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.