Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pagan Holiday Gifts

I contributed to the Holiday Gift Guide in Friday's Oregonian. It occurs to me that some of the gifts I recommended aren't terribly festive. But everyone needs something for the bah-humbugger in their life.

First of all, I'm pretty stoked I got the phrase "Satanic map of Oregon" in the gift guide. Though the analysis of Witch Mountain's new album that "Amy Winehouse didn't die; Uta Plotkin ate her soul" was shaved off. Ah well. Couple that with The Walking Dead DVD I also recommend and you have a pretty brutal night on your hands!

There wound up not being a food or wine section in the guide, hence the absence of this bit on Montinore Estate's Frolic:

Almost too rich for summer, this Gewürztraminer dessert wine out of Forest Grove is the sunrise after any dark winter meal. It melts over the tongue singing of honey and fruit. Warning: this nectar may cause you to strip naked and join deer in any nearby snowy meadows.

This brings me to the final two, less overtly Pagan, gift ideas. Both the debut record by Radiation City and the wildly fun cookbook by CakeSpy are more fun and joy than any monotheistic god would like you to have. Enough said.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ever Since He Was Young Boy, He Played The Silver Ball

From now on, when ever I hear "Pinball Wizard," I'll picture the "silver ball" being the ball at the end of the microphone. I recently previewed Roger Daltrey's performance of Tommy for The Oregonian, and focused on the return of his epic mic swinging, which took a break of a few years because of vision problems. The swinging was really over the top at the Rose Garden on Monday night, prompting a friend of mine to suggest, "He must have read your article."

Having never seen Daltrey live, the mic moves fully exceeded my expectations. He uses his butt to reverse the momentum and really gets that thing flying. He must have a special mic cable to withstand all that. Here's a bootleg video of "Pinball Wizard" from the show that I found:

The most surprising part of the performance was a Johnny Cash medley. Daltrey explained that his throat surgeon recommended he play a low song near the end of the set to get the blood back in his vocal chords. His American accent sounds like Roy Orbison, and sure enough, when he finished the more than 2 hour set, his voice sounded just as solid as when he started.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rose City Rose

For most bands with a vintage style, hindsight is 20/20. Not the Tomorrow People. This exciting new trio from Portland made a debut record that is a veritable time machine to the 1970s, quixotically imitating the Beach Boys and T. Rex baggage with the glory. And it is awesome.

I wrote a preview of their CD release show last week for The Oregonian, and here is the extended ending that didn't make it in the final piece:

“It's been the most inspiring time of my life, really,” Geare says, and he's not just talking about making music. It sounds like some Portland-area women helped out with the sexually-charged tunes on the album. “Dating down in LA is not the same thing,” he says. “Girls are way more awesome here.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fall Is For Metal

It's fall, and for the fourth year in a row, that means it's time for Fall Into Darkness, Portland's underground metal festival. I took the opportunity to do a bit of a Portland metal scene report in The Oregonian this week, and music scribe Bob Ham invited festival organizer Nathan Carson, metal booker Carly Henry and yours truly to be guests on the latest edition (episode 6) of his podcast, For The Ears.

Basically, everyone agreed that metal is on the rise in Portland. Here's a bit of the A&E story that got cut for space that supports this notional as well:
Jason Leivian co-curated a currently running Oregon Historical Society exhibit called “Oregon Rocks! A History of Popular Music in Oregon.” Carson helped out, and when he commented on the lack of metal, Leivian says he told him, “It's actually happening now. If there's another retrospective 10 or 15 years later, they're definitely going to look at bands like Red Rang, Agalloch and Witch Mountain.”

Grimace for the history books this weekend.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Did you know there's a Golf Channel? I've recently been watching it. My dad used to watch golf when I was growing up (he still does, I'm just not usually around to see it). I never took much of an interest. But when I discovered how many international players there are on the LPGA tour, I went out to the Safeway Classic in the Portland area to do interviews for English, baby! and had a great time. Now I find myself rooting for these gals as I watch them on TV!

Yani Tseng is from Taiwan and ranked #1 in the world. The 22-year-old showed off her English skills teaching the terms "par" and "birdie".

Korean star IK Kim was practicing on the putting green when I found her and chatted about the phrase "hole in one".

Beatriz Recari was actually checking out some sunglasses from a vendor on the fairway (Spaniards love them some shades), but was happy to share her favorite golf term, "stinger" and talk about her mission to learn exotic languages.

After talking to Beatriz, she headed off to lunch. Food came up in the interview with Yani as well, so we put together this bonus clip about food.

I actually ran into John Canzano out at the event and he alludes to me in his coverage of the event for The Oregonian. It was the Pro-Am day, which I think is pretty cool. I loved how the best in the world were mingling with our local hot shots. I recommend getting out to an LPGA event if you get a chance!

Monday, September 12, 2011

MFNW 2011 Reviews: Archers of Loaf, Butthole Surfers, Kylesa, Off!, Dirty Mittens, Youth, Wild Ones

This weekend Musicfest Northwest took over Portland and my life and it was a beautiful thing. I reviewed seven bands for The Oregonian in three posts:

Dirty Mittens
Archers of Loaf, Butthole Surfers, Kylesa
Wild Ones, Youth, Off!

Best discovery of the festival? Wild Ones. I had heard some good things about this local indie rock band and they blew me away. Their singer has a fantastic voice and the whole band brings the passion in a way I really like to see. Biggest let down? Butthole Surfers. I know they're experimental and all that, but I'm just not sure they were really checked in for this gig.

Past coverage of MFNW on simmantics:

Image: Butthole Surfers, courtesy MFNW.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Steve Berlin Q&A

Did you know a member of Los Lobos lives in Portland? I didn't until Chelsea Morrisey of Dirty Mittens mentioned it. Conveniently, Los Lobos was planning to play at the Oregon Zoo just a few weeks after that conversation--perfect timing to do an interview with saxophonist and keyboardist Steve Berlin for The Oregonian.

Steve was extremely friendly and happy to do an interview even though he was in an airport when I reached him. I first heard Los Lobos at a friend's cabin in Pagosa, Colorado, when I was 16. Kiko became the soundtrack of much mischief, and the opening notes of the album bring that time back for me instantly.

Somehow, I've gone all this time without seeing Los Lobos live. I had better text an elephant friend of mine at the zoo to save me a good seat!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Black Scorpion

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Acrassicauda--the only metal band from Iraq--reminds us why rock is important. I was honored to get to do an extended phone interview with vocalist Faisal Mustafa for this story in The Oregonian.

A lot of good material didn't make it into the story, so I posted it below. In preparing for this interview, I listened to Acrassicauda's 2010 EP Only The Dead See The End Of War many times and was really pleased that once they finally were able to practice regularly, they produced good material. I'm looking forward to their forthcoming full length and to continue to learn of their development because what impresses me most about this band is that they're all in. They've risked a lot to do this and hopefully, when they play Portland tomorrow, they'll remind us--a city in which it seems like everyone is in two or three bands--not to take being in a band for granted.


If you'd like more background about Acrassicauda (like the meaning of their band name--hint, it's the title of this post), you can stream the film about the band, Heavy Metal in Baghdad, on Hulu.

Now on to the Q&A.

Simms: What is the most surprising thing so far about touring?

Faisal: The most surprising thing is each country you hit, it's like a new, different world. You will be shocked if you're a stranger. Everyone acts in a different way, different rules. They're all nice to you, but when it comes to protecting their own town and their traditions, it's like a very restricted area. But whenever it contains music, they're all the same rules. Everyone from the east to the west, they all give you that tension. Especially in the west. People actually pay attention to music. I'll tell you the truth. I'm a musician, but I know if I'm going to a live concert for, for example, Dream Theater on Thursday, it will be very hard for me to go to Megadeth on Friday. Some people call it, "Oh, you're just a wuss." But people actually are capable of doing that for the whole time of the week, you know? This is their life: "OK, I will be working in the morning and hitting another show at night."

I noticed in the film about you, there weren't many women at your shows in Iraq. Is it different playing for women now?

I thought all women, whoever is going to come here, is going to be very aggressive, but now I saw both sides of women in my shows. I've seen the aggressive, and I've seen the very mellow, very gentle and nice girl that she want to have fun, she want to have relax, she want to come with her friends and meet the band or whatever. Women are fine. In my opinion, they are the most beautiful thing. They can combine with you anywhere in any type of lifestyle. And I thought that our lifestyle wouldn't bring women in the past. But now, my idea has been totally changed.

I know a lot of American soldiers like metal. I was surprised I didn't see them at your shows in the movie. Did you know American soldiers in Iraq? Did they like your music?

I used to be working in the Iraqi government in the past. For almost two years, I worked in the Women's Right's Ministry and it was more opening and I had to meet a lot of American soldiers because I was in charge of a lot of logistic stuff in the office and I had to be communicating with American Army so I can make sure everyone who is going to be coming to the Ministry or whenever we're making conferences and press conferences around the Green Zone, will be just fine to be escorted. I had to make a lot of friends from small soldiers to big generals. You can see how simple and humble they are because they don't pay attention much to the rank. They will be like, "Hell yeah, I know Slayer! Yeah!"

Have you met Iraq War veterans here in the US?

Yes, I did. Yes, we did. One of them actually gave us his shirt as a matter of proudness and how much he hates being a soldier in a war and killing innocents. I don't remember the words, but it was something like, "Congratulations Acrassicauda for what you did. We are very proud of you, and remember, not all of us are actually thirsty for bloodshed and I think what you guys accomplish is a matter of high proud to us." It was very wise words to us. The guy's name is Bobby. He was a soldier and now he's demonstrating against war all over the States. he came to a show or two in Texas.

Then there were a couple of guys that came to me in and Virginia and they're about to go to Iraq and they came to us and were like, "I just wanted to talk to you guys about what is this like." It was shocking for me because I don't know what should I tell him.

You hadn't been to Iraq for a long time.

It's not just that. This soldier came to me as an Iraqi and asking me if he gonna survive. It's just another polite way to say, "Am I gonna survive?" And I will be like, "You know what dude, war is war no matter where you at or where you're fighting for and if you're gonna do that, just remember one thing: you won't leave this area with a bad conscience. You have to believe that you're doing it for the right reasons, and if you believe in that so hard, then go for it, but if you don't, it will backfire on you eventually and will hurt you.

That's good advice.

He was like, "Awesome. Thank you, man. Thank you." And I was like, "No, thank you for doing the right thing, man." I really appreciate and respect this kind of people because some people doesn't give a shit--they just want to fire a gun. One of these guys, we were sleeping over and he was showing us his hunting weapons. Some of the other guys were touching it, checking it out. and he was like, "Hey, Faisal, do you want to check it out?" And I was like, "Dude, I promised I'm not going to carry a gun. I promised myself that." And he was like, "I respect you for that."

I had heard that guys had to carry guns to practice in Iraq for protection.

Some of the guys usually carry their own personal piece. There was three of us actually carrying a gun. I've been chased like three times. The last time was like nine days before I get my passport and get the hell out of there. I was actually carrying a piece with me because I've been chased, jumping over roofs, hiding myself in a trash can for hours. By the time I get back, the electricity was already off and my family was chilling out, and I was a little far away from them so they couldn't smell the trash over my skin and they were like, "Hey, where the hell you been?" And I was like, "Just chilling out with the some friends." My folks are too old to handle such a news. Before I leave, I hand my piece back to my department, and I was like, "You know what? I'm out of here."

And you haven't held a gun since then.

I haven't and I'm not actually willing to.

Who was chasing you?

What I remember is there were three grey Beamers full of covered guys no showing their face and screaming, "There he is!" I'm trying to hit the dirt and I made a choice: either I'm going to be surrendering, but I have the power to run, why I shouldn't? And I started running.

Why were they chasing you?

I've been chased because of the band and I've been chased because of my work so I wouldn't judge on which point it was. I had to quit my job and leave with the band if I wanted to keep something going on.

Was it worth it?

I don't know much about politics, but I'm really hoping for the best and that everyone will realize this world doesn't contain only bloodshedding and killing each other. It's wider and bigger and that's where we try to experience. We came all the way to spread the love and music. You can see that in your lives, in our story. It's not very easy to leave your homeland without knowing if you can return to it soon, leave your own home and your own family behind, but you have to fight for what is right.

Heart of Town

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Dirty Mittens really is kind of the heart of Portland. They sprang up with more gusto than skills (although I even liked them in their house party days) and after five years, many new members and lots of great shows, they finally released their first album, Heart of Town, last week. I covered it for The Oregonian.

Though it's their first official album, even their demo made my top 10 albums of 2008.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

True Blood Interview

When it starts stayng warm out after dark, I know it's almost time for True Blood. My favorite thing about the show is how much you can sense the heat. Everyone is sweaty and scantily clad. It's a great contrast with the all pale vampire action.

Last season, a new character named Crystal Norris was introduced. She is a werepanther and the latest love interest of Jason Stackhouse. Crystal is played by Lindsay Pulsipher who was recently in Portland promoting an intense, experimental horror movie she is in called The Oregonian (no relation to the newspaper).

I flagged her down at the screening and she was very happy to be the latest celebrity English teacher for English, baby! Take a look at her lesson on "cat got your tongue."

It's kind of amazing she was able to be so upbeat for this interview. Just a few minutes before, we had been watching her film, which is full of awesome, horrifying noises. Here's the trailer:

The film is written and directed by Calvin Reeder. I didn't put it together until later, but he is also responsible for Jerkbeast, a film and album (and I believe TV show, although I never saw it) that I absolutely loved 5 years ago. The trailer features nearly as much blood as The Oregonian, but it's hilarious. I fully recommend tracking this movie and soundtrack down.

Finally, since True Blood premieres tomorrow (I am psyched if you couldn't tell), here is one of my favorite scenes with Crystal from last season. It's amazing how cute she is in real life when she's not portraying a tortured hillbilly!

I wish we could have included this clip in the English lesson since it explains so well what the deal with her shapeshifting is. I think the inbreeding part at the end would have been a little too intense for some of our students though. This transformation scene would have been good too. But, alas, too sexy.

It's All Right Now

Every now and then, it can be really rewarding to take on album reviews of genres I don't really know much about. That's how I learned about Latin guitarist Alfredo Muro, who I listen to frequently a couple of years after writing about him. My most recent exploration is Portland funk saxophonist Patrick Lamb, whose new album, It's All Right Now, I reviewed for The Oregonian last week.

The first time I put on the record, I was cleaning. Suddenly, I found myself bouncing around and smiling. I was glad I could connect with the fun vibe of the album so easily--going to Lewis & Clark College had pretty much worn me out on funk, so I thought.

I gave the album an A- because I think it definitely accomplishes what it sets out to and there aren't really any duds on it. I don't feel like it's terribly original, however--that's the only thing it could have done to earn a solid A. I gather Lamb really shines live, so I will have to catch him one of these days. In the mean time, here's a video from one of his concerts.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Go By Train Jazzes Up "Everlong"


Portland jazz trio Go By Train is releasing a new CD called Transmission tomorrow and I got to interview them for a story for The Oregonian. It was fun to reconnect with them--I first covered the band for Willamette Week five years ago.

There's one thing that didn't make it into the story: Go By Train does an amazing cover of "Everlong" by the Foo Fighters on the record. The band exhibits such a knack for melody that it should come as no surprise that guitarist Dan Balmer and keyboardist Clay Giberson are fans of pop music. “Music still hits me like it did when I was a child,” says Balmer. “The right song will leave me riveted, wanting to hear it over and over again.”

Back in 1995, Balmer remembers “Everlong” coming on the radio and having that effect on him. He says, “Some songs it wouldn't matter how it was recorded,” so GBT adapted this rocker into a slow duet for piano and guitar. Their interpretation has so much space it's heartbreaking, and it brings out some complexities in the song structure that are easier to miss with distorted guitar powering through it. Take a listen:

Transmission is available at Music Millennium in Portland. For more GBT, visit Dan Balmer's website.

And here's a silly behind-the-scenes video about the album.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Michele Wylen Nails Comeback Show

Back when I wrote for Willamette Week, I used to get to pick a show of the year. I kind of miss that. I still think about it whenever I see a really good show.

About a month ago, I saw a show that would definitely be my frontrunner for 2011 so far. After not performing for like 3 or 4 years or something, Michele Wylen, a local producer and singer, booked a headlining First Thursday gig at Backspace. What was so great about this show, was that it went right into the heart of Portland and packed the place on a night when Portland really likes to celebrate being Portland, and then it went ahead and was completely un-Portland.

Now don't get me wrong, I like it here. I like a lot of music that comes from here. But for whatever Portland bands are--loud, creative, cute--whatever the case may be, they are not typically polished or perfectionist. This is the kind of town where you throw on leg warmers, fire up a Casio, and boom, you have a band. This show wasn't like that at all.

Michele had a set built by a set designer. It was these bare branches painted in white and silver in a canopy over the stage. I liked the contrast of the natural form of the wood and artificial colors. This is what there was to look at before she started because there weren't 5 opening bands. There weren't any opening bands.

When Michele took the stage, she was accompanied by two backup dancers. These ladies weren't fooling around. This was rehearsed, choreographed shit. Wireless microphone in hand, Michele sang perfect melodies in her plastic voice over intricate electronic dance music of her own creation.

Everyone in the crowd craned to get a good look because everything was worth seeing. Hair, makeup, clothes--there was even a costume change. You could tell that each detail of the show was planned, but as Michele stared into the crowd, you could also tell she was fully in the moment.

And then, 30 minutes later, it was done. She left 'em wanting more, which I always love. It was so refreshing to see that much preparation and care go into a one-off gig. I hope that with her next show, Michele unseats herself as my favorite show of 2011.

Visit Michele Wylen's website or hear her sing backups on one of my songs. Image by Minh Tran; Michele on the right.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Hip Hop Shows Are Fun

After about a decade of playing and writing about rock shows, I'm still fairly new to the world of live hip hop. This month, I got to review both Ice Cube and Mos Def for The Oregonian.

The crowds at these shows make rock audiences look really square. There is so much movement and enthusiasm. One friend of mine said she saw people "practically having sex on the dance floor" at Mos Def. While I didn't see anything that extreme, I did see folks all the way up to the balcony standing, dancing and being rowdy for both of these shows.

Mos Def killed it by the way. Absolutely killed it. He did the new song in the video above. He has such showmanship, and man, can I get down with that. So many bands that essentially just stand and play their songs could learn so much from him, running around, dancing, improvising, talking, making jokes...What a show. The fact that he agreed to an interview with me and then backed out after I waited around couldn't even begin to sour me on it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rise Against the Dissent of Man

Greg Hetson
I saw Bad Religion three times in 2002. They've hardly aged in the last 9 years. Seeing them open for Rise Against this week at the Rose Garden was a relaxed and enjoyable experience as detailed in this review for The Oregonian. It also helps that I like their new album, Dissent of Man.

Rise Against was pretty much new to me for this assignment. I liked how well their attitude fits the pop-punk genre. So many pop-punk bands are into making fart jokes on stage and pretty much being bros, that they've all but killed it for me. Then there's Anti-Flag who is way too on the nose. Rise Against has a subdued quality that I've enjoyed in bands like Dillinger 4.

Here are some more photos I took. The above is Bad Religion's Greg Hetson. I definitely had to stop myself a couple of times from singing along with Bad Religion while shooting these. Gotta maintain some professionalism. Although after interviewing Greg Graffin last time he was in town, I was surprisingly not star struck standing just below the band as they played. At least this time I didn't get kicked in the head by crowd surfers like I did when I fought to the front of the Roseland Theater as a teenager. But I digress.

Greg Graffin
Greg Graffin
Jay and Brooks
Jay Bentley and Brooks Wackerman

Tim McIlroth
Tim McIlroth
Tim McIlroth of Rise Against

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bands To Know: Radiation City and Wizard Rifle

In the last few weeks, I've been able to profile two fantastic new Portland bands for The Oregonian, both of which just released their first full-length albums, and neither of which sounds anything like the other.
Even before I saw Radiation City play last winter at Rontoms, I could have complimented them on having some good looking vintage gear. They rocked those tube amps and electric pianos in a way that really drew in the chatty crowd. It was the release party for a compilation they put out on their cassette label, Apes Tapes, and I found myself listening to it over and over afterwards. When I interviewed them for this story, I discovered the passion their sublime music radiated (yeah, yeah) was hard earned.
In last year's Best New Bands poll, Wizard Rifle was my number-one selection. This young metal duo came out of nowhere and brings it so hard that love 'em or hate 'em, you will never forget 'em once you've seen 'em. It was an honor to be the first journalist ever to interview the band for this story. I was pleased to learn their show at SXSW went well.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


So, thanks to a fellow Pioneer and Dixon Scholar, I got to go see the President speak at Intel and make an English lesson out of it. It was really cool, although I never did find the White House Press Pool (I even had trunks on under my clothes). Grasp the meaning of that joke and see some behind-the-scenes photos on the English, baby! blog.

Monday, February 21, 2011

What year is it?

I think I have been transported back in time to 1996. During this year, I spent a lot of time watching music videos on a weird UHF station called The Box, where for $3.95, you could call up and request a video.

The first time I heard "Tha Crossroads" by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, I liked it. Their rapping style is so musical, it's hard not to love it. But that video was by far the most requested on The Box, and soon, I grew to loathe it. I just wanted to see a Bush video! Little did I know that 15 years later, I would still be into Bone Thugs and Bush would be nonexistent and a total joke.

By far my favorite video on The Box was Weird Al's "Amish Paradise". The first time it came on, I thought I was hallucinating. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen and I couldn't believe something so funny was allowed on TV. I mean, seriously, TV in 1996 was pretty boring.

Anyhow, I recently had the joy of interviewing both Weird Al and Bone Thugs, prompting me to wonder, "What year is it?"

First of all, Bone Thugs played the second to last show at one of my favorite Portland music venues, Berbati's Pan. I reviewed it for The Oregonian.

After the show, local messiah of all things hip-hop, Cool Nutz, helped me get an interview with the band for English, baby!

Everyone was pretty loose, so we talked for a bit. Here's some bonus footage of some cool slang Layzie Bone wanted to talk about that was too advanced for the English, baby! audience of international students.

Finally, here is my interview with Weird Al, also for English, baby! and in promotion of his new book for children. I also sort of reviewed the book, which is pretty neat and surprising, at the Ebaby! blog.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Juwan Howard Has Got Your Back

Last year, I loved watching Juwan Howard play for the Blazers. Anytime there was a disagreement on the court, he would step up and defend his teammates while making amazing faces. So, when I got the chance to go to a Miami Heat practice to get some Celebrity English Lessons for English, baby! (I was told I could approach anyone but the big 3), I asked him to teach the phrase, "I got your back".

...and talk about basketball shorts.

I also recruited Žydrūnas Ilgauskas. He is a great injury comeback story, so being in the process of rehabbing from major knee surgery myself, I kind of identify with him. We talked about second chances.

This interview was also used by a Lithuanian outlet to create a news story. It's pretty cool. You can kind of read it in Google translation, enough to tell it uses quotes from the video in the typical newspaper style. Pretty neat.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Get Bent

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Strangely, I've written a couple of articles lately involving the verb "to bend." I made my first great local music discovery of the year writing an Oregonian review of the first night of the Portland Oregon Hip-Hop Festival (which also happened to be my 27th birthday) in the form of Rose Bent, a group fronted by three female MCs and backed by live instrumentation. I also had fun at the second night of the festival, although nothing got bent.

Then, just a couple of weeks later, also for The Oregonian, I wrote a preview for the Slabtown Bender, which was definitely the most impressive event put on by the venue since it assumed its current ownership 4 years ago. Now, I just need to get assigned something Futurama-related.