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.