Finding no interest from the LA Times, I turned to San Juan and its illustrious Star which once famously did not hire a young Hunter S. Thompson. In these dark days for print media, freelance payment for one-off jobs is often late and I was warned by my editor--bless him--that it would be.

About once a month for the last year I wrote to request my payment and a copy of the story since it wasn't posted online (although it did appear in print--Matt's parents saw it). This last time, my email bounced and I discovered that the Star had gone under. Truly a loss.

But, to my knowledge it has not yet been documented anywhere on the Web that Puerto Rico's national frog lives at the Neverland Pool. Below is what I sent to the Star more than a year ago.


A coquí colony has emerged in Southern California

By Jason Simms

The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, is one of the most controlled environments in the world. A piece of litter among the Snow White impersonators and Mickey Mouse sculptures will be caught on a security camera and removed seconds after it falls.

Yet somehow this meticulously maintained environment has proved to be the breeding ground--quite literally--for a very surprising fluke. An unknown number of coquí frogs inhabit the tropical garden surrounding the Neverland Pool, a swimming pool that serves the resort’s hotels.

According to Disneyland spokesperson Bob Tucker, the resort has no idea how the frogs—which were once believed only to be able to survive in Puerto Rico—found their way to the pool. A guest might have brought them from the island, but as Tucker notes, “That would be a long ride in a suitcase.” He conjectures that the coquís were transported on one of the pool’s many imported plants.

It is also unknown how long the frogs have been in California. “We just recently noticed them,” says Tucker who adds that some groundskeepers and security guards recall hearing their unmistakable call as far back as three years ago.

This is the first known instance of coquís living on the mainland. Other than the Isle of Enchantment, the only other place the quarter-sized frogs are known to live is Hawaii, where in the last decade their numbers have exploded. According to a 2005 National Geographic article, the volume and frequency of the frog’s call has hurt the Hawaiian tourist industry and driven the locals mad to the point of launching chemical campaigns to kill the frogs.

Could the same thing happen on the mainland? “Southern California is too dry in the summer and too cool in the winter to imagine coquí frogs could spread so wildly there,” says Professor William Mautz, who is researching the coquí at the University of Hawaii. He explains the frog’s ability to survive at Disneyland thusly: “They might establish small breeding populations in spots that are sheltered and irrigated.”

Plus, Californians don’t appear to be as easily bothered as Hawaiians. “Some guests have commented they kind of like the ambiance,” says Tucker.

The frogs were first brought to the attention of this reporter by Mathew Mehne, a 23-year-old Puerto Rican-born resident of nearby Fullerton, California. He first heard the Californian coquís when he visited a bar at the resort last fall.

“To me it’s totally exciting,” Mehne says when asked how he feels about the presence of coquís at Disneyland. “What was sad to me was when they turned up in Hawaii. Not only did it dispel the legend that [the frogs] could only live in Puerto Rico, but they are treated like pests there.”

He adds that the frogs seem happy at Disneyland, since they sing so frequently (you could hear 8-10 calls per minute on a recent warm night). Mehne contrasts the high number of calls to the relatively few he heard during his last visit to the island during a drought last March.

Photo: Coquis live here. Can you hear them? By me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pure Evil

I reviewed White Fang's debut CD for the Oregonian not too long ago. Here's what I turned in since it's not online.

What kind of punk band boasts six drummers and percussionists? Make no mistake, they may wear neon instead of black, but it's still dirty and White Fang is certainly a punk band. All those drummers don't even play in synch or keep regular time. These homegrown 18-20-year-olds simply are intent on making an experiment out of each of the 22 minutes on their first album.

Shouted lyrics about dreams of breakfast in a shattered punk house ("Breakfast") and sudden dynamic changes give Pure Evil a unique aesthetic that's perhaps best embodied by the album's art and production. The cover features a color live photo with half-finished black and white drawings by vocalist Erik Gage of animals from a genetic experiment or an acid trip. And with the heavier, distorted guitar and bass subdued in the mix and clean chords or an innocent lead doodle out front as on "All's Cool," the album's sound is similarly disjointed, weird and cute, always striving for bright over brutal.

Within this constraint, White Fang is quite creative, slowly merging nostalgic strums into a chord progression borrowed from a marimba group that builds into near cacophony on the instrumental "We're Reborn." But the greatest achievement of Pure Evil's artificial and goofy style is the album's almost Zen-like sense of now. As the lone verse of "New Loudness" channels White Light/White Heat and the lazy pseudo-ska with blissfully off-key singing of "Green Beanz" recalls 40oz. to Freedom, it's easy to see how most of the rest of Pure Evil stands on its own as a sophisticated, flawed and beautifully temporary moment.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Kevin and Anita Robinson Q&A

Following my veritable love letter to Blue Giant after their first show, I was pleased to get to write a profile of the band for The Oregonian on the eve of their three-day "Portland tour," which started yesterday at Holocene and continues tonight and tomorrow at Back Space and the Doug Fir.

This article was printed in October 3rd's A&E section under the title, "Blue Giant's Dark Intensity," but, since it was not posted online, here is the text I submitted, which was more only slightly edited in print:

In the moments before Blue Giant took the stage for their debut show at the Wonder Ballroom last June, no one really knew what to expect. "I heard it's country or something," said one of the several hundred people who gathered to see Kevin and Anita Robinson of indie pop duo Viva Voce's new group.

From innocent love songs to furious jams, Viva Voce has always been atmospheric and foggy. The Robinsons made all the music alone, and they were hidden by the impersonal necessity of multitasking.

But there was Kevin, standing, no longer drumming, proudly singing to the ceiling. And with a band behind her and fewer effects to mind and parts to sing, Anita's solos and accents were laser focused. In a way, the crowd saw the couple for the first time.

"I felt like you could cut the air with a knife the good feelings were so thick," says Kevin a few months later over beers in Northeast. So Blue Giant is letting the world wait while Portland gets a three-show "tour" this week alongside the announcement that the Decemberists' Chris Funk has joined the band to play pedal steel. Anita warns that when he began to play, "it just it really did move me to tears."

Returning from Blue Giant's debut show will be Corin Tucker, of Sleater-Kinney. In addition to her contribution to Blue Giant's songs, Kevin explains, "we're backing her up on some of her first solo stuff." Tu Fawning's Corrina Repp and Quasi's Sam Coomes will also guest, though who is performing which night is a secret. On the last night of the "tour" the Portland Cello Project will join Blue Giant on stage for a total of 15 musicians--including two banjo players.

Before diving into more collaborations than a top 40 rapper, Viva Voce spent much of 2007 touring with the Shins and both Robinsons cite the band as an inspiration. Kevin speaks of an imagined songwriting competition: "We're lucky that we've got really talented peers and friends where when I hear songs that they write, it's like, "Touche. Oh really? Well, give me a day. Take that!"

Though inspired by indie rock friends, Blue Giant's songs draw heavily on classic country. "It seems kind of timely for some reason," says Anita. Kevin adds, "No matter what's going on, you can always, as an American, take pride in our musical heritage."

Blue Giant certainly dignifies and adds to that heritage. Bassist Seth Lorinczi skips no opportunity to liven up the low end, playing unusually creative bass lines for music that would fit into whatever category Credence Clearwater Revival is in. Drummer Evan Railton both shuffles and brings the Bonham.

And despite all the friendliness and good vibes surrounding it, there is a profound and enigmatic darkness in this music as Kevin's speakers on Blue Giant's self-titled debut EP pursue unrequited love as a sick obsession ("Hell or High Water") or helplessly watch themselves be destroyed ("Target Heart"). So although he's now up front and center and stripped of his multi-instrumentalist duties, he's donned a mask.

Naturally, there was a lot of good stuff from my hour-long interview with the Robinsons that didn't make it into the story. Here's a slightly cut-down transcript.

How did Chris Funk end up joining the band?

Kevin: He was only going and do two songs and the next day he came over and was like, “Fuck it, I'm gonna join your band.”

Anita: When he came over and added that pedal steel, I seriously teared up. The first song that he put pedal steel on was one of the songs that I sing the lead vocal on and when I heard it, it just it really did move me to tears. It's just a really mournful, expressive, beautiful instrument.

Kevin: I don't think the songs were lacking anything, but when he started playing it was just like, “Oh, of course.” There are some things that you record and you put into an album and you're like, “Oh, fuck, we're gonna have to EQ the shit out of that and compress it to get it to fit in the spectrum of the song.” When he started playing, I don't think i touched any of it. There are times like that when you record, like somebody will do a part and it's so good you don't have to edit it, you don't do anything.

Kevin, you mentioned having written a lot of the songs really quickly. What spurred that surge of creativity?

Kevin: Dude, having these guys! We rehearsed the other night and I feel a little bit like I'm gambling and I know all the ways you can possibly cheat. We have an amazing band. Anita and I have a relationship where if we write a song we don't really have to explain it that much, but to have these guys that all you really have to do is the structure and the lyrics and just go. That is kind of greasing the wheels to where it's like, “I got another one, I got another one.”

Anita: It's totally liberating because our shit is set up all the time and we're not in the house and there are no distractions

Kevin: We're lucky that we've got really talented peers and friends where when I hear songs that they write, it's like, “Touche. Oh really? Well, give me a day. Take that!” You'll hear a song and it's a challenge. It's that kind of McCartney-Wilson creative competitiveness. It's kind of cool to live in a city like this.

Anita: Who's McCartney and who's Wilson?

Kevin: Well, we toured for the entire 2007 pretty much with the Shins and James is a fucking amazing song writer. When you strip away the grandeur of a show, those are fucking amazing songs.

Anita: It makes you not want to be half-assed with what you're doing.

Why tour Portland and not the world?

Anita: This is our town. I love living here and I love playing here.

Kevin: We sold everything we had to move to this city. We didn't really come here to work desk jobs. We literally we came here to do what we're doing. And the cool thing is, this city is one of the few places on the planet that actually gives back to local art, local businesses, local breweries. If you do something of any level of credibility, the town takes it seriously. We saw that the moment Viva Voce started to play and we've always had the benefit of people at least paying attention to what we're doing whether it teeters on career suicide or not, we' ve always tried to do something above and beyond, whether it's a kazoo quire or 3-D show or the time we had the stereophonic drummers on the floor. And when we started a new band, yet again everyone was on board. At our first show, I felt like you could cut the air with a knife the good feelings were so thick in the air and it was really kind of a magical moment for us. We can turn a new page and everybody is right there with us. Why wouldn't you want to give back to a town that gives you that opportunity?

So you don’t think another town would have made for quite as magical of a first show?

Kevin: Are you kidding me? We lived for a while in Nashville and it was like, if you weren't some bullshit bleached hair band-in-a-box no one would take you seriously. If you were local, they really wouldn't take you seriously.

Anita: If you're not on MTV, what are you doing with your life?

Kevin: That's why some of the bands that have succeeded there like Lambchop and some of the Calexico guys, they don't really do much there because no one gives two fucks about it. There's no way we could do what we're doing in October. I wouldn't want to. It's not really about anything else but making this special event that I think people will enjoy rather than trying to build up some band credential.

Anita: A we just didn't want the party to be over after one night

Kevin: It's giving back and trying to keep that good karma going so that when we have a record and we're just playing normal shows that people can kind of see our new thing and take it on its own merit so that it's not like Viva Voce's other band, it's viewed as its own thing.

It seems like Kevin sings more of the leads on Blue Giant songs than he has on Viva Voca songs. Was that a conscious choice?

Anita: [To Kevin] You pretty much had your station and I had my station and it started to really feel restricting, I think, for you.

Kevin: Yeah. We were never able to make a sound together, like sing together or make a voice together, because we were constantly struggling with the physical restraints of beating the fuck out of the drums for 9 minutes and then having to be right on target.

Anita: It's fine with me. I can do the guitar playing and sing harmonies with are my two favorite things to do in the whole world. I don't think my voice is a lead singer voice, but I have the guts to do it, and when I write a song I feel like I can have the courage to do that. But really singing harmony and playing guitar, when I'm driving in my car and I'm listening to my favorite song and I'm fantasizing about playing it, that’s what I'm imagining I'm doing, not being the lead singer.

Kevin: My favorite records are where there are different voices that come in and out. There's several but we were talking about Yo La Tengo's Fakebook, of course that’s just cover songs, and some stuff by the Birds. You don't know whose taking the lead and where the harmonies end and the main vocals begin, they all bleed together.

Where do the ideas for the songs come from? Songs like “Hell or High Water” don’t seem to be about a married dude.

It's not anything that I've ever experienced and I hope I don't ever experience. It's just this dark bitter love song of someone who's not gonna let the other person go ‘till the bitter end and you don't have to experience that to see it from a third-party perspective. I would say 90% of blue stuff is...there's some dark, dark shit on that record and I haven't been through all of it, but I've at least seen it and experienced it enough to have some perspective on it.

I remember an offhand comment a while back in an email about being frustrated with the music business. Have you experienced some difficulties there?

Kevin: Just to peak in through the indie world, I can't fathom what it's like on the other side of the fence. Just to get a glimpse at it from one vantage point is horrifying enough…Just because these bands have labels and they're touring doesn't mean there's not really blue collar horrible hard shit that they have to go through.

Anita: Playing music is kind of like a family farm. It's really heart breaking when tough shit happens. It's not like we're in college and this is our freshman year and we've got a band that we're gonna have for a summer. We've put all our eggs in this basket.

Kevin: I think from the very inception of music, it's been tainted. The very first pictures of music was a devil holding a violin. From classical musicians on, they're always plagued with dark, horrible, evil shit. it's kind of in the art form that there's going to be this darkness that accompanies it. Maybe that's part of that songwriting style. Sometimes it becomes so much that you can't really ignore how heavy it gets.

What shaped the Blue Giant sound? Had you been listening to a lot of country?

Anita: I had been listening to a lot more country. I really got into the Carter family and I think that was a part of it. Kind of subconscious. It's the music of my childhood. I sang harmony and rhythm guitar with my dad on songs by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn.

Kevin: My family was not musical or artistic in any way shape or form so my musical up-brining was purely out of rebellion. It wasn't until I grew up that I even discovered cool music and cool bands and got into different styles of music. When we met I shared with her my weird musical past and she had a whole different bag.

I learned just because someone sings with a drawl doesn't make it red neck bullshit music. It is now, country musicians are on inflatable horses and it's just as disgusting as Britney Spears. But Dolly Parton's greatest hits, anyone could play those and it wouldn't necessarily be a country progression they're just like great classic songs, they just happen to be in that style.

Do you play Americana?

Kevin: Not really…I would proudly say that we're an American band. I wouldn’t shy away from that at all. Country music is in a terrible situation rock and roll is in a worse situation and pop is even worse. So I would just like to hope it's something...what would you classify CCR as? Just songs that transcend all the boundaries to where you would go to the concert with your mom or your brother or sister.

Anita: There’s something soothing about it. It does seem timely right now.

Kevin: Traditionally, the worst times in history is when the best art comes out. The late 60s and early 70s, music was like the signature on the document that said, “This time in history has passed now.” I feel like we're maybe entering another one of those moments where there are no Weather Underground or Black Panthers, but people are people. They still feel the same sense of outrage the same sense of injustice and the same sense of wanting something to calm them musically.

Anita: Or inspire them. I feel like when we record new Viva stuff, we'll really be able to come to the table with the kind of material that we need to. B0ut if we hadn't indulged our desire to have our friends on stage with us and not be just two people, I don't know that it would have been as inspired.

Above: Blue Giant in Seattle by Blush Photo. Below: A blue giant.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Arena Rock Medley


Last week My Morning Jacket played in Portland and I wrote a review of it for the Oregonian. I listened to a couple of MMJ songs when I was asked to do the review, but that was all I had ever heard of them. I like writing about well-known bands I know nothing about and I think this round of that game went especially well. I got the song titles by catching a lyric and Googling it later or asking the person next to me, "What's this song called?"

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Movie Biz Advice from Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon via Lovline


So the other night I was doing the dishes and listening to Loveline on the radio because I love that shit and you know you do too. (Although my first love was Dr. Judy on the less popular and now forgotten Love Phones.) Anyway, the guests were Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, two of the creators of Reno 911! and seven or eight other movies.

When I tuned in, Garant and Lennon along with Dr. Drew and his new co-host dude whatshisname were talking about how many movies are badly written. They said the problem is that studios often assign large teams. There are too many cooks in the kitchen and next thing you know, bad dialog.

Since I am currently co-writing a summer blockbuster (fact!), I thought I'd call in and see what advice I could get about getting a script that isn't written by a committee made into a movie. I didn't really get that advice, but I did get a good pep talk about writing. After my call, Garant and Lennon left and Dr. Drew said he really liked their advice. The advice and Drew's comment are in the clip below.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

See You in Rock 'N' Roll Heaven

There's this thing that happens in Shakespeare. A speaker will pretend something for a while and then start to believe it. Especially in the comedies. People pretend to be in love and then fall in love. Or better yet actually talk themselves into falling in love on stage.

The point is that change often starts on the outside and seeps in. A couple of years ago, I started wearing western clothes. Now I find myself listening to country and even playing it sometimes. And so I present my first published country album review. Since the Oregonian doesn't publish their reviews online and I don't really read things in paper form, I have no idea how this looked when it came out on August 1, but here is what I sent my editors.

Album: See You in Rock 'N' Roll Heaven
Artist: Power of County
Grade: B+
Label: Union
Web site:

There's a point at which rock 'n' roll becomes so rock 'n' roll it's country. There you'll find this punk rock love letter to dusty, bygone days.

Power of County, which features drummer Andy Bacon Simard who also plays with local Psych rock train wreck Starantula as well as members of local bluegrass-picking failsafes Clampitt, Gaddis & Buck, looks like the Outlaws on paper. Guitar and drums are up front with banjo, pedal steel, upright piano and a washboard in the bed.

There are even multiple vocalists and each song has own mood and narrative. The lazy, mock-dark "The Ballad of Charlie Sad" which tells of the tale of "a community torn by greed and regret" over gold hidden in a grave follows the anthemic opener "Ain't Goin' Back to Jail." And the slow, down-and-out "Father, Mother, Son," asks that ultimate rock 'n' roll question, "What did I do last night?" before asking God for forgiveness like a cowboy who knows he won't get it, all in a forgivably affected accent indicative of the overall well-executed artifice.

Because in its production and details, See You is a rock album. The beat is a particularly driving shuffle and the electric guitar is hot on songs like "Love Machine" and "Love Me in Chains," rendering the vocals unintelligible in perfect punk fashion. While nothing about this album is terribly original, the tension of rock seeping into the country framework, like a ho-down with a rip-roaring band too drunk to realize they're too loud and too fast makes it irresistible.

Above: Power of County. Below: My bolo tie collection, minus one that's out for repairs.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Party Vocab with Municpal Waste

Picture 1
Dude, kids in China need to know how to shotgun a beer. They need to know that shit and there is no one in this world to give them access to that information other than me via English, baby!

Since Ebaby! is sort of fueled by popular culture, I needed a celebrity guest to impart valuable drinking knowledge to the English learning masses. Enter Tony Foresta of Municipal Waste.

I'm really pleased how this vocab lesson turned out. Matt Miadich, the genius who edits all the Ebaby! videos had one comment about this one: "That's the fastest shotgun I've ever seen." Me too.

Oh, and the masseuse is employed by the Roseland to massage the artists who play there. Crazy, huh? Now you know.

Image: The photo I wanted to use for the lesson but couldn't due to obscene gestures.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tabb on CNN


On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, CNN did a very cool thing. They had George Tabb--a gifted author and musician who is extremely sick with illnesses related to the toxicity produced by the collapse of the buildings--on an anniversary segment.

The way it went down, however, was not so cool.

I mean, it wasn't terrible. I'm grateful he was on the program. But read for yourself. The host continually leads Tabb and refuses to go down the obviously interesting path here. Yes, Tabb has PTSD, but for him the trauma isn't over.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but the apparent media lock down on this issue is turning me into one. I've personally pitched this story to Spin, Rolling Stone and the Oprah magazine and been turned down by all three (bless the folks at Harp, who now run Blurt, for taking it earlier this year). I know for a fact that other journalists are pitching similar stories. Why has this story not been told? Why did CNN look it in the face and deny it exists last Thursday?

HARRIS: Let's get a market check now. New York Stock Exchange, New York City. As you can see, the Dow is down 37 points. It's been a mostly down week so far. A lot of triple digit losses on the day, for much of the week. We're going to check in with Susan Lisovicz and get the latest information on the markets for you in just a couple of minutes.

The New York Stock Exchange joining the nation in marking the seventh anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks. Financial traders paused for a few minutes just before the opening bell this morning. A few blocks away at a tearful ceremony at Ground Zero, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg described the attacks as the day our world was broken. The names of each of the 2,751 people killed at the World Trade Center were read aloud and four separate moments of silence were observed marking when each plane hit and each tower fell.

You know, a man famous in punk rock circles for his connection with the band, The Ramones, and his own band, Roach Motel, was one of the folks living in lower Manhattan during the September 11th attacks. George Tabb ran from his TriBeCa apartment just four blocks away with his wife and dog and saw all of the carnage that day. People jumping out of windows. His apartment condemned because it was so full of dust and debris. A day that has permanently affected his life and his health in many ways. He joins us now with his dog. Because the dog, named Scooter, there he is, is a big part of his story and he can't go anywhere without him.


HARRIS: George, maybe let's start there. Hey, Scooter, good to see you. You literally can't go anywhere without Scooter?

TABB: I can go other places without Scooter, but I like to go everywhere with Scooter and that's why he's here today actually.

HARRIS: Well, George, tell us why he's so important to you.

TABB: Well, scooter is very important because we both escaped 9/11 together from that fiery mess that the terrorists brought in. It was horrible. And I had been sick with different diseases, beside PTSD, that we'll talk about. I got a bunch of other illnesses, physical illnesses.

HARRIS: But the point about -- that's important to make about Scooter is that he was helpful to your recovery and he was coming back from --

TABB: Yes, he was. Yes, he did. He was very helpful to my recovery. Being sick a lot, being in the hospital a lot with different surgeries for different genetic diseases that I've got from 9/11, Scooter was there and helped me feel better because he knew where the pain would be and licked there. And I found that to be so helpful that I wanted to share that with others.


TABB: And through the St. Vincent's Hospital here in New York City, through my friend and therapist Bob Kupferman (ph), and my shrink, David Cordon (ph), they got me involved with the pet therapy program, where I bring Scooter to visit sick patients.

HARRIS: Well, Scooter couldn't be cuter.

Let's talk for a moment about the post-traumatic stress disorder. We most often associate that with people who come back from war. Describe the symptoms you were living with and to the extent that you're still living with symptoms.

TABB: I'm still living with symptom. I still have the nightmares, you know, which are terrible. Like giant buildings chasing me or monsters or . . .

HARRIS: Giant buildings actually chasing you? You see that sometimes?

TABB: Yes, I do. And I had nightmares of the carnage and different things representing those buildings. And I wake up screaming. I still wake up scared out of my mind. When I hear airplanes, I'm very -- I get very nervous. Helicopters. Police sirens.

But through the help of St. Vincent's and through their PTSD health program -- which was funded by "The New York Times," by the way, did a great thing by funding them I learned -- it is behavioral therapy. They taught me to listen to sirens, not as a sound of danger, but the sound of people helping each other.

HARRIS: Right. And, George, what do you think about on a day like today? Another anniversary?

TABB: I think it's sad that Americans don't know the extent of how much still downtown people are still sick. How many people downtown are still affected by the events of that day. How many people are poisoned. How many people are dealing with terrible, terrible illnesses. How police and firefighters cannot talk about it because their pensions are being threatened, who want to talk about this and how sick they are but can't get their pensions.

HARRIS: But, George, what about your emotions? Are you -- seven years later, are you angry? Are you -- have you made some kind of peace with this?

TABB: I was very angry for a long time and very depressed and even locked up a couple times for being so depressed about it. But now, with the help of the pet therapy program and just myself and my friend, Monica, which her and I are starting an organization called the Whirlwind Coalition, which is online, where we're trying to raise awareness of people being sick from 9/11.

By being an activist and by doing all this stuff, I'm feeling a lot better. I feel like I'm taking control of the situation. I'm able to fight back. To sort of say, and make things better for the world. And that way the PTSD doesn't get me as bad. I found that sitting around idly and just worrying about it and not doing anything was the worst thing for it.

But by taking action, with my dog, Scooter, here, and I'm doing something good for -- giving back. Like John McCain said in his speech, although I'm voting for Obama, McCain said that when young people, when they become part of something bigger than themselves, it brings a lot of joy. And that's absolutely the truth.

HARRIS: Well, George, thanks for sharing the story. Your amazing story.

TABB: Thank you.

HARRIS: And our thanks to Scooter there.

TABB: Oh, thank you, Tony.

HARRIS: And, George, we wish you all the best.

TABB: Thank you. You too.

HARRIS: Thank you.

TABB: Thank you. Bye-bye.

HARRIS: Moments ago a moment of silence in the Senate chambers.

Since CNN has not and will not post a video of this interview, here is the latest Tabb YouTube video.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Feet of MFNW

Since the part of a band that the fewest people see at a big festival like Music Fest Northwest (especially people like my 5'2" co-reporter/sweetheart Erin Harrell) is the bands' feet, we decided to focus on those for our Blurt coverage.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Take Me to the Sea

I reviewed Jaguar Love's album for Spin. They are also on the cover of Seattle Sound this month.

Did anyone see them at MFNW? I really wanted to but just couldn't face going to the Roseland for a third night in a row.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

MFNW Twitter Feed

My favorite weekend of the year, Music Fest Northwest started last night and runs until Saturday. I'm covering it for Blurt, but to tide you over until that comes out next week, here's a Twitter feed of my whereabouts and such.

* Blurt coverage sent. It's pretty ludicrous. I hope they post it. Bands seen: 16. Mice slain: 4. Highlights: Typhoon, Scared of Chaka.
* Resisting need to return to normal life.
* After party too hot. I sleep.
* I totally remember this one from my Seaweed tape with the green lighter.
* Crystal=sweatbox for Menomena.
* You'd think Looker to the horror prog of Black Elk would be a hard transition, but somehow it worked. Noted how creative their bassist is.
* As for looks, they're relatively plain, but their dark power pop with a trailer park twist fucking rocks. Best discovery of the fest.
* On the way to Black Elk at Berbati's was lured into a near empty Dante's by the sweet 3/4 female rock n roll of the Lookers.
* Monica Nelson closed her set of ballads (featuring unintentionally hilarious 80's keyboard sounds) with a moving George Tabb tribute.
* Happened on Seaweed soundchecking at Dante's. Sounded like a good way to wrap up my fest tonight. Hadn't heard them for 10 years.
* Side tracked. See you tomorrow at 8 at Back Space for Monica Nelson. 171 days ago
* Very few people watched PWRFL POWER thrash, pose and make noise in his pretty songs. Truckasaurus is starting the dance party with effort.
* I long to settle somewhere. Thinking Holocene because I am so over Roseland. No vibes there. Jaguar Love will have to wait.
* So much heavier than their album! I thought they were folk. Beautiful arc to the songs. Tremendous crowd reaction. Best band so far.
* Now to my typhoon debut. Am I a real Portland music fan now?
* All four band members drumming. Boy Eats Drum Machine' J Ragel in band now.
* Answer: 34 minutes! Dat'r rhythm section of Lackthereof is groovin'. Very tight for a band that plays rarely.
* Missed 12th. Conserving energy for uphill sprint to Crystal.
* Fuck missed light at 82nd.
* How fast can I bike 143 blocks and a river if Danny Seim is at the end? I hope it's less than 30 minutes.
* Traps set. One (tragically cute) mouse slain. Starting with Lackthereof at Crystal tonight.
* This is pandemonium. Pint glasses flying. Shins here, drunk. Equipment breaking. Band member stiches coming out.
* Sacred of Chaka flying a zia!
* Del is a relatively funky homosapien. On a scale of Urcle to Bootsy I give him a 7.9.
* Seeking rawk with Pure Country Gold at Ash St. Note for next year, bring disguise. Can't walk 5 feet without having to talk to someone.
* Calvin Johnson managed to pull off jazz hands and white denim. That takes guts. Told me he didn't mind the talking when I bought a CD.
* Calvin Johnson takes the stage alone with no warning to blue light. People are talking. His voice is rootsy. C'mon people stfu 4 a legend.
* There are like 17 17 year olds on stage. They are very musical with their electric piano. Apparently this is their last all ages show.
* Ahh Eskimo and Sons is starting and I'm still on 122nd!
* I just discovered a mouse in my house but we'll deal with that later. Tonight is Scared of Chaka!
* Last night at Mogwai, when the lighting wasn't so ideal, I decided to take a photo of every band's feet.
* Going to see Eskimo and Sons for the first time tonight.

Follow me on Twitter

Friday, August 29, 2008

Olympic Recap

So, the games are over and all the videos we made are compiled on English, baby! here, and my written record of the trip is indexed here. But for all that documenting, I realized the other night when my friend Kurt said, "How was China? Tell me a story!" that my most Olympic moment from Beijing didn't make it to the Web anywhere. So I'll finish this topic with that.

As my only non-work-related indulgence, I bought ping pong tickets months in advance because I always thought it would be cool to see Olympic table tennis. It was nice to look forward to too since the session I had tickets for was on our last day in town.

When Zach (aka Captain Jeff) and I arrived at our seats, we realized they were incredibly shitty. We could only see half of the 8 tables on the floor and the ones we couldn't see included the only matches with American and Chinese participants.

But, as covered in my scalping video, there were a million empty seats because all the "sold out" Olympic events had tons of unused tickets. So we tried to move down to better seats but were stopped by the ubiquitous Olympic volunteers.

After about 3 such failures, Zach was ready to quit, but I figured we should just try every section and eventually we'd find someone not paying attention. As we approached another section entrance, I said, "OK, stay close, walk fast, don't make eye contact, and sit down like you own the place." We did and it worked.

A tanned and fit guy in his late 40's who was sitting next to our new seats in the front row said, "Americans?" As it turned out, we happened to plop down next to the American tennis coaching squad. They knew enough about table tennis to enlighten us on the rules we didn't understand, even though they said the tennis and table tennis players don't kick it in the village.

Suddenly, one of the coaches sprang up from his seat while looking at his phone. "Phelps won a fourth medal!" he shouted. "He broke the record!" By the end of the ping pong session, Phelps had a fifth as well.

It wasn't until afterward that I realized that that was the most Olympic moment of my whole experience. I mean, with tickets to swimming harder to get than a tan in Portland, what better way to learn about Phelps' fourth medal than from the Olympic tennis coaches in stolen seats at a table tennis match? The only thing that could have made it better would have been if the American woman had managed to top Singapore on the table that day.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I Met Jared Leto

It's true. We ran into him at the Silk Market where you can buy anything from fake designer jeans (wearing my $20 "7 for All Mankind" right now) to jade Buddhas. He looked away for most of the time we were filming him, but we got his pretty face on camera for a second. I told him I loved My So Called Life and American Psycho, forgetting that he was fucking PREFONTAINE and I was dressed in a track outfit. My teammates and I used to watch that movie to get pumped before cross country meets.

He was on my plane on the way home too, but up in first class and I didn't get a chance to talk to him again. At the market he had a Chinese chick with him, but on the plane he was alone. He was, however, wearing the exact China shirt I bought for my dad (a red polo with "CHINA" on the back and "Beijing 2008" on the front).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Olympic Photos

In between these photos, which document goofing off for the most part, there were events like field hockey and road cycling.

China is pretty relaxed. They didn't hassle us even though we showed up wearing outfits like this.

There are neat communist relics lying around everywhere. This one was in our hostel.

Every meal was really good and really inexpensive. Dumplings might have been my favorite. It was $2 for four of us.

Menus are as funnier than you would imagine. Can I offer you a three explosions spring roll? How about North Korea is grim? Here's Jewel translating a menu for a restaurant. They thrust the draft in front of her when they realized she knows English and Chinese.

We had a big English, baby! party and afterward did private karaoke.

We rented bikes that match our outfits to try out the bike lanes that are as wide as normal street lanes. Couple the striking blue of this photo with my blue eyes and understand why I was constantly asked to pose for photos with people.

Here is a sequence of photos in which I eat a giant scorpion. It tasted OK but took forever to chew the exoskeleton-y bits.



Word to Mao. Peace out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Boycot CDs!

As of now, I am officially boycotting CDs. I've probably only bought a handful in the last couple of years, but the RIAA's recent attack on Muxtape has crossed the line. This is WAR.

Muxtape, as I saw it, was a pretty benign compromise. You could only stream music on the site and there was link to purchase the Mp3 of the song you were streaming. That's a far cry from the anarchic days of Napster and it has roots in a tradition older than I am: that of the mixtape.

But no. According to a statement by the RIAA what Muxtape was doing was illegal. Well I've HAD IT. The goddamn recorded music industry isn't going to get a cent out of me until it shapes up.

Sure, maybe some artists will be deprived a nickle or two that the RIAA would have tossed them, but it's acceptable losses to kill the cancer of the RIAA. Here's my pledge, I urge you to take it with me:

I __________ hereby vow that from this day forward I will obtain music only in the form of used vinyl and illegal download until the RIAA quits being such fascist assholes. (Fine print: Exceptions may be made for purchases directly from bands with no ties to the greater music industry machinery.)


Jason Simms

PS Please buy my band's CD.

Outside the Olympic Venues

I'm back from Beijing and the videos we made there are getting edited daily. Here are the ones the have been finished so far. My favorite is the second one.

This covers our arrival and first event: Hutong bike race. A hutong is an old neighborhood with tiny streets.

Outside of the Water Cube we met a very interesting man with very interesting hair.

We had a party for our users and I got to do real Asian karaoke!

My adventures buying a ticket to the sold-out games on the street.

Another street challenge, this one starring the Australian drinking team.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Beijing Bound

Picture 2

I'm leaving for Beijing in less than 48 hours. I'm really nervous about going to a country where the police randomly seem to shoot troublemakers like me. Especially since I'll be wearing the most obvious outfit ever. But fear is no reason to give up and throw away all the hard work I've been doing to get ready for the games.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Twin Cities or Bust

Wish me luck. This is my entry into a contest sponsored by the GOP. Video responses answer the question, "Why are you a Republican in 2008?"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

There are like two Chinese people in Chinatown, tops.

Oh, did I mention English, baby! is sending me to the Olympics? It's true. The Portland Tribune did a story on it. Here's my attempt to get some travel tips in Portland, starring a fake Chinese mobster.

Friday, July 18, 2008


It may sound crude, but when someone's missing a limb, you know there's a story. Add to his stump that Lefty is loud, friendly and a guitar player and I had no choice but to do two different pieces on him. A video for English, baby! and a Q&A in The Oregonian.

Note Lefty's classic panhandler lyrics in the opening scene: "Well I'm standing on the sidewalk/ And I'm playing my guitar!/ People walk by/ They put money in my jar..."

Photo: Handed to Lefty by a fan on the street.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

OSF Video

I just got this link to an amazingly professional video the folks at made for us at the Shakespeare Festival.

Apparently some of the folks who made this will be moving to Portland soon so keep an eye out!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Your Anchor will hold in the storms of life.

Everyone says Danny Seim is as nice as he is tall and he's very tall and they're very right. I interviewed him over the phone about, Your Anchor, the new album by his long-running bandle, Lackthereof, and when I was done he started interviewing me! I'm going to email him next time Tragedy or Agalloch plays because he wants to check out some crucial local metal.

So check out the story. Seim's progression from non-musician to one man band and recording studio has inspired me to start recording at home as well. My first home-recorded song is the hilarious tale of a meter man who accidentally falls in love with a lizard co-written and performed with Mark B. Expect to see it here whenever he outsmarts his 4-track and can make it talk to his computer.

Your Anchor will be released July 19 at the Doug Fir and July 22 in the rest of the world. Photo by Alicia Rose.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ashland + MSC = True Love


It was a total gamble. Even as we were setting up and the crowd was taking seats on the green, no one had any idea if the Oregon Shakespeare Festival crowd would dig the Metal Shakespeare Company. (The odd pairing is captured nicely in this localCut post.)

I was told an average crowd at the Green Show, the opening act for the evening's plays at OSF, is about 300. Ours was certainly that big, some estimated larger, and that many people seated looks a lot bigger than our usual standing crowds.

Claudia Alick, the producer of the Green Show (which, until she took over last year, was always a hanky dance show), introduced us and asked the audience to cheer if they liked Shakespeare, then to cheer if they liked metal. The second cheer was louder.

It sounds cliche, but as we took the stage, everything was in slow motion. I'm used to playing drunk with sweaty people knocking the mic into my teeth, but in the summer afternoon atmosphere, I was able to think about the music while I was playing it, plan my next dance move and look around at people's faces. They were smiling.

I don't play guitar on our power ballad, and during that song I walk around the crowd and touch people. This went over really well. I don't think people are used the performers breaking the fourth wall.

Afterward we sold about 30 CDs, most of which we wound up autographing for people ranging from age 8 - 70. A photographer ran up to me and said, "You're going to be in the paper tomorrow!" And sure enough, the third page of the Ashland Daily Tidings was devoted to us.

As a result of the article, there were a lot of people there the next night to see us. Matt said he thinks it was one of the best shows we've ever played.

Since OSF hospitality knows no bounds, we got to watch a superb country-western take on Comedy of Errors after our set. It was really elaborate and had lots of physical comedy. I was taking notes for when our band becomes a Vegas show.

In fact, Ashland was quite the taste of Vegas. We couldn't walk around without being recognized and complimented. We also partied with other performers. Othello, Desdemona and Iago closed down the Beau Club with us and I got a press quote from Peter Macon, who plays Othello and loved our show, "Zunes! Those guys fucking shred."

Photos by Thom Larkin of the Daily Tidings.





Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I thought the 4th of July was heaven...

...but then I discovered that "all patriotic items" are 50% off at Fred Meyer! Such good timing with Patriot Day just two months away.

Image: My shopping cart before adding less patriotic items to it.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Great American Bar: The Kiknbque Lounge


I like karaoke a lot. I'm not a cultist like some, but I'm a pretty regular singer of Ozzy or Twisted Sister, enough to know that a lot of karaoke bars are the same. There are some booths. You stand on a little stage. But one place in Portland has a truly unique karaoke experience.

Singing at the Kiknbaque is kind of like busking on a crowded subway. You are not the center of attention. There is no stage. You walk amongst the patrons with a wireless microphone. And the patrons are actually diverse enough to roughly equate the contents of a subway car. In fact, Ben Moral, who is a Kiknbaque regular, will tell you it's "the most diverse crowd in Portland." It was that comment that inspired this story.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Local Journalist Driven to Threat of Violence by Annoying Media Cliche


If I see one more headline ending in "at the pump" I am going to "pump" someone full of lead. That goes double for if there's another word beginning with p in the vicinity.

Image: Today's Trib.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ashland or Bust

The Metal Shakespeare Company is playing this Tuesday and Wednesday at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It's one of the biggest Shakespeare festivals in the world, so it's a really big deal.

We're really excited that they're going to have us, but It's both the perfect match and a complete gamble. This clip of an interview with Green Show (opening act) coordinator Claudia Alick pretty much sums it up.

Image: The Elizabethan Theater at OSF by T. Charles Erickson. Audio Clip from Jefferson Public Radio, Southern Oregon and Northern California's NPR affiliate.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Best of '08: Blue Giant at the Wonder Ballroom June 20, 2008

After Blue Giant played, I heard another music critic refer to them as Americana. Forget it. This is not Munly & the Lee Lewis Harlots*. This is not a throwback. This is it. This is American music.

Just to get you up to speed here, since tonight was the band's first show, Blue Giant sounds like the June Carter of a parallel earth who can totally shred, married Michael Martin Murphy and with him is fronting the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Playing June and Michael in this movie are Anita and Kevin Robinson of Viva Voce.

Blue Giant puts Kevin up front and center where you can watch him breathe and really lets Anita's full range of guitar virtuosity come out. There's piano, banjo and fiddle but not all at once. The lyrics are a little corny, but Kevin sells them. It rocks sometimes. It's not old fashioned; it's honest.

Bass player Seth Lorinczi swore up and down that the band didn't plan to wear blue and that I was the first person to mention it. I guess I believe it. I mean, they're that kind of band, just perfectly in synch and confident. Since it was their first show, the confidence and charm seemed almost supernatural.

On stage, Kevin said that he learned before the show that Jaws was released today in 1975. Speilberg thought it was gong to flop, but when someone vomited 10 minutes in, he knew he made it. "No one's vomited yet, so I guess we're alright," Kevin said.

But man, if eyes could puke. You should have seen the looks on people's faces.

Oh, and Corin Tucker played a couple of songs with them too. That was sort of like the part of the morning's dream narration where you start losing your friends. "And then Corin Tucker showed up," you say. "Yeah yeah whatever man," your buddy says. You reply: "But listen dude!"

No, really, listen.

*I do like Munly by the way. I just wouldn't call it life changing. I seriously think Blue Giant is going big time. Get ready America.

This is part of my best of '08 series in which I name the year's best as it happens 'cause year end lists are so last year.

Image by elspop of Anita singing with the Shins.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Deliver This Creature

The current issue of Spin has a review I wrote of mr. Gnome's new album, Deliver This Creature. It's kind of an amazing phenomenon. mr. Gnome got small write ups on and Pitchfork the same week that this came out. It's like everyone's paying attention to them, but only a little.

Anyway, it's always great when I get to cover a band I completely believe in for a major publication. The first time I saw mr. Gnome I was floored. It's a shame the review doesn't cover their live show, which is amazingly tight and full. They're the best two piece I know of, hands down, and one of my favorite bands altogether.

Extra thanks to Randy Bemrose for introducing me to mr. Gnome in the first place and for offering the Scout Niblet/SOD comparison off the cuff in his basement.

Image by Eric Clawson.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tour Recap

And so, all in all, the Metal Shakespeare Company tour was a very successful trip. We didn't lose money and that was our goal. Here are some interesting numbers:

Days: 12
Shows: 11
Miles: 3850
Average price per gallon: $4.26
Press write ups: 8
Radio appearances: 1
Dreams come true: 3
Van break downs: 0
Hand jobs: 0

Here are all the major press write ups we got. My favorite is the one from SLC weekly.

Idaho Statesman
SLC Weekly
Albuquerque Alibi: Calendar listing, not online (like a WW-style listing)
LA Weekly: Calendar listing, not online (like a WOW! in the Mercury)
Eureka Reporter
Times Standard (Eureka)
North Coast Journal (Arcata)
Live interview on KSLG (Humboldt County)
Eugene Weekly

If you wish to relive the adventure, here is the chapter selection:

Boise in which mr. Gnome doth bewitch our brains!
Salt Lake City in which we perfourme for ghosts and spiders!
Albuquerque a tale of debauchery and intrigue!
Tucson a hard-won battle for the hearts of travelers!
Laguna Beach in which Lord Simms is kidnapped by pirates!
Los Angeles in which there is much Dionysian madness!
Long Beach in which we are thwarted from ballroom dancing!
San Francisco in which much merriment is made!
Arcata in which victory is won!
Eugene in which there are explosions!

541: Two for One Special

0608081748aOn the way to Eugene, we swam in what we're told by locals is the cleanest river in the country, the Smith. You can see fish and bottom, even where it's 20 feet deep.

Too bad that at this time of year, it's also the coldest river in the country. We enjoyed some cliff diving nonetheless, which I was glad to have survived considering omens before our departure.

Our visit to the river and an underestimation of how treacherous and curvy (and therefore slow) the terrain on the drive would be, made us incredibly late for our last show of the trip at the Samurai Duck in Eugene.

When we arrived at 10:30, the first band had already been playing for half an hour. They were an improv metal band called Speculative Harmony Volunteers* which I thought was going to be two different bands. Unfortunately, it was just the same sucky band twice.

Apparently they had been told they could do two sets before we were added to show. This put us playing at 1 am and neither us, nor Purple Rhinestone Eagle were happy about that. We tried to talk the sound guy into talking some sense into them but he wasn't having it.

So as they were playing their second set, I suited up for another duel. If I won, they would stop. But then they stopped, ending their set with, "Sorry everyone, we were supposed to do two sets but the venue fucked up and booked another band. Sorry."

That was pretty much the most professional move of the tour. But we'll come back to that. Purple Rhinestone Eagle RULED. They're a heavy all-female metal trio from Philly via Portland. Outside I heard people complaining about how Speculative Harmony Volunteers only got to play one and a half sets. Am I insane? Who the fuck plays two sets? Seriously. What the fuck?

Anyway, we got on stage and everyone was drunk which is always better for us. After our first couple of songs, I apologized for being the "fuck up" band that got added "last minute" and then got out the paper and pretended to read it and discover the article about us. "Goodness, how could anyone have known we were coming? If there is one for us, surely there must be two for Speculative Harmony Volunteers?" Matt made a joke about masturbating in public being legal in this strange kingdom. These antics cost us some audience members, but we couldn't take that shit lying down. What kind of band complains about the other bands that are going to play after them? What happened to, "Hey, there are a couple of out of town bands here tonight so stick around?" Geez.

Once we got that off our chests we rocked out really hard since it was the last night. Plus Purple Rhinestone Eagle was standing up front laughing their asses off the whole time and there's nothing better than impressing a band you respect.

Afterward we were treated to a lavish end-of-tour party by our friend Mac, who booked us last time we were in Eugene. I even got to play bartender! Another dream come true.

We left sometime after three and launched some mortar shells in the street. Then the whole posse (minus Mark, Merideth and her friend who went home to sleep or something) went to Amber's house, another friend from our last time in Eugene. There I sword fought on the roof of the house with a lass I developed a crush on on our last visit. I lost my sword but made the pressed-up sword kiss move. Two dreams come true in one night!

"Hey," said Randy. I was stuck to a leather couch. It was morning. "Let's get out of here."

Above: me cliff diving by Mark on his phone. Below: foreign movie poster demonstrating pressed-up sword kiss move.

*Speculative Harmony Volunteers doesn't exist online BECAUSE THEY AREN'T A REAL BAND.


Monday, June 16, 2008

707: Fuck Yeah


"Nearly a fortnight we have travelled, and when times were tough, we said, 'There is Arcata down the road!'" I told the crowd at the Alibi.

We played there in January and went over quite well. Better than I realized, in fact, until I saw several people already wearing our shirt and singing along to all the choruses. Arcata is definitely the most rocking city of 15,000 people on Earth.

Last time we visited, they gave us bottomless beer and we each drank two pitchers. Then, because it was my 24th birthday, people kept buying me shots. I broke a table, a microphone, a lot of glass and a few hearts.

This time I stayed relatively sober. We got great write ups in the Eureka Reporter and The Times Standard, and I knew there would be a good crowd so I didn't want to be too slobbering.

Before the Alibi, we did a radio interview in costume on KLSG, the local commercial rock station, which strangely sits in the middle of pastures. The DJ, Ashley Ramone, reminded me of a metal Amy McCullough and was really cool. She plays a game called 4 degrees of Tool where she can connect any band to Tool in 4 steps. She didn't do one specifically for us, but ours would be the same as thirtythreeandathird because we've both opened for Blood Hag and that's where theirs starts.

We played with those dudes last time, thirtythreeandathird, and they requested to do their set of instrumetal before us this time. Sober, I noticed they are all really, really talented musicians. I can't wait to see their swampy stoner rock at the Red Room on July 18.

Then we played what everyone agrees was the best show of the trip. The crowd was rowdy, but not in a silly way like at Spaceland. They just fucking loved it. Every minute of that show was a pleasure to play.

Afterward, we went and partied at thirtythreeandathird drummer Grant's house where his significant other, Tessa, made us margaritas. For the first time Matt admitted he would like to turn our band into a Vegas show, something he's expressed reservations about before. If every show were like Arcata that night, we'd be the Blue Man Group of metal in no time.

Photos: KLSG. Not pictured: the visually reclusive Ashley Ramone.