Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ten albums I liked in 2009


I'm not a big fan of formal year end lists, but I always get talked into it. This time by Michael Byrne at City Paper, who let me write a blurb about number 2 on this list.

1. Subarachnoid Space - Eight Bells. From my Oregonian review: SubArachnoid Space soundtracks the superconscious, with all the breadth of wonderment and horror between sleep and wake and between Dali paintings and Cortazar stories.

2. Health - Get Color. My writeup for this album as number 10 on the City Paper's countdown: Los Angeles noisy dance-rock outfit HEALTH had its work cut out for it this year, after the quartet's 2007 debut was outdone by its 2008 remix album. So on Get Color, HEALTH stepped up and perfected its table-saw-like bass sound, round and bright electronic beeps, and high-range, airy vocals, applying precision to the use of each to make songs with a lot of character and a lot of space. Complex, tom-heavy drum beats maintain a ritualistic quality in this music, which has a sort of neon spirituality. The record is clean like a cult compound--an appropriate soundtrack for drug use, prayer, exercise, or murder.

3. Evangelista - Prince of Truth. From my Oregonian review: The vocal effects on "The Slayer," the first track on "Prince," change line by nightmarish line: "Am I here to watch over you?/Am I here to destroy you? ... Take the pennies from my eyes/I am so old that I am new." Rustic guitar sounds bubble up out of sweeping wind and feedback sounds and boil up into post rock. Two songs later, the relaxed vocal delivery on "I Lay There in Front of Me Covered in Ice" creates a rare shade of peace in the face of the song's broken structure, eerie production and lyrical imagery of death.

4. New York Rifles - Make a Wish. I chose this album for the Oregonian's Christmas Gift Guide: "Rails," the first number on the sophomore release from this Portland band, is probably the most rock 'n' roll track without a guitar on it released this year. It's a soulful, fast-paced spiritual that finds a swagger by the end. The magic, and the belted, high-pitched vocals, linger when the guitars fire up for prepunk songs about nefarious activities you can do in motels, making this record the perfect medicine for anyone on your list whose faith in the gospel of rock is in doubt. -- Jason Simms, Special to The Oregonian

5. Mr. Gnome - Heave Yer Skeleton. I didn't get a chance to write about this new album from one of my favorite bands, but this Cleveland duo--which is already one of the most full-sounding duos around--really expanded their sound here. I tagged them as Scout Niblett fronting System of a Down when I reviewed their last album for Spin, but it's more complicated now. They've brought in subtle elements of punk, country and even jazz. A lot of times when bands put in new influences it can be heavy handed. That is not at all the case here. Minor adjustments on this record really open up the sound nicely.

6. YOB - The Great Cessation. I didn't hear this album until way after it came out. By then it was really hyped. It's the only legit metal album I know of that was lauded by the New York Times this year. But it fully lived up to the hype. From my Oregonian preview of their Halloween show: The title track builds from whisperlike to thunderous while vocalist Mike Scheidt steadily unloads a poem describing the Zen-based idea of abandoning the self to understand the unmovable vastness of the universe and time. What could be scarier than a meditation on the torturous trivialities of your insignificant ego vibrating all of your bones in waves of sound?

7. Rodriguez - Cold Fact (reissue). My blog headline for the last six months has been a Rodriguez lyric. That should tell you something. He's probably my most listened to artist of 2009, and definitely my best discovery of the year. From my Oregonian review: It would not be hyperbole to compare Rodriguez's mysticism to the Doors, his grooves to Sly Stone and his storytelling and poetry to Dylan.

8. Dethklok - Dethalbum II. Much to the dismay of purists, this is the best-selling death metal album all time. More than a parody, it actually outsmarts the original and beats it at its own game. This album brings color and dimension to death metal like never before. It's kind of like how people are actually getting news now from the Daily Show, because it's so much more fun than actual news.

9. The Mars Volta - Octohedron. These crack-smoking geniuses finally recaptured some of the magic of their first EP and LP. Some.

10. Mastodon - Crack the Skye. Believe it or not, I am new to this band this year. I enjoy them, and found myself listening to this album more than I would have guessed considering it's not something I feel all that passionate about. It's more like I respect it. From my Oregonian review: Take "Ghost of Karelia," which is a maze of virtuosic melodies worthy of a Rush record, built on a slow, heavy sway, soothing in its restraint.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Last-second shopping, shooting with Shane Battier

Whoa, so Christmas Eve is tomorrow. Got some last-second shopping to do? Take some tips from my interview/English lesson with Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets about the term "buzzer beater." There's more info on how this video came together on the English, baby! blog.

Here are a couple of other notable sports interviews I did this year and neglected to post here.

* Sebastien Le Toux (at the time) of Seattle Sounders FC kicks a ball over my head to demonstrate "flick"!

* WNBA legend Ticha Penicheiro of the (now defunct) Sacramento Monarchs explains "the sky's the limit."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Twi-line hoax

For 15 minutes last Thursday, I stood between team Jacob and team Edward, gathering evidence for team irony.

While at the Brokencyde show I reviewed earlier this week, Ezra, a music critic colleague from the Mercury, mentioned how funny it would be pretend as if you were camping out for the Twilight: New Moon midnight opening on your facebook status. I mentioned this to my friend Nate C, and he was inspired to take the idea one step further and asked me to meet him at the twi-line to stage photos to be disseminated over facebook and twitter periodically throughout the night.

We were outside Lloyd Center for about 10 minutes. The vampire fans had gotten so comfortable waiting that they didn't think it was all that weird total strangers asked to pose with them playing cards for pictures.

As we began to post these pictures, the comments started coming in. Nate's friends are used to his unpredictably nerdy taste and applauded the camp out. I, however, got some comments as hostile as "FUCK NEW MOON." My favorite though is on this early update, one of my friends from my home town just posted, "Dude..."

Picture 1

Our goal here was to fool, in addition to all our acquaintances, people who know us really well, including Nate's girlfriend. So we went all out and even broke and relit our candle to demonstrate the passage of time.


Now, I enjoyed the first Twilight movie and I think I'll see the second one soon, but I didn't really want to wait in line for it on opening night. Nate hasn't seen either movie because he just started reading the first book. We pretended like we were reading it to each other in line.


This is where I started to feel bad. See, I haven't read the books. But some of my friends were really stoked that I had! I felt bad about deceiving them the next day.

But in the mean time, I was actually at home finishing up some work (I keep odd hours), and working was a heck of a lot more fun than usual. In fact, when Nate threw up this update, I actually got really excited, as if I really were in the theater.

Picture 2

And by the end of the night, with this staged, leaving-the-theater shot, we had, in fact, fooled Nate's girlfriend.


So anyway, my apologies if you're my facebook friend and feel your Twilight enthusiasm was mocked! I am actually all about it and when we were leaving the theater after taking the photos, a part of me just wanted to stay and see the movie. But a bigger part of me wanted to be warm and make my deadlines. So why did we do this? Well, it was a lot of fun, first of all. But I just find it curious that people are so honest on facebook and twitter, so I thought I'd try this experiment. I wonder how you could use social media deception for personal or career gain.

Oh, and follow me on twitter and add me on facebook, especially if you're gullible.

Let's get fucking freaky now...

It makes so much sense that a band that's been called "fucking horrendous" and "a mockery to the world of music" by the national media is from Albuquerque, which also happens to be my home town. Albuquerque is a pretty apocalyptic place. I had guns pulled on me there. For entertainment, my friends and I burned wreckage in a wasteland on the edge of town where there was once a housing development. What did Brokencyde do with their free time? They took all the shitty music of the last 10 years, put it in a blender, and poured into this video:

I find this video transfixing. I watched it three times when I first discovered on Adam Gnade's tour blog. The song got suck in my head and I annoyed my girlfriend by singing it. Why do I like it? Because it's apocalyptic. It's a musical burning of cultural wreckage.

So despite a preview in the Portland Mercury that said something like, "You're seriously crazy if you go to this show," I decided to review it for the Oregonian. It was, ultimately, disappointing. Although I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the young crowd and did enjoy hanging out with the 4 other members of the local music media who decided to brave the spectacle.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


October was a big month for metal here in Portland, and I had such a serious bangover I just got around to writing about it now.

Mastodon and Dethklok kicked things off, and I wrote a preview and review of their show, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My favorite part was the first three songs of Dethklok when I got to photograph the band in front of the barricade. This is always a fairly cool thing to do, but since the live band plays in the shadows of a giant screen showing the animated band that stars in the Adult Swim series, "Metalocalypse," it was interesting to see the musicians up close and observe how playing alongside animated counterparts changes things.

The day after that show, my band, the Metal Shakespeare Company, played in one of our favorite towns, Ashland. Chris Conrad at the Mail Tribune was kind enough to write an article about us. It's the third time he's interviewed me and fourth time he's written about our band. I think he is becoming the official bardcore historian!

And October wrapped up with the Fall into Darkness festival at Berbati's. I wrote a preview of the fest and attended the second and third nights of it. My favorite performance was Ludicra on Halloween. They were they only band that had me up front throwing horns, although Saviors came close and performed in Campbell's Soup cans.

Since I was spending Halloween at Berbati's, I decided to dress as that guy who comes up to you and tries to sell you roses in downtown Portland bars. I walked up to lots of people and said, "A rose for the lady?" Some of my own friends didn't recognize me!


But the by far the most metal costume of the night was my friend Laura who went as Goatwhore. Get it?


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Apparently, I'm a Killers fan.

It's my new pop vice, I suppose. After seeing quite a few tweets about how great their tour kickoff in LA was, I decided to review the Killers' show at Memorial Colosseum for the Oregonian.

I hadn't been to a show there in years and it's fun sometimes to remind myself how most people experience live music. There was a hipster here and there in the crowd, which was amusing. In full urban cowboy gear, I was overdressed.

But I was never, ever bored. Each member of the Killers puts on a great show. I particularly liked the rhythm section, who, with their scruffy style, wouldn't look out of place in a band playing at East End. The singer has perfect posture and great theatrics and the guitarists' hair is as epic as a Dream Theater song (he looks like he probably listens to Dream Theater).

So it's official. I'm a fan. After the show, I couldn't get the "are we human, or are we dancers" line out of my head for days. I came up with a bunch of parodies for it, my favorite of which is "are we wizards, or necromancers?"

Photos: Erin and I took a bunch of photos at the show and you can see the best ones on my flickr.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

MFNW '09 Yearbook


Attending tonight's multi-venue, wristband Scion Garage Fest in Portland (Dirtbombs were delightful, one of the best shows I've ever seen at 3pm) reminded me that I wrote a preview and review of Music Fest Northwest for Blurt a few weeks back.

The review is in the form of yearbook style awards like "best dressed" and "best hair." I actually co-wrote it with my girlfriend, Erin Harrell, so we could cover more ground and because she was familiar with a lot of bands I didn't know very well. We had a lot of fun! Here's one of the highlights:

Most Likely To Succeed: Dillinger Four - As vocalist Patrick Costello of this long-running and celebrated Minneapolis punk band took the stage 40 minutes late, he began to tune and told the crowd to "shut up." He said, "This is a big important music festival and we are going to get signed and get huge." As he revealed his chest tattoo that reads, "How much art can you take?" the hefty man explained, "I don't have this body to do some DIY shit forever." By making a mockery of the festival and the music industry, Dillinger Four connected with their crowd better than anyone else. And as their often chorus-less songs wrapped up sooner than you wanted them to, they reminded you that, yes, they are some of the greatest punk composers ever. (Hawthorne Theater, Saturday)

We also managed to take some decent photos this year! Unlike last year where we copped out by focusing on bands' feet.

Image: Erin's best shot of Isaac Brock.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Puppy Hour

Last month, I had a piece in the Oregonian about a new bar and restaurant in Southeast Portland called Hobnob that offers a special menu for dogs. Yes, there is a dog menu, with, like, entrees you can order...for your dog.

It was fun to write a story with as many k-9 characters in it as Homo sapiens. The photo above is of Lewis, who really is Hobnob's number customer and unofficial mascot.

See more photos I took for this story on flickr.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

White Horse Tears

I liked the Lonely H's new album, Concrete Class, the first time I heard it. Then I discovered they are really young--all but one underage--and that they only recently developed the classic rock sound they do so well. They used to sound like Weezer, according to one Seattle Weekly review. These are interesting facts about the Lonely H.

Ever since I listened to Concrete Class a few times in a row to write a review for the Oregonian that came out Friday, I find myself belting out the line, "White horse tears..." I lament having to miss the Lonely H last night at Dante's, but I will catch them on September 18 at the Ash Street as part of Music Fest Northwest.

Image: by Christopher Nelson from Lonely H Space.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wear White Tonight


Today's Oregonian features a review I wrote of an absolutely amazing experimental album, Eight Bells by SubArachnoid Space. Melynda Jackson is a fierce guitarist and it can be hard to capture that kind of energy on a recording. This album exceeds all expectations I had for the band, and really for heavy instrumental music in general.

The release party for the record is tonight at Berbati's. Wear white. The band always does and so do their fans. Here's a photo of me with some friends at a SubArachnoid show earlier this year.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Onward to New Spaine!

Relive the glory of last year's tour in anticipation, and follow the adventures this year on twitter!

7.17 Seattle, WA - Blue Moon
7.18 Portland, OR - Ash Street Saloon
7.23 Arcata, CA - The Alibi
7.24 San Francisco, CA - Kimo's
7.25 Berkeley, CA - 924 Gilman
7.26 Los Angeles, CA - Spaceland
7.27 Laguna Beach, CA - Sandpiper
7.28 Tucson, AZ - Hotel Congress
7.29 El Paso, TX - (just canceled...ideas?)
7.30 Las Cruces, NM - Bacon House
7.31 Albuquerque, NM - Atomic Cantina
8.01 Santa Fe, NM - Warehouse21
8.02 olorado Springs, CO - Black Sheep
8.04 Denver, CO - Old Curtis Street Bar
8.05 Boulder, CO - Colorado Shakespeare Festival
8.06 Fort Collins, CO - Surfside 7
8.07 Boise, ID - 1719 N Ada
8.08 Yakima, WA - Yakima Sports Center
10.03 Ashland, OR - Stillwater

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My First Music Video!

Behold! The Metal Shakespeare Company made a video for Hamlet III.i. It's the first music video I've ever been in in 10 years of playing in bands. It was raining the day we shot it up at the place our band was formed, Lewis & Clark College, which made it kind of miserable, but more metal. The editing was done by Matt Miadich who edits all the videos for English, baby! and the camera work is by Ian Rasmussen.

Monday, July 6, 2009

O Come Look at the Burning

It's so nice when an out-of-the-blue assignment happens to connect with something you're randomly obsessed with at the time.

I had already agreed to write a story for The Oregonian on Louisiana blues man, Kevin Gordon, when I discovered that he's from the part of the state where "True Blood", the TV show I had been watching every night that week to catch up on the first season I missed, was filmed. And it wasn't until I had him on the phone that I learned he's even licensed a song to the show.

What luck! A legitimate chance to write about the thing I couldn't stop thinking about anyway. It made the article flow easily--I think the comparison of the show to Gordon's music really works too, if you'll allow me to pat myself on the back.

Anyway, before I interviewed him, I listened to almost all of Gordon's catalog. I just kept his ReverbNation account playing for thirty-some songs, and I recommend the experience. But Gordon's most exciting material may be to come. Here's Gordon talking about a new song he just recorded, with a working title of "Colfax", which will be on his next album. At seven minutes, it's his longest song, and the first to have a fully narrative structure.

My band director was African-American teaching at an all white school in late '70s. Even in '78 or '79, Louisiana was still a very provincial place and there were a number of old-guard elements still at work there, and being in the band at school meant during the fall you'd march in football games and go to parades in little towns. I don't want to give too much away, but the song is about a conflict that happened on one of those trips.

The older I get, the more those memories come back sharper. It's been great for me to write about that place in that time. In addition to that political stuff, it's also a song of coming of age.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sound Judgment Day

Throughout my career as a freelance writer in Portland, the punk scene I initially covered for the Willamette Week has viewed me as an outsider (little do they know I have mad punk cred in New Mexico, but that's another story). And when it comes to the rest of the music scenes in Portland, with the exception of metal, I am an outsider.

But that's OK. That's often the roll of the journalist--outside looking in. But Arya Imig, whose show "Sound Judgment" wrapped up a 3 and a half year run on KPSU last month is the exception.

I wrote a story about Arya and Sound Judgment for today's Oregonian. It's pegged to a party to celebrate the end of the show in the Goldsmith building that starts in about an hour. It will be interesting to see who comes.

At least apparently, Arya is an insider to many different music scenes in Portland. He is not only respected by, but friends with punks, indie rockers, DJs and more. He is a gifted broadcaster and a remarkable, if unlikely, people person.

Check out the archives of Sound Judgment here.

Image: Arya at his second to last show. By me.

Monday, June 29, 2009

OK, It's Monday.

Keegan Smith

Monday is the most dreaded night in light life. But in Portland, it's pretty well taken care of between three regularly occurring events, which, by my calculations, would satisfy 89% of the over-21 crowd in this town.

Option 1 - Heavy Metal Lady's Night at Tube. DJ Nate C blasts bands like Voivod and Anvil in the hippest bar in town, while ladies drink at happy hour prices all night. This is where you are most likely to find me on a Monday.

Option 2 - Futuristic jazz with Dan Balmer's Go By Train at Jimmy Mak's. This is a classy sure thing if you want to take a date somewhere nice, have a drink with your parents or just feel civilized and listen to one of the best jazz guitarists there is.

Option 3 - Out of control dance party with Keegan Smith and the Fam at the Candlelight. While options one and two are respectable achievements for the weakest night of the week, this one is astounding. I just wrote an article that was in last Sunday's Oregonian, about how crazy the scene around this funk/rock/jazz/R&B band gets at this club every Monday. Want to bump and grind and pretend it's Saturday? This is the place to be. And it's right on the new MAX green line!

Image: Keegan Smith and Fam's CD release show last May. By Chris Ryan.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

99% Dancing

Day one of Superfest, Portland's new all-ages electronic pop fest which I wrote about for The Oregonian, is wrapping up right about now and I' home...blogging. I'm saving it all for tomorrow, OK!? I'm going to need it, because according to Manny Reyes of Atole's Facebook updates, tonight was pretty crazy. My favorite update so far was "COPY was sooo Good, 99% dancing crowd, AMAZING!!"

The fest was covered by all three Portland newspapers with significant music coverage, so I knew it would be well-attended, and with the lineup stacked the way it is, I told my friends John and Jewel yesterday that "only a complete square would not have fun at this," but "99% dancing"? Wow. I can't wait for tomorrow. I'll be there at 7:30 on the dot to see Mattress kick it off.

I'll leave you with this promotional video for Superfest, which is what made me want to write about it.

Superfest! from Audio Dregs Recordings on Vimeo.

Image: Guidance Counselor entertaining the kids in a strangely day-lit Rotture. From Atole's Flickr.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Talking Reality With Rodriguez


I'd been wondering what the album of the summer would be for me. I did not expect that it had been recorded in 1969.

Last Friday's Oregonian contained a story I wrote on Rodriguez, who is coming to the northwest this week. The assignment came out of nowhere--I had never heard of Rodriguez--but I was excited to write about him as soon as I heard about his back story. A pair of records he recorded 40 years ago went platinum in South Africa and he didn't know it until much later. As Matt Sullivan of Light in the Attic Records, who has reissued Rodriguez's albums told me, "Hollywood couldn't have written it better."

I talked to Rodriguez on the phone for about 25 minutes. He was tired. It was the third interview he'd done that day, so the conversation was loose and informal. He even wound up playing part of a new song for me. I post it here so you can hear what I heard over the phone. Rodriguez kept saying he was sure "it didn't come through," but I thought it sounded great considering he was in Detroit and I was in Portland. (NOTE: if you've never heard Rodriguez before, don't let this low-quality recording be your first impression. Go here and listen to "Sugar Man".)

Here are some choice bits of the interview that didn't make the paper.

Simmantics: How much success did you hope to achieve when you recorded Cold Fact in 1969?

Rodriguez: I never thought I would tour the world. I was gonna sell some records, do bigger rooms, but I never dreamed that I was gonna get this huge. Really it's overwhelming and I'm not worthy. I went around the world in 3 weeks. I went to Rotterdam and Australia, and here's my synopsis: There's enough for everyone, in fact, too much for anyone.

Simmantics: But I read some stuff about you not being into success, turning your back to the crowd and stuff like that.

Rodriguez: Turning around during a show....I did that, but sometimes it was the room. I had the amp hooked up and I couldn't stand in front of it, so I had to get behind it. They look for answers, but really, I love my audiences.

Simmantics: Are you a pretty social guy? I really like the line you have about making "16 half-hour friendships in the course of an evening."

Rodriguez: I get out there! That's part of the scene. Thanks for picking up on that line. It's very real. I drink with my audience. I work the room. Am I gonna drink with the people? You bet your boots, man. I'm with 'em.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Not Just Another Teen Movie


Add to Portland's extensive list of film festivals--which includes fests for underground films, international films, films made in 48-hours, undead films, and films made on bikes, to name a few--an under-18 film fest.

Well, not quite yet, but this summer Movie Camp PDX will train 75 teens who have already grown up in a video-savvy, YouTube world, how to write, audition for, act in, and produce legit movies on pro equipment. A festival can't be far behind. I wrote a story about the camp for the Oregonian that came out last Thursday. Camp started yesterday, but don't worry--it's broken down into two-week sessions that continue till August.

When I was interviewing the camp's staff for the piece, I was struck by how all the teachers I spoke to have bonafide Hollywood experience, yet they all favor living and working in the Northwest for one reason or another. Here are some quotes I left out of the piece to help tell a couple of their stories. The kids at the camp are going to get a really well-rounded education from these folks.

Brooke Totman, who will teach acting, worked for years in LA including some appearances on MADtv. But a few years ago, she returned to her native Oregon. She's been around the block and found a place that fits her and I think her experience is reflected in her down-to-earth goals for the camp:

"I think the thing I'd like to leave [the students] with is they only need to [act] if they're having fun. And I think a way to keep kids in check with that is knowing your type and auditioning for things that are right for you."

As a self-described "quirky character actress," Totman says it can be exhausting and demoralizing trying out for roles like Juliet when they're a long shot and not what she wants to be doing in the first place. At her peak in LA, she would audition for multiple parts a day.

Steve Coker, who will teach screenwriting, has a similarly psychological goal in mind. "I want [the campers] to validate their and passion and find that there are people out there who will support their decision to [pursue a career in film]. So many people don't support the arts or film making as a lucrative business. It is a business of luck, but look at Rob Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, these are guys that persevered because they believed, they made their own luck. I'm hoping we can keep the fire burning in these kids to create."

Image: Cine Rent West by Leonard Romie.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Stretch the skin until it's taught

Last Thursday, I saw local experimetal bands The Better to See You With and Silentist put on a great show at Berbati's Pan. I wrote a review of it that came out in Saturday's Oregonian.

I have to admit, in hindsight, I didn't do the best job of writing for the O's audience in this case, and for that reason, a lot of the meaning of the write up was lost in editing (for instance, it would be hard for Silentist to play a prerecorded track, seeing as how it's prerecorded, and I neglected to consider that saying the band played to a prerecorded track might look like a typo to the non-initiated).

So, here is the version of the article I filed the morning after the show. Go see Silentist on Sunday at Ground Kontrol with Thrones and DJ Nate C.

Last Thursday, as the galleries of Northeast Alberta St opened their doors to the strolling public for the street's monthly art walk, a few miles southwest at Berbati's Pan, there was something of an audio gallery for the brave.

With no need for jackets nor to pay a cover, the warm night maintained a loose feeling in contrast to the heavy sounds. The bassist, drummer, and vocalist who form Portland's Silentist each faced forward in a row, like actors giving monologs in an experimental theater production tied together by a melodically discordant prerecorded piano track composed by drummer and bandleader Mark Burden.

As a drummer of great strength, Burden lent an uncanny dynamism to a cover of a song by sometimes monotonous Norwegian black metal pioneers Burzum. He built intensity until the crowd knew just when he'd strike the final, brutal blow, and from motionlessness, struck it with their heads.

Meanwhile, vocalist August Alston walked between the spread out crowd of about 50, who as he swayed, screamed and chanted, felt comfortable with him, not confronted, as if by a punk vocalist. The air was appreciation for the confidence and ease with which Alston produces inhuman sounds. "He's got some of the best pipes in the city," commented audience member Dan Barone.

After midnight, local four-piece The Better To See You With finished the evening with selections from their eponymous LP released earlier this year on local label Celestial Gang. Vocalist Fae Knutson, dressed in three-inch heels and a gold sequined dress, periodically built melodic trust by singing softly with gospel-like keyboards...for about 15 seconds. Then all was crushed in impressively tight bursts of spastic near-cacophony featuring guitar feedback played like a theramin by varying the distance from the amp, only to return to a moment quiet enough to hear Knutson recover from screaming with heavy breath.

Despite the dual nature of the music, it maintained an incredible flow--some watched with their eyes shut. Others remained fixed on Knutson, who, in moments of passion, bared her sharp K-9 teeth. With only the occasional intelligible lyrical fragment, like "stretch the skin until it's taught," she seemed like monster talking to herself, unaware anyone was watching and thus revealed to be both child-like and ferocious.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Wanted: American Folk Metal Musicians


I recorded these two songs with my friend Mark Jackson-Weaver last year, and despite the fact that I think they're the best songs I've recorded so far, this is the first daylight they've seen. I wanted to put out a call for musicians to play this style of music with me (Mark lives in Albuquerque) but I didn't know what to call it or how to describe it or even what I was going for really. But tonight I figured it out. I want to start an American folk metal band.

European metal bands that draw on Norse folk traditions are common. But why not look to blues and country? Could a metal band incorporate elements of doom and thrash as well as Negro spirituals and traditional American folk songs like the ones that inspired Bob Dylan? Is it possible to be brutal and lyrical? I think without realizing it, that's where I was heading here, if subtly.

The King of Pentacles

Motel Paraiso

I'll take care of guitar and lead vocals. Would you like to play drums, bass, piano, fiddle, pedal steel, banjo, washboard, harmonica or something else?

Image: If Deadwood had a doom band, this would be it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Introducing the Falafel Waffle


I remember being at the Multnomah County Bike Fair last summer at Colonel Summers Park and thinking, "I wish there was some place nearby I could get some food." Too bad Tiger's Cafe hadn't opened yet--although a falafel waffle might have killed me that day considering how hot and full of beer I was.

But in search of food I went and not finding anything, I returned to the park, fell asleep in the grass, and woke up when a truck came to remove the portable toilets! A little hummus platter would have kept me from looking like a bum and almost being crushed by a Honey Bucket. But alas, last summer Joseph Nemr was still in Iraq and one of the most creative and surprisingly good East-meets-West dishes known to man had not been invented yet.

Considering my personal knowledge of the need for an eatery near Southeast 20th and Belmont, I was pleased to be assigned a story on the grand opening of Tiger's Cafe, which came out in today's Oregonian. It's a Lebanese restaurant opened by Nemr, who was a translator in Iraq until last November, and his wife Mary.

One of the things that really makes the place stand out is its Lebanese flag-inspired cedar tree mural by Jenn Reilly. She majored in business at Emerson and it seems to compliment her painting skills well--the mural is really purposeful, adds class to the restaurant, and makes it feel like more than your usual neighborhood ethnic place.




Monday, May 18, 2009

Head Banging for the Old Gods

Growing up, one of the things that appealed to me about punk was its anti-Christian message. I saw religion as the cause of problems in the world, so I was drawn to bands that tore it down.

But with the exception of Bad Religion, there aren't a lot of punk bands that are interested in filling the spiritual gap left if one casts out organized religion. That's why I'm glad to see folk metal rising as a popular underground genre. While it's spiritually rebellious, it seems to supply the foundation for a healthier spirituality (you know, over nihilism). Rather than just saying, "God is dead," the pagan message of bands like Moonsorrow and Korpiklaani, whose show last weekend I reviewed for the Oregonian, offers up more suitable replacement deities (in however vague a way), like earth, nature or madness.

So you may notice the review is somewhat focused on the crowd at the show, particularly the teenagers. I spied a pair of teeny tiny teenage girls headbanging nonstop at the show. They were probably so up for it because they were so small couldn't see anything, they just had to feel it. I asked 18-year-old Bertha Marmolejo what about the pagan message of the night's music offerings appealed to her. She said, "It's anti-Christian," which struck me as a familiar response, but somehow I felt she was in better hands with Moonsorrow and Korpiklaani than I was with the Exploited or Anti-Flag, or any number of kids in Albuquerque were with Question the Answers. However useful those bands are or have been, the growing folk metal trend seems more loving.

Photo: Moonsorrow glows with occult energy, by me.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Good Music of Alfredo Muro

"I believe in good music," Alfredo Muro told me over pie at Laughing Planet on Mississippi when we met forthis story that was in yesterday's Oregonian.

His open mindedness is apparent in his solo guitar Latin jazz work, which doesn't hesitate to borrow from pop or the bizarre while interpreting classical and folk pieces. Muro seemed really happy doing what he does, which, when you think about it, is rare, except in children. How many truly happy adults do you know?

The story of how he left a law practice in Peru, came to Portland with no English, and worked for two decades to reach the point where he can tour international stages is inspirational. Not included in the Oregonian story is the interesting fact that he first started playing pop guitar as a kid and even won a TV talent show. It's a pretty unique journey.

I've been listening to Muro's music a lot since writing this story and I hope I get a chance to see him live soon. The Oregonian story was tied to a show he did last night at the Bagdad, a big fund raiser with $50 tickets, but he has two other, stranger appearances tomorrow, one tomorrow at 10am at the Unity World Healing Center in West Linn and another at a Rinconcito Peruano Restaurant in Vancouver at 3pm. Check his calendar for details.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I was on a TV on TV

Last week, KGW did a news segment on English, baby!. I appear in the clip they play, interviewing Sasha Vujacic. I never realized that when they show clips like that, they're actually just played on a TV which has a camera pointed at it.

Overall the operation was amazingly simple. It was just the host and one crew member on site with a producer coming through the earpiece. The appearance ran like clockwork--we were in and out in under half an hour.

Anyway, the best part is I'm actually going to make an English lesson out of the interview. So keep an eye out for that. The peg for the story on KGW was that Ebaby! recently reached a million members. So it's been getting lots of press lately. The site has been appeared in Successful Promotions magazine and on Business Insanity Talk Radio in the last month.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Floor of One's Own in the South Waterfront

Up until about three months ago, I was living alone in a house that sat on a acre of land by itself. I'd never lived alone before--let alone in a place with no neighbors. The 14 months I lived there was a rewarding experience--I really enjoyed singing at all hours and having loud parties without worrying about disturbing anyone.

One night when I was driving on I-5, I saw a few scattered lights on in the residential buildings of the South Waterfront and thought, "Those people must live sort of like I do." From a distance, the newly minted neighborhood seemed largely uninhabited.

But when I went down to walk among the buildings and meet the people who live there for this story that came out in today's Oregonian, I found that it's a very lively community, with restaurants full of people (in between vacant spaces, of course). But, while an older building may have a wait list, some residents do or recently did have entire floors to themselves.

Despite the fact that, at least in my social circles, the neighborhood is referred to with what could be described as distrust as best and mockery at worst, I didn't speak to anyone who doesn't like living there. The only negative comment I heard was about the portrayal of the South Waterfront in the media.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

PWRFL Power Interview

Since his lifestyle as a globetrotting Japanese singer who sings in English so suits the mission of English, baby!, we featured an interview with PWRFL Power last week. I was surprised to find that it was really popular with our users--his lesson got more comments than many lessons we do on more famous artists.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sasha "The Machine" Vujacic Interview

If you didn't already see it on the websites of the LA Times or the Oregonian, here it is, my interview with Sasha Vujacic. Although I highly recommend looking at the full lesson on English, baby! since the comments there are hilarious.

Monday, March 23, 2009

High fivin' my way to the LA Times

So last time I interviewed an NBA player for English, baby!, the video turned out great, but a behind-the-scenes disaster drew some hilarious media attention. When I interviewed Sasha Vujacic at the Lakers' practice space last week, it went smoothly, and still managed to garner a mention in the LA Times the next day!

Times scribe Brian Kamenetzky was charmed by the Ebaby! high five, which is how we conclude all our interviews. Here's a video from our trip to the Olympics that ends in a high five montage. Stay tuned for the edited Vujacic interview later this week.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Just Throwing this Out There: The Pistones

I haven't done this for a while, but I was suddenly struck with a good idea for a theme band today.

Some rude boys in Detroit should form a ska band called the Pistones. They could have songs like "Big 3 Skank," "Rudy's on the Dole," and "Laid Off and Pis'ed."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What is English, baby!?

I get asked this a lot, since I post videos from English, baby! here somewhat out of context.

Basically, it's a social network for people learning English outside the US that provides lessons based on American pop culture.

It's not my company (it was founded when I was 16), but it's based in Portland and I do a little bit of everything for it, mostly marketing, videos and writing.

We put together a clip reel to help explain what we are and what we do. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Black Road - Video Treatment

Last summer, my fascinations with the end of the world, zombies and cowboys led a very smart girl to say, "Why don't you write a movie about cowboys who survive the 2012 zombie apocalypse?"

So I rounded up another very smart girl, Audrey Dilling, and together we wrote a screenplay called The Black Road (I spoke of this on Love Phones). We're finishing up revising it right now and in a couple of weeks I'm going to drive down to LA and see if I can if I can't generate some interest in this script.

One day, when we should have been writing, Audrey and I made this "video treatment" (think of it as a trailer for an unmade movie) for our script. It's funny and low budge, which is a little misleading because the script is designed to be a major theatrical blockbuster that's funny, sad, touching, scary, exciting and finally very glorious.

Know anyone who I should try to take a walk with in LA? Please let me know...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Valentine's Under the Big Top: Cirque L'Amour

In early 2007, I met pack of musical wanderers and punks who took me for an adventure on the North Portland waterfront.

One of them called himself Nick the Creature. He wound up crashing in my living room that night and said he'd be in touch about the circus he was planning to start once he moved up here.

Of course, I didn't believe him. I hear stuff like that all the time. People love to talk about things and never do them. But not Nick the Creature.

Over the last couple of years I've seen more and more hype and excitement around Batty's Hippodrome, the circus Nick had promised, which came to exist with the help of former Someday Lounge and Rotture booker Noah Mickens.

But just in the last few months, with a new residency at the Bossanova, have Nick and Noah really come into their own. I had the pleasure of meeting with them for a story about their upcoming Cirque L'Amour which appeared in last week's A&E (a week early since dinner reservations require notice).

All the background and proper nouns ate up my word count fast so here are a couple of choice bits I had to cut.

Mickens has been performing since he was six. "If I go to a show," he says, "a lot of what my mind is occupied with is thinking about these people and their lives and rehearsing together and knowing each other." But he explains that with the proliferation of behind the scenes specials on DVDs and TV, "I think that more people in general have clearer ideas about show business."

I can totally identify with that because it's how I watch live music, especially punk shows. But my favorite anecdote that had to go was how Nick and Noah first met. Nick showed up to a variety show Noah was putting on at the someday lounge and asked if he could help. "Everyone wants to help," Noah says, "If it means being the star of your show." So he asked Nick if he could set up some folding chairs. "I did it," says Nick, "and he was kind of amazed." Both agree that in the circus business, it's harder to find someone to do an inglorious task than it is to find someone to walk on stilts and breathe fire. I think this willingness to tackle the nitty gritty is what will make this weekend's show great and why Nick and Noah will go far.

Photo of Kazum at Nick and Noah's first show at the Bossanova last December by Micah Goldstein. For a full list of performers and more info, go to the Bossanova's website.

Note: The Bossanova is not actually a big top and I am told there are no clowns in the show but there is, in fact, a cupid.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

In Defense of Rod Blagojevich


The following is an op-ed I sent to the New York Times last week. They chose not to publish it, but I had a lot of fun writing it.

Of course I thought it was completely outrageous when I heard what that now-former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich planned to sell Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat. I even sarcastically posted "Blagojevich '12!" on my Facebook page. But, as the politician's demise played out over the following weeks, I actually came to support him.

The first sign that Blagojevich might be more than a simple, two-dimensional corrupt politician came when, despite clamoring from his colleagues, the media and the public, he didn't resign. Not only did he not resign, he went ahead and appointed a new Senator, who was ultimately seated.

That's when Blagojevich won me over. Any other politician would have apologized and politely faded away. But Blagojevich did what no one expected him to do and it paid off. Naturally, I cheered when instead of showing up to his own impeachment trial, he went on talk shows. I saw it as a challenge. "Try and impeach me," he seemed to say.

In those final days in office, he compared himself to Gandhi, King and Mandela, and I certainly wouldn't go that far. Those men are heroes. But Blagojevich, I think, is very much like a classic American anti-hero. He's a cowboy. I see him as a wanted man who, cornered in the saloon, knows he won't get out alive, but resolves to fight it out anyway.

And isn't that what Americans are supposed to do? Aren't we a nation of people who go up against the odds and succeed? Yesterday, as Blagojevich made his last stand, he also made a good point--he's been impeached, but he hasn't even been convicted of a crime yet. And I couldn't help but feel that justice wasn't served, the same way I'd feel if a gunslinger were shot down by a posse before he was brought to a judge. "Remember Blagojevich!" That's what I'll say next time I see a courageous soul fighting an impossible fight.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Y La Bamba: Mythical and Post-Modern

As I've mentioned before, I'm a fan of PWRFL POWER. And when I went to see him play on December 6 at the Artistery, I really didn't know anything about the opening acts.

When I walked in, I was surprised by how many people there were. I wasn't expecting four dozen people because on my walk down the stairs into the venue, they had been silent. It was between songs and the entire crowd seemed like they were in a trance. Then Luz Elena and Ben of Y La Bamba started another and I saw why.

There was one word in my mind. Otherworldly. The Latin-folk harmonies were like time travel. But the music was also shattered, like a Cortázar story. So it made sense to me when, while I was interviewing her for this story that appears in today's Oregonian, Luz Elena said that when she sings in Spanish, "there's an alchemy about Latin and the roots of it. I feel like it's stained with magic."

Y La Bamba plays in Seattle tonight and at Backspace tomorrow with Black Whales and Oh Captain, My Captain.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Batum Interview

Bless our video editor Matt Miadich for making it look like none of this ever happened. Although it wasn't good enough for this blog that called this the "worst interview in the history of basketball." It's nice to be a superlative! C'mon. The part where his voice gets high is pretty funny.

View the full lesson on English, baby!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Proof, if you needed it, that the Portland Music Awards are complete and utter bullshit

I just received a press release listing the nominees for the Music Spectator-sponsored Portland Music Awards. One of the nominees struck me as rather odd.

Best Compilation Album of the Year:
'Failing Records: Volume' by Failing Records
'PDX Pop Now! 2008' by PDX Pop Now!
'We Rock For Food' by The Union Records
'Lights Out 11'by KINK fm
'Rose City' by the Rose City Project you notice that the volume is left blank for Failing Records? I wonder why that is. Oh yeah, it's because Failing Records didn't release a compilation this year (I just emailed with them to verify this).

There are so, so many things that make this award ceremony a complete farce, but I think this proves what anyone skimming the nominees would suspect--that Craig Marquardo, or whoever is picking these, is just picking the most predictable, acceptable, Portland-embraced artists/venues etc, without giving any real thought to their accomplishments or, in the case of compilation CDs, bothering to listen to them or even verify that they exist. Frankly, it's insulting to those nominees who do deserve recognition in their field.

For the record, I like Failing Records and would probably have voted for them if they released a compilation in 2008 or if I cared enough to actually vote for the PMAs. But look at the other categories if you want some laughs. Here are the nominees for best performance by a touring artist:

Imogen Heap
The Police
Ben Harper
Bryan Adams
Chris Isaak

Oh, neat. Just add John Meyer to the list and we're set. What? He didn't play here this year? Who cares!

UPDATE: 1/19/09
I've emailed with Craig Marquardo a little and it turns out the nomination process was open to the public, not selected by Music Spectator. Marquardo says that 6,200 nominations were made and since then 20,000 people have voted for the awards. This means that the public nominated a non-existent album. I'm not really sure what to make of that.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Nowhere to Lay His Head

At a time when the news is full of lost jobs and lost savings, what have the people who have neither lost?

Anawim is a Portland church that is primarily by the homeless and for the homeless. I found more hope there than I had expected to when I started this story that ran in today's Oregonian. But the short answer to the above question--which didn't make it into the story--is that, according to the people I talked to, small scale philanthropy is down too. Steve Kimes, the head of Anawim, related stories of people holding signs on the street for money during the recent snow storm. Normally adverse conditions make for more giving, but apparently they took in less than on a normal day. Steve Hanserd who I interviewed for this story, said that fewer homes are leaving their cans on the curb. Luckily there was snow for him to shovel at the time of the story.

Anawim online
. Image by Faith Cathcart. Kimes on the right.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Simms on Canzano

It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. I mean, I've gotten away with a lot of silly things, like tricking a local musician into a date in the guise of an interview and there's that whole fisting thing and the time I tried to become a stripper. But why did my downfall have to take place in front of the entire Portland Trail Blazers and about 30 or so members of the media on a day when there's already a Blazers media circus?

Well, that last part is pretty fortunate, actually. If you're going to screw up, make sure it's a big enough screw up to make it news worthy. I'll let John Canzano of 95.5 The Game explain this for me. This aired yesterday. Be sure to keep listening until I call in and explain myself and what English, baby! was doing there.

I now present one of the official "top five goofy moments in Blazer practice history!"

Oh, and here's the sort of video Canzano was asking for.