Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My Quest to learn the Viola da Gamba (if anyone cares...)

So I've taken up a new instrument: from the title you probably already guessed what it is. Fellow early music afficionados know the fiddle of which I write, but seeing as how the heyday of this instrument was about 3-4 centuries ago, the uninitiated might beg the question: what the hell is it? And why do you want to play it?

The easy question first: viola da gamba means 'viol of the leg,' as opposed to the viola da braccio, the 'viol of the arm.' So as not to expose my ignorance this will be brief: the violin (braccio) family became vastly more popular than the gamba family in the late 17th/early 18th centuries, because (among other reasons) they were louder and more suited to the big concert halls that began to develop at the time. Gambas were quite often played by amateurs in a consort (sort of a precursor to the string quartet) but a tradition of virtuoso solo playing did arise in France, primarily focusing on the basse de viole, which is actually the second largest member of the family (third if you count the double bass as a viol, which it could properly be considered since is sort of a hybrid with features from both the viol and violin families.) I won't go into much more detail; good ol' Wikipedia will tell you far more than you want to know about it.

To the why (and how) I can speak more properly. I had known of the instrument for a long time, but after watching the flawed but fascinating French film Tous les matins du monde (All the Mornings of the World), which was about two very famous gamba masters from the late 17th-early 18th centuries (Monsieur de Ste. Colombe and Marin Marais,) I was captivated by the rich, intense and intimate sonority of the instrument.

Being someone who plays a number of instruments but for the most part not terribly proficiently (i.e., enough to get by in a jam session and amuse myself and my friends), I've long wanted to seriously study another instrument. Many things factored in: I wanted to play something that was versatile, but could be played in baroque music (no clarinets or electric guitars, for instance), I wanted something that was primarily a line instrument (not focused on the 'vertical', but on the 'horizontal' aspect of music) and, having been a keyboard player my whole life, I'm fascinated by the concept of being able to alter the character of an individual note as it is being played. Playing the piano, once you've struck the note its pretty much done; your release, pedaling and other factors can change the quality of the note to a certain extent, but not the way, say a trumpeter or a violinist can radically affect every aspect of a given note simply because of the nature of the instrument.

So after pondering and dithering and vacillating for a few years, I settled on the viola da gamba. It wasn't until after I had really decided to go with this that I found out (fortunately for me) that the gamba is considered an 'easier' instrument (whatever that means) for an adult beginner; a quote I found on Wikipedia said something to the effect that this instrument heralds from a time 'when musicianship was valued over virtuosity,' (see the above link for the exact quote.) Yay for me; I accidentally picked an instrument that isn't considered prohibitively difficult to learn.

Not that you could convince me of that...I can occasionally get a reasonable sound from it, but mostly when I try to bow it the result is truly hideous. But more on that at a later date...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Anonymous "4" explore the roots of Anglo-American folk song

On Wednesday, December 3rd, The Anonymous 4 (minus Susan Hellauer, absent to attend to family matters) delivered a scintillating exploration of American music of Scottish, Irish and English origins at the Kaul Auditorium at Reed College. This Grammy winning, world-beloved vocal ensemble captivated a wildly enthusiastic audience despite missing one of their members. They were assisted by accomplished string players Darol Anger, a Portlander on fiddle and mandolin, and Scott Nygaard on guitar.

Read more here at NW Reverb.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Glowing Reviews: A good week for music

Last week I unfortunately missed Grey Anne's CD release party despite my best efforts to find it, so I've been anxiously waiting for her debut cd facts n figurines. It came in the mail today and I listened to it all the way through a couple of times. It was f*$#ing great, like I was sure it would be; I reviewed it at Suite101. Between that and my last week of music, which consisted of Fidelio last Thursday, PSU Symphony last Friday, La Stella on Sunday, and the PBO last night, I feel sated and happy, music whore that I am.

PBO Assembles World Class Talent for 'Pergolesi, Naples and Julius Caesar'

I went to a fantastic display of baroque muscianship last night at the Portland Baroque Orchestra concert. Nicholas McGegan, Yulia Van Doren, and Matthew White are amazing musicians, and if you love early music, beg borrow or steal the money to go to one of the two remaining performances this weekend. I got Nick McGegan's autograph on one of his CDs, adding to my collection of autgraphed CDs by other renowned directors such as Monica Huggett, Richard Egarr, and Rinaldo Alessandrini. Bring on Chris Hogwood! I know, you can say it...I'm a total nerd. What fun it is...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Quick Note on La Stella

Sunday at 3 pm at the First Presbyterian Church in Portland, the La Stella early music ensemble gave their first of hopefully many performances to come. I did not take notes at the concert, so this is just a quick heads-up about a promising new group.

La Stella consists of five performers:

Mary Rowell--violin
Zoe Tokar, alto recorder and voice flute
Owen Daly, harpsichord (playing an instrument of his own crafting)
Hideki Yamaya, theorbo and baroque guitar
Max Fuller, viola da gamba and baroque cello

They are all experienced Baroque musicians, and the depth of their expertise showed. The program consisted of very difficult works that required sincere scholasticism and excellent technique. While not quite flawless, as a serious early music fan this concert was one of the most satisfying meals I have had in some time.

In addition to trio sonatas for various combinations by Bach and Telemann, they delved into the early and middle Baroque repertoire for works by composers who are not heard as often, such as Giovanni Pandolfi (1620-1669) and Carlo Farina (1600-1640). Fuller played Marin Marais' langorous homage to his mysterious master, the famous Tombeau pour M'sieur de Sainte-Colombe for viola da gamba, . Yamaya presented two toccatas and a corrente for solo chitarrone (theorbo) by Alessandro Piccinini (1566-1638), and in the final 'Paris Quartet' by Telemann all five musicians played, with Yamaya joining the continuo on baroque guitar.

I'm not sure that there are any other small chamber ensembles in Portland who regularly play this type of music at this level, so I strongly hope that La Stella continues in this vein and receives the support that musicians like this so richly deserve from the PDX early music community. They do not have a website yet, but La Stella does have a Facebook page for those interested in learning more about the group or the performers.

NOTE: This is cross-posted ad Northwest Reverb.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Review of PSU Symphony at NW Reverb; preview of things to come

I attended a performance of the PSU Symphony's presentation of a Beethoven Mass as well as some new works, including the U.S. premier of Fresco by Portland's own Bryan Johanson. The review is here at NW Reverb.

Later this week at Suite101 I'm going to review facts n figurines, the debut CD by one of my favorite local alternative darlings Grey Anne, as well as (here at MO) a CD of PDX underground hip-hop that I bought for five bucks from a rapper on the street after he threw down and hit me with his flow right there on the sidewalk downtown. Now that's salesmanship!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bach Fans, learn about the Rough and Rowdy side of the Maestro

I just published an article here at Suite 101 about some of the less-often discussed aspects of Bach's life, such as his swordfights, jail-time and confrontations with fellow musicians. Did you know the first draft of the Well-Tempered Clavier was sketched while Bach was imprisoned? Find out more...

Friday, October 31, 2008

CD Review up at Suite101, my new writing gig

I have recently been accepted to write articles at Suite101, a sort of general interest website. If I play my cards right, I might actually make a little money there, so zippadeedoodah for that! I'm going to link Suite101 over to the side of my blog here, but if you'd like to read the review, check it out here. (Hint: if you click on the ads next to my article, that's how I get paid. ;0)

Monday, October 27, 2008

New Article up at Primer Magazine; new gadgets on my blog

Hey all,

I have a new article published here at Primer Magazine, a sort of introduction to live classical music for someone unfamiliar with it. Not that any of you need it, but it may make for an interesting read anyway.

Also, there are a couple of ways to follow my blog now if you're interested, which will both make it easier for you to keep track of Musical Oozings, and also allow me to feel much more popular, something which I desperately need after my devastating experiences in high school. ;0)

You can become a 'Follower,' (not as Manson-Jim Jones cultish as it sounds), or sign up to receive notice of new postings through the feed reader of your choice. You can choose to either follow it publicly or privately. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Press Release: BCC Concert on October 26th

Cantata Choir to present free concert
Sunday October 26 at 2 pm, featuring Cantatas 106 and 140,
Plus Heinrich Schuetz: Psalm 128
Silent Auction Follows the Concert

The Bach Cantata Choir of Portland will present a free concert on Sunday, October 26th at 2pm at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church, 1907 NE 45th Ave in Portland, Oregon. The concert, under the direction of conductor Ralph Nelson, will feature a performance of Bach’s Cantata #106 “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit”, Cantata #140 “Wachet auf” and Heinrich Schuetz’s 8-part setting of Psalm 128. The concert is free and open to the public. A free-will offering will be taken. Doors open at 1:30pm. A silent auction to benefit the operations of the choir will occur directly following the concert in the parlor adjacent to the sanctuary.

Featured in the concert will be sopranos Nan Haemer and Solveig Nyberg-Akert, alto Irene Weldon, tenor Byron Wright and baritone Jacob Herbert. The works will be accompanied by a small chamber orchestra. John Vergin will provide the organ continuo. This concert features the Bach Cantata Choir – a choir of 50 professional or semi-professional voices, drawn from many of Portland’s finest choirs.

Bach’s sacred cantatas were written to be performed as part of the Lutheran Church liturgy. Cantata #106 “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit” (“God’s Time is the Best of Times”) is one of the earliest cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach – written in 1707 when the composer was 21 and working as organist in the small German town of Mühlhausen. Bach subtitled the work, “Actus Tragicus”, and the cantata is a fascinating and extremely moving work – written to be used at funeral services. It is quite unique in that it is scored is for 2 recorders, 2 viola da gamba, continuo, soloists and chorus.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

BCC AD Ralph Nelson Shares his story

Heckuva lot of initials, eh? That's our Artistic Director of the Bach Cantata Choir Ralph Nelson, who this summer took master classes with maestro Helmuth Rilling, world-renowned director of the Oregon Bach Festival. Ralph gave some details of his experience, which I published in BachBeat, the BCC's newsletter, but I also posted them at NW Reverb if you're interested in taking a look.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cappella Romana Review up at NW Reverb

I attended a marvelous concert by Capella Romana, a Portland-based ancient music choir. The review is up here at NW Reverb.

Friday, October 10, 2008

PCSO Review up at NW Reverb; notes on KBPS pledge drive and PSC/BCC seasons

I just got done attending a concert by the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra consisting of works by two of my favorite composers, Shostakovich and Beethoven. You can check it out here at NW Reverb.

I also got done spending 8 hours over the last two evenings manning the phones at KBPS 89.9 All Classical for their fall pledge drive; although I left with two hours left to go in the drive, it seemed like they were well on their way to making the goal for this year. It's always a blast to go down there, and P-town (as well as the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Coast and the entire world thanks to AllClassical.org) is lucky to have such a phenomenal station that is able to be so successful. I just wanted to thank all the volunteers, the local restaurants that donated food, the charismatic, committed staff and hosts, and especially the KBPS members in the community and the world at large for making it happen.

And I can't believe I haven't written this yet, but please check out the Bach Cantata Choir and the Portland Symphonic Choir websites (links for these and for KBPS are right off to the side there so just click on 'em!) for a full update on the 08-09 seasons. The PSC just got done singing Beethoven's 9th with the OSO and we're going to be working all day long tomorrow on Rachmaninov's Vespers for a concert next year. This is a titanic, amazing work, and quite simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music I think has ever been composed; such rich, haunting, uniquely Slavic music. On top of that, we're doing Mozart's Requiem and Kyrie in D-minor next year, in addition to our Wintersong Concert featuring a medley of Christmas tunes as conceived of by the brilliant Ralph Vaughan Williams.

In the BCC, our first concert (and our silent auction: please come and spend money with us! I'm the silent auction chair and I need to look good!) is coming up on October 26th at 2 pm; we're doing Cantatas 106 and 140, the famous Wachet Auf! (Sleepers Awake!) In addition, we're singing a gorgeous setting by Heinrich Schutz of Psalm 128 for double choir. Don't miss it! And let me know if you'd like to receive the BCC Newsletter; I write and edit that and it's been quite a hit with our audience. I usually write one historical article as well as a profile of one of our orchestra or chorus members; upcoming is our AD Ralph Nelson's article on his experiences studying with Helmuth Rilling at the Oregon Bach Festival this summer. I can put you on our mailing list to receive it on paper or send it to you electronically; I plan on archiving past editions online soon. I should have it ready to go next week.

It's late, I'm rambling, I'm going to head to bed cuz it's been a loooong week and the weekend looks just as busy. All in the service of music, the greatest of human endeavors. Buenas noches.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Baroque Bash! Opulent madness strikes the Holocene

Members of PBO perform at the Baroque Bash

Last Wednesday night, members of Classical Revolution Portland, the Portland Baroque Orchestra, and opera-rockers Sophe Lux threw a crazy party at the Holocene in SE Portland. I had the opportunity to open the show on solo harpsichord, floating the somber strains of a Purcell Almand into a still-murmuring crowd unannounced. I made some brief announcements followed by a Haydn sonata, and it took off from there.

It was a miniature who's who of some notables in P-town's classical music scene: Andrea Murray and Edmund Stone from KBPS All Classical were there; Mark Powell, Marketing Director and gracious host for the PBO was present. JustOut columnist and local music blogger Stephen Marc Beaudoin, (a fabulous tenor) performed what was without a doubt the most unique rendition of any Handelian opera aria that I've ever heard. Cellist/watercolorist extraordinaire Lori Presthus, as well as magnificent violinists Adam LaMotte and Greg Ewer, all of the PBO, wowed the crowd with the sterling level of musicianship that we've all come to know and love from that organization. Ralph Nelson, Artistic Director of the Bach Cantata Choir (and owner of the beautiful harpsichord we used for the event) also showed up. Of course, CRPDX founder Mattie Kaiser (aka Foxy Lux) and a regular crew of CRPDXers were there, in addition to Gwynneth Haynes and Sophe Lux, who played after the baroque performances were over. (If I've missed or didn't recognize anyone please forgive.)

A complete set list is available here at the CRPDX blog, and as I mentioned, the show opened with little ol' me. Although I didn't play nearly as well as I'd hoped (nor nearly as poorly as I'd feared) I really had a blast, and I got the very strong impression that all of the other performers and the audience did as well. It was a little unnerving for me playing on the same bill as members of the PBO, the cream of Portland's burgeoning Baroque scene, but I'm proud of my musicianship all the same and was grateful to have the chance to share the stage with such good musicians. Watching Mattie, Erin Winemiller and two CRPDX violinists whose names I don't know play a couple movements of a Haydn string quartet, I felt a certain warmth--I'd performed, gotten bloodied so to speak, and so felt a cameraderie that lent the rest of the evening a pleasant glow.

The finalists gather...

The scene shifted to another room where two cellists whose names I don't know (please feel free to shout out in the comments section) played the concertina from a Vivaldi double cello concerto with funky backbeats and psychedelic lighting. When Stephen Marc Beaudoin took the spotlight to sing two numbers from Handel's Rodelinda (heard in P-town last year thanks to the Portland Opera), it was a study in contrasts, to say the least. The first aria was tender, heart-rending, very introspective and honest. The second ended with Beaudoin hurling various articles of clothing into the audience, standing only in boxers and a t-shirt by the end of this baroque burlesque...honesty of a different sort?

Jan Groh of the Nachtigal Duo and Simon Bielman played a tricky Telemann recorder sonata quite well. They had been practicing in my living room earlier in the week, so it was fun to hear how much this piece had evolved in such a short time. Lori Presthus played a glorious Courante from Bach's 1st Cello Suite, and I was thrilled to hear this since I own her CD of the first 3 cello suites (going to get the second installment soon.) She also improvised, displaying her daring and virtuosity. Ewer and LaMotte showed their skills in a violin duet played at a positively blistering tempo, and the three PBO musicians closed out the Baroque part of the bash with Vivaldi's 'La Folia.'

Next came the costume competition. There were quite a number of lavish costumes...a neo-baroque hipster thing with a pink wig, Marie Antoinette-ish ensembles. Beaudoin led the festivities in a suitably boisterous manner, letting the audience applause judge the winners of various categories (including 'The Most Glam F*!#ing Glam' division). Despite the fact that there were many costumes that I felt left mine in the dust, somehow when it was all said and done I was the last man standing, and won two CDs and a hilarious 'Baroque Obama' t-shirt, courtesy of Classical Millenium. After receiving a stern, crowd-pleasing smack on the ass from the host (I'm sure we'd both had a few rounds by this point), it was intermission. PDX glam faves Sophe Lux took the stage afterwards, and I was glad to hear my favorite tune of theirs, the very apropos 'Marie Antoinette Robot.' I've written about their performances here before.

All in all, it was a ridiculous amount of fun. It had the interesting effect of taking some of the starch out of classical music while simultaneously celebrating that very aspect of it, and of bringing both the audience and performers together in a very unique way. Leave it to CRPDX come up with something like this...I sure hope they do it again.

And the winner is...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Various and Sundry...Pix soon to follow

Just a brief note here--

Last night I won the costume competition at the Baroque Bash at Holocene. I have no idea how I won...there were a number of sumptuous baroque costumers there but hey, a win is a win, and I got 2 cds and a hilarious 'Baroque Obama' t-shirt with Barack's head photo-shopped onto a famous painting of Bach. Good times. I'll be posting pictures and some notes on my experience later this evening.

Also at NW Reverb I linked to an item about a new Mozart piece that was discovered in a French museum.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Press Release from CRPDX


CONTACT: Mattie Kaiser ClassicalRevolutionPDX@gmail.com
Powder your wig and lace up your corset for…
The Baroque Bash - September 17th at Holocene
WHAT: Baroque Bash
WHO: Sophe Lux (myspace.com/sophelux); Classical Revolution PDX (classicalrevolutionpdx.org) and members of the Portland Baroque Orchestra (pbo.org)
WHEN: September 17th, 9 PM
WHERE: Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison, Portland
COST: $8 at the door; $6 for those in costume.

Baroque music meets baroque pop for a first-of-its-kind show at the Holocene nightclub on September 17th.
The “Baroque Bash” features performances by beloved chamber-rockers Sophe Lux, chamber music collaborative Classical Revolution PDX and special guests from Portland Baroque Orchestra, the Pacific Northwest’s premiere period instrument ensemble. CRPDX and the PBO Chamber Players will perform works by Bach, Haydn, Vivaldi and other 17th and early 18th Century composers. Sophe Lux, known as much for their lavish costumes and mini-operettas as for their musicianship, will play original songs hailed by the Portland Tribune as being “operatic, ambitious...sophisticated, theatrical pop.” The Philadelphia Weekly described them as “fancy-dressed, concept-loving, rock-opera terrorists... This Weimar-infused, accordion-loving experimental cabaret is led by the blond and beautiful Gwynneth Haynes, whose octave-jumping soprano could easily turn from indie rock to Brecht-Weill torch songs.”

Singer Gwynneth Haynes invites the audience to fully participate in the evening by taking on Baroque characteristics. Says Haynes “Don’t just be a spectator, be a part of the spectacle!” Audiences are invited to join in the evenings festivities by donning outfits and wigs for the evening’s costume contest.

Tom Cirillo, Executive Director of Portland Baroque Orchestra, jumped at the invitation from Classical Revolution PDX to bring live performance of 18th century music to a “downtown” club venue like Holocene. He says, “18th century music is all about flash, spectacle and live improvisation. A party-like setting with adult refreshments is certainly in the spirit of the music and I know our virtuoso violinists Greg Ewer and Adam LaMotte will thrive in the energy of this unique event at Holocene.”

Violist Mattie Kaiser, who performs with Classical Revolution PDX and Sophe Lux, says the Baroque Bash will demonstrate the commonality between Baroque music and the literate, musically complex pop songs produced by bands like Sophe Lux. She likens the best music of the Baroque, known for its emphasis on ornament and extravagance, to glam rock: “I really don’t think there’s that much of a difference between the baroque music pageantry that existed back in the day and glam - it’s all about being completely ridiculous with the utmost sincerity.”

Blogger's sidenote: I'd like to add that I think this sounds really fun and I will definitely be there. You might even have the great misfortune of hearing me play some Purcell on the harpsichord... I also thank Ralph Nelson, Artistic Director of the Bach Cantata Choir, for the use of his harpsichord for this event.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

William Byrd Fest Concert Review at NW Reverb

I attended the book-end concerts of the William Byrd Fest and reviewed them at NW Reverb; you can read the review of the final concert here if you'd like.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jack Johnson concert and a long trip

Lake Crescent, Olympic Nat'l Park

After spending a week rambling around the wilds of NW Washington with Kristin and my son, Theo, hiking, biking and canoeing in the Olympic and North Cascades national parks, we landed just outside Quincy, WA. (If you live in Portland and haven't been to these places or aren't planning on going, you're insane. These are incredible, spectacular parks that by virtue of their sheer beauty should be much more popular, but, thankfully, aren't. I put a few photos at the end of this post.)

The last leg of the trip ended in the dry badlands of central Washington for the second time this summer as we pulled into the Wild Horse campground right near The Gorge Amphitheater for surferboy-crooner Jack Johnson's concert. (I blogged about my first visit to the Gorge here in one of my very first postings on this blog.)

The Wild Horse was awash in Jack Johnson music everywhere as we set up camp. My friend Alton got me into Jack years ago, shortly after the release of his first LP Brushfire Fairytales. I appreciated his sometimes deceptively complex guitar lines, his laid back surfer attitude, mellow vocals. It all struck me as very unpretentious. His music seems to be something of an anomaly in the American alternative pop culture landscape: everything is always so ridden with angst, dripping cynicism, bile, venom and hopelessness, that a guy who plays his acoustic guitar and sings about how much he loves his wife seems oddly out of place. There's no denying his wild popularity though; perhaps his popularity is not inspite of, but because he loves life and likes to write mellow, pretty songs to that effect. It's a nice break for me from the angst music mentioned above (which I dearly love.)

I met up with my friends Nate and Joanna from Coeur d'Alene, whom I met at the Sasquatch Fest a couple of months ago, so that was cool. Maybe I was a little burned out from all the gorgeous scenery, but the spectacular beauty of the gorge didn't hit me like it did the first time. The opening band was Rogue Wave, who was also there at the Sasquatch fest. I didn't pay much attention to it; I was really there to hear Jack.

Me 'n Nate the Great @ the Wild Horse...

The first song brought vivid oceanic images to mind: surfing a talcum-blue wave of grumbling reggae bass, I looked out over a sea of cell-phones and cameras sparkling like the bioluminescent eyes of deep-sea dwelling fish. Although Jack's songs are good, I thought the live performance was a little bit lack-luster; they aren't terribly complex tunes, and should have easily translated to a hearty live performance, but somehow that didn't happen in a few instances. Not to say it was bad; I give him points for a number of clever quotations, including The Cars' Just What I Needed and Jimi Hendrix's Remember. I've found I tend to be underwhelmed by certain groups there at the Gorge, even ones I really love. I wasn't disappointed in any way, since it was on the way (more-or-less) home from our summer road trip. I think I need to just go for the party, and have the music be more or less an afterthought. That way, if I'm less than impressed with the performance, there's no disappointment involved. Got to spend a lot of fun time with Kristin and Theo, and that's the most important part. At any rate, it was a good close to the summer for me, since rehearsals and concert seasons start up again in a couple of weeks and the madness of being a classical music performer/writer (on top of a full time job) begins again...

Enjoy some photos of the incredible Washington wilderness.

N. Cascades Nat'l Park

The time for caution is now past...

Dining on the local wildlife. Mm....that's shrew-licious!

Diablo Lake, N. Cascades

Rare sighting of a Dorkus malorkus in the Hoh Rainforest...

Hall of Mosses, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic Nat'l Park

Rialto Beach, Olympic Nat'l Park

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Beer Article up at Primer Magazine

I wrote an article entitled "The Beers I'm Drinking this Summer--and Why." It's published at Primer Magazine this week. A little bit of beer history, and some recommendations for good summer beers. It's getting pinged from other beer blogs, so that's cool. Lemme know what you think!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Review of William Byrd Festival at NW Reverb

I attended a spectacular display of keyboard brilliance at the opening of the William Byrd Festival last night, and wrote a review of it here at NW Reverb.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Long Overdue-Portland Waterfront Blues Fest-Photos by Charles Sterling

Well it was almost a month ago, so there's really no excuse for me not having written anything about it other than sheer laziness. I'll let the photos do most of the talking, but I'll just say that the three artists I heard while I was there were all fantastic, both to listen to and to watch perform live. Kristin's dad Chuck is somewhat of a shutterbug, so he took some great photos that I'm happy to share.

I love blues music so much; it's such an unbelievably fertile, uniquely American idiom that has served as the wellspring for so many styles and artists. Ever heard of jazz, rock'n'roll, or hip-hop? Without the blues they never could have existed. I'm not saying anything everyone doesn't already know, just emphasizing (as much for my own sake as anything else) why this music is so important. I think it's safe to say that, if some strange time warp incident were to wipe out blues music, music worldwide over the last century would be irrevocably wounded, unrecognizably different, and immeasurably poorer for its lack.

Enough words! On to the photos!

Gotta love a P-town waterfront music fest...

I had never heard her before, but I was so glad I was there to hear Ruthie Foster, a Texan whose soul/gospel/blues singing was absolutely riveting and honest, with no frills. Here are a couple of great photos of her:

Although I couldn'tt get it to rotate, I think this pic is great and worth turning your laptop sideways to look at.

Here are some pix of Portland's own soul diva Linda Hornbuckle. Her gospel set was nothing short of stunning. (That's the disadvantage of waiting so long to write something, expecially when I wasn't taking any notes. The specifics sort of fade...)

Linda and her gospel choir.

The real reason I came down on this blazing hot Sunday afternoon, however, was to see Phoebe Snow. I've loved her ever since I was a teenager. When I was younger, I always held my oldest sister Karrie as the coolest person in the world. I mean, she has the best taste in everything: music, clothes, movies, food, and always knows a lot about what she likes and thinks intensely about why she likes it (kind of like someone else I know...) She used to have me over to her house and we would go through her large collection of vinyl, listening to record after record. Through her I got into so much good music: The Beach Boys, CCR, Phoebe Snow, Leon Redbone, Taj Mahal, The Crazy 8s, The Fine Young Cannibals (before they got big), not to mention tons of great classical music, most of which she bequeathed to me and I've sadly lost through the years.

Phoebe Snow has such a distinctive voice. She did some jingles in the 80s and 90s after her career slowed down a bit, but she cracked jokes about that during the show, and even sang the Colon Blow jingle from SNL; that is one of my very favorite SNL faux commercials of all time. She sang at least two songs from her self-titled debut album, the one that I am so familiar with through my sister's collection. She sang Poetry Man and Harpo's Blues, and I think maybe one other from her really early years. My favorite songs of hers were always San Francisco Bay Blues and Either or Both, both from that first album with the white cover and the line drawing of Phoebe's face.

Her voice is incredible, not just for the sheer range of it but also because of the magnificent control whether she's in a simmering contralto or soaring in a stratospheric soprano. She just has an amazing instrument, and a keen understanding of how to use it; very unique and stylistic. Kristin's mom Suzie bought me Phoebe's Greatest Hits CD for a birthday present; definitely a great gift.

Some of these pix are sideways. Deal with it; I'm a music nerd, not a computer nerd.

I can still hear the lyrics from Either or Both in my head:

Sometimes my face is so funny, that I hide it behind a book.
Sometimes this face has so much class that I have to take a second look.

Never was a truer word spoken; those lines have stuck with me through my whole life, helping sustain me when I look in the mirror and want to run screaming in terror, and keep me humble when I find myself staring in the mirror at that handsome devil. Speaking of which devil...

Just so we all know I'm not a poseur, I'm living the motto espoused on my t-shirt there; that's a double fist of Deschutes Brewery's Green Lakes Organic Ale

One more good one of Phoebe's and I'm audi 5k.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Grey Anne spins her web at the Towne Lounge

I knew it had been awhile since I tried to park in NWPDX at 9 on a Thursday night as I spent over 30 minutes driving around looking for a spot...thanks in large part to the Beavers game at PGE park. At any rate, I was glad I was late for the Towne Lounge since the show slated to start at 9 didn't get underway until well after 10. I didn't even realize I had been there before until I got inside, and then it all came flooding back to me...it was part of an unfortunate St. Patty's day pub crawl incident a number of years ago which ended up with me passed out in an alley in a puddle of my own barf behind yet another pub I can't possibly remember. Fortunately, I'm much older and wiser now, and those days are long behind me. I'm proud to announce that these days I almost always make it home before I puke and pass out.

Seriously though, it was kind of annoying but what the hell! I'm easily annoyed anyway, 'subtle and quick to anger' as are the Tolkienian wizards. Not that I'm a wizard. Nor always subtle. So here I am sitting around waiting for two bands that I've never heard of before in anxious anticipation of Anne Adams, the echo-looping sorceress whose music I fell in love with upon first hearing at a show at the Doug Fir when she was performing as Per Se. (I reviewed it here if you want more of my impressions of her.) Lots of magic references here...that seems to happen to me when I hear her music.

At any rate, I had to sit through a long lot of boring to mediocre music before she played. I won't write much about that...no question the guys playing had musical skills, it's just that I've heard what they were dishing out so many times before...they were plodding along through very well-tilled soil. I had a bunch of nasty things to say but I just don't have the heart: it was only a $5 show on a Thursday night, these guys are out there pouring their hearts out for a smoky, almost-empty lounge, so it's all good. They were occasionally charming; just mostly rather boring. And the second one (The Friendly Skies) way too loud. Maybe I'm old. Wait a second; no maybe about it. My 36th was just last weekend.

Interesing motif there at the Towne Lounge: good beers in cans. Must be part of the whole contrived hipster working-class affectation thing. Oops, there it is again. I've never drunk Newcastle (one of my favorite brown ales) out of a can before, but I figured 'hell, it's Newcastle; it's gotta be good.' And I was right. Had a couple of cans of Caldera Pale as well, stretched out over the course of the evening; I was the model of restraint. Thursday night drinking bouts usually result in an unlovely Friday for me...

Adams was performing under her stage name Grey Anne that night, so since I'd heard her (only once before) perform as Per Se, I was excited to see what might be different about this performance. First thing was different props: gone were the butterfly/fairy wings, in their place was an immense stuffed white tiger, and for her opening song she sat down on the stage and propped her legs over the big kitty, so that when her beautiful, pure, child-like voice opened up, I suddenly felt like I had been invited into a little girl's room, listening as she sang her dreams and musings. The whole pub, with a small though noisy crowd, suddenly went into rapt silence as Grey Anne began her set. She told the story behind her moniker, but I'm going to keep that to myself. If you want to know, go to her shows. I'm sure she'll repeat the story sometime...

That's not to say that all her music is about delicious whimsy and gossamer fluff. That was another difference between this and the Per Se show; she spoke more, and gave personal details, vignettes about her family; there was more that gave insight into her. She also explained the meaning behind some songs and there was nothing childish or whimsical about them thematically. Since I've only been to one other performance of hers I realize that's no solid basis for comparison, but there it is. Those were the differences I noticed between Per Se and Grey Anne.

She sang two songs that I know by name ('Adelaide' and 'Flapjack Devilfish') along with a couple others I recognized from having heard them before. I'm struck by her original voice, and by that I don't mean her vocal mechanism but her whole poetic/music/lyrical outlook. She loses herself in rhapsodic, spontaneous self-harmonies, using the loop sequencer judiciously and intelligently, and not afraid to start a particular loop over if it isn't what she wants. There may have been only ten people in the room, but (after the obnoxious drunk chicks left) everyone was hanging on every chord change and new verse, drinking it in like wine. I wasn't the only one who found myself, head in hands with a goofy smile on my face as a new song wound on.

I think that's why I like her music so much; it's so nice to have something that gently, yet inexorably and powerfully pulls me out of my well of cynicism and loathing and just lets me breathe for a minute. Music is just about the only thing that can do that for me, and it's got to be special music, and meaningful. Both of her shows I've been to have left me with the distinct impression of being wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket, and it's not very often I have that feeling.

I left the Towne Lounge and drove home the same way I do when I drive home from the opera or from a really good symphony performance: no radio, just letting the echoes and memories of the music I've just heard live on as vividly as they can for as long as they can, needing no auditory intrusion to mar the exquisite aftertaste. Things seemed glowing and new, like the same old boring street suddenly viewed through pink shades; the dimming lights of the ball field, the loaded morons staggering loudly down the street, the drunken madman with wild hair, a bushy beard, and ungodly befouled clothes leaning up against a parking meter whispering to it sweet nothings and giving it a kiss as gentle and profound as you've ever seen a man give his lover; it all seemed beautiful.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist rock the turntables at the Roseland

For my birthday treat last night I went and saw my favorite mix-master DJ Shadow (first time for me) at the Roseland theater. He was accompanied by a DJ I didn't know by the name of Cut Chemist playing one of the last three shows of a yearlong project they called the Hard Sell.

After enduring the many indignities of the Roseland (every time I go there I'm reminded of why I rarely go there), such as the security search that all but left me needing a cigarette afterward, the 45 minute wait just to be able to get up to the balcony and get a drink, and the hordes of ganja-reeking hipsters, I was able to kick back and enjoy the show.

Let me just say this: we may live in an era when ever other person you meet claims to be a DJ, but real ones, like Shadow and Cut Chemist, are so far above the cut it isn't even funny. They had an entertaining, retro-style projected video intro that explained some of the tricks of the DJ trade, such as using precisely-placed strips of tape to create loops. They did it all without computers, using only turntables, pedals and an echo machine (not being an amateur DJ, I don't really know all the lingo so bear with me here.) They used only 45s, and each of them had a couple of hundred close at hand.

I was especially impressed with the variety of styles they brought into play: heavy metal, country, old-school funk, hip-hop, strange, obscure covers (such as a woman singing the Gilligan's Island theme song to Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' music). They displayed a great sense of humor, consummate artistry in skills I don't even pretend to understand, and had a great rapport; they were just a couple of guys up there doing what they do best, and it showed. If anyone has a chance to see either of these guys, I'd highly recommend it. Makes me want to go see more hip-hop oriented shows; Mos Def, the Hieroglyphics crew, and others are coming in the next couple of months and I might just put up with the Roseland bullshit to see such quality acts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sing Verdi's Requiem tonight with Steven Zopfi and the Portland Symphonic Choir!

Tonight and next Wednesday are the annual 'Summer Sings' concerts presesnted by the PSC. Our A.D. Steven Zopfi will conduct tonight's performance of Verdi's massive Requiem, and next Wednesday our Assistant A.D. Anna Song will conduct Faure's Requiem (don't let the title fool you; it's quite a happy piece for a requiem) and also his Cantique de Jean Racine. The cost is only $7 and you can borrow a score at the door. If you're a current singer, a long-lapsed chorister or you've just always wanted to try, now is a great chance to sing some masterworks and chat with many of your friends and neighbors who sing with the Portland Symphonic Choir.

Come to the Moriarty Arts and Humanities Building on PCC's beautifully upgraded Cascade Campus the next two Wednesday nights at 7 pm and join in the fun. Details are here at the PSC website. I'll be there, and if any of my blog readers show up, please introduce yourselves! I'd love to meet you.

Monday, July 14, 2008

CD Review: Rachel Taylor Brown's "Half Hours with the Lower Creatures."

Rachel Taylor Brown has been getting a lot of good press lately (from NPR among others) and after listening to her new CD Half Hours with the Lower Creatures, it's easy to see why. I really enjoyed the vast majority of this very personal exposition. Each track has a subtitle to it, such as 'the goad,' 'waste,' 'whack,' etc., which I couldn't make much sense of but since I am a big fan of subtitles, parentheticals and the like, I think it's great. The first track I might've subtitled 'Trio for voice, Found Sounds and Toy Piano.' It's a lengthy, diverting opening that segues seamlessly into the second track (as does each track into the one that follows it.)

It's obvious from listening to this that RTB has issues with Judeo-Christianity (ahh, don't we all) but her way of expounding on it is honest and without overt malice. The most powerful track for me is passion (the goad), which is just what it says: a story about the passion of the Christ, only with an emphasis on its misuse in fleecing the flock. She's got a very clever, subtle way of staggering the relatively straightforward vocals and piano; there’s a story just underneath the text that you have to intuit (rather than interpret) by listening to the music. In another dead soldier in fallujah (waste), Brown cuts right to the chase and delivers a criticism of the war in Iraq with sensitivity and compassion, yet mercifully absent any tawdry schadenfreude at our boondoggle over there. After passion, the instrumental arlington and the penultimate track vireo, a brooding and organic dirge, are the strongest tracks for me. I detected hints of Tori Amos, Elliot Smith and Queen (a little too much of that one for my personal taste) here but from start to finish, Lower Creatures, is by and large a winner This album lives in the atmospherics, which are sometimes more difficult to create accurately than dazzling the listener with tricky music. Be prepared to sit down and listen to it in one sitting; it makes much more sense that way.

Monday, July 7, 2008

New Article: "Diary of a Rookie Homebrewer" up at Primer Magazine

Primer Magazine just published a feature piece of mine entitled "Diary of a Rookie Homebrewer." While it is (obviously) mostly about beer, it does deal with the nexus of beer and music as focal activities in my life. Check it out here at www.primermagazine.com, and leave a comment if you are so inclined!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Review of Bach's B-minor Mass at NW Reverb

I had the great pleasure of attending a performance of Helmuth Rilling's Mass in B-minor at the Schnitz last week, and wrote a review of it here at Northwest Reverb.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

CRPDX lights up the Someday Lounge

Members of Classical Revolution Portland (with a little help from a group of singers from Opera Theater Oregon) held their monthly Chamber Jam at the Someday Lounge on June 24th. This cool little lounge with the wistful, faraway-sounding name (with a great stage for such a small place) is one of the usual haunts for CRPDX, and is also home for the OTO, so everyone felt right at home both in the audience and onstage. While I wasn't able to attend the second half, there was definitely enough great music in the first two hours of the show to write about here. (If you don't already know who CRPDX is and what their goals are, check out the links above, and I've always got them linked off to the side of this blog.) I wasn't able to get the names of all of the performers who played in the pieces listed below (informality is one of CRPDX's hallmarks) so if anyone who is reading this performed or knows who the performers are, please chime in in the comments section! I'll mention the names of the ones I do know.

The evening started out with a Mozart String Quartet, K 155, written by the maestro when he was only 16. The performance was mic'd, which I strongly disapproved of at first. As the night went on and the crowd grew louder however, I soon realized the wisdom of this decision. After all, CRPDX is about taking classical music to new spaces and different audiences with a whole new set of ground rules (or none at all,) so using a microphone so that a lounge crowd can still be a lounge crowd was a good choice after all, despite the inherent flaws of an amplified performance.

Some slight intonation problems from the low strings (which were unfortunately magnified by the microphone and might not have easily been noticeable otherwise) occasionally marred the beginning, but once they got warmed up this seemed to work itself out. Still, it's hard to be too picky; this is a chamber jam after all, jam implying an informality of sorts that makes it difficult to pick apart a performance. There were four guys up there, good musicians all, doing what they loved, and that came through loud and clear. The following Andante and Allegro (I don't know the piece well and there may have been a fourth movement in there somewhere) were largely crisp and clean, the way I love my Mozart. It's still a little strange for me to hear clapping in between movements, but again, that's kind of the whole point of this kind of thing. From a logical standpoint, each movement, while part of a larger whole, can also stand by itself, and if one isn't familiar with the traditions of classical music (or is performing in a space where those rules don't matter) it makes sense and is polite to clap at each full stop. So bring on the applause.

Next up I was thrilled to see Tuesday Rupp and Ben Landsverk, both of whom I've written about recently (in my post about the Rachel Taylor Brown show at this blog in Ben's instance, and about Tuesday in a review of In Mulieribus at Northwest Reverb.) One of the highlights of that performance for me was Tuesday's riveting solo on A Chantar m'er, an ancient, heart-wrenching song about rejection. She sang it again last Tuesday night, with Landsverk improvising on the viola, and Tuesday joining in for the occasional muffled battery on a bodhran of some kind. Tuesday's delivery was almost savage, and Landsverk's accompaniment, which even took the form of a long solo at one point, was never dull to hear; he used a lot of open, droning strings that gave it an appropriately ancient feel. I was definitely glad to hear this song again, and in its new iteration it lost nothing of the qualities that I liked so much about it in the first place.

Next up was a piece by French composer Andre Jolivet, Chant de Linos, which as far as I can tell was originally written for flute, string trio and harp but in this case was transcribed for flute and piano. The pianist may have been Adam Whiting, and I'm not sure who the flutist was but I wish I did so I could give her props; she was really good, and played this virtuosic piece marvelously. It was very far out; atonal in parts, using strange rhythms, a work based on an ancient form but using the most modern compositional techniques. Parts of it reminded me of Debussy's famous Syrinx for solo flute. At one point this work seemed to have a soporific effect on the boisterous lounge audience, and everything quieted down almost to nothing in unintentional homage to this eerie, captivating piece.

Next was a requiem for piano and four cellos by David Popper, a Czech composer working during the latter half of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th. When emcee Mattie Kaiser announced that the next piece was a requiem, someone from the audience shouted out "who died!?" and this drew some hearty laughter. No one seemed to know, so I looked it up and apparently Popper wrote it for Daniel Rahter (it was originally scored for a full orchestra plus the cello trio,) who was one of his early publishers. The piece was also played at Popper's own funeral by some of his students.

Kira Whiting played piano, joined by (if I'm correct) Adam Whiting and Amy Winemiller and another cellist whose name I don't know. Kudos to all the pianists, btw, for playing so well on an instrument that was just ghastly out of tune. Just another quirk of many in the evening. At any rate, parts of the piece struck me as rather cheerful for a requiem. The maudlin, 'pathetique' sections were intoned sensitively by the cellists. This called for a big, bold sound, and the group delivered just that. The Requiem was a big hit with the crowd. [NOTE: See the comment below for updates/corrections.]

The first half (and for me, the night) closed with a large ensemble piece that Mattie had been referring to quixotically all evening as 'the F. Mercury concerto.' My friend Jeanne who attended with me caught on rather more quickly than I did, and asked 'is that as in Freddie Mercury?' Sure enough, a large group of singers from the OTO took the stage, along with electric guitar, bass and drums provided by the Karaoke from Hell band who play at Dante's Inferno. It would've been hard to pick a better closer than Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Everyone was dressed to the 9s, the soloist did a good job with the extremely difficult task of trying to match Freddie's tessitura, and for all that it was a bit raucous and had a few rough edges, honestly, do you really want anything else from a performance of a work by glam god Freddie Mercury?

Although I've seen CRPDX members play in other formations before, this was my first true CRPDX jam, and I couldn't recommend it more highly both to traditional classical music fans and to those who may have no idea what classical music is about, but have an interest in checking it out in an informal setting. I was talking with Maria, one of the OTO singers with whom I've sung in the Portland Symphonic Choir, and she spoke enthusiastically about how this was how classical music was heard back in the day, how Mozart might have listened to much of his music in a rowdy tavern. I couldn't agree more. While I still love all the frills and traditions and stuffiness that goes along with classical music, I understand how that could be a turn-off to someone who is new to the genre, and CRPDX is a great introduction to the world of this incredible music.

I'm sad I wasn't able to stay and hear the Vivaldi, Verdi, Schumann, Shostakovich and Donizetti that made up the second half. For three bucks. Just goes to show that the quality of music and the cost of getting in the door can often have nothing to do with one another. If you want to have a kick-ass time listening to great music, check them out at the Salem Arts Fair and Festival on July 20th or at Costello's Travel Cafe on July 31.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cascade Festival of Music goes under

It's late but I can't sleep. The Cascade Festival of Music in Bend has just cancelled its summer season and is rumored to be filing for bankruptcy, and I just found this out less than an hour ago. As a member of the Portland Symphonic Choir, I was going to sing Orff's Carmina Burana at the festival at the end of the summer, and James DePriest was slated to take over as conductor there next year after Murray Sidlin's final concerts this season. Now the entire future of the festival is gravely in doubt.

The CFM meant so much to me as a wee music nerd growing up in the middle of cow country in Terrebonne; there weren't a lot of kids that I grew up with who could play Mozart on the piano or tell you how many symphonies Beethoven wrote, but you can bet those of us who could went to the CFM every summer with our families. My musical hero Dr. Charles Heiden was one of the festival's founders. Dave Stabler's blog has all the depressing news and I posted a comment there. I'm too bummed to write any more about it now.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Concert Review: Per Se, Sophe Lux and Rachel Taylor Brown or, Putting the Parity back in Disparity

First off, I must confess that this was my first show, ever, at the Doug Fir. (So although everyone else in the entire world has been there but me, I'll give my first impressions anyway.) I know, I know, it's P-town's uber-hip musical venue, and people come from all over the place just to listen to and play music here. My reasons for avoiding it are somewhat vague: at first, it was because, as a smoker, I railed against another weeny, health-nut establishment that wouldn't let me smoke and drink at the same time, two things that go together like golden sponge cake and chemical filling in a Twinkie. Since I quit smoking two years ago however, it's been because the Doug Fir is sort of the hipster black-hole: no hipster in Portland can escape its gravity, and they all end up swirling, swirling, like tp down the toilet hole, inextractably drawn to its ultra cool magnetism. Whatever...my irrational disdain towards hipsters (whatever that term means; much more knowledgeable people than I have tried (unsuccessfully) to define it but let's just say PDX is bursting at the seams with them) doesn't really make much sense, given that individually, I'm friends with a number of people who could probably qualify as hipsters yet because I like them I don't see them that way...OK. Enough of my anti-hipster prejudice. I went last Thursday, the 19th, because Sophe Lux was playing, and I personally know the violist/backup singer/keyboardist Mattie Kaiser (aka Foxy Lux.) There's my bias disclaimer.

The Doug Fir Lounge was downstairs. It was dimly lit and staffed by a number of too-cool-for-school-looking although fairly friendly employees. The decor was bland concrete everywhere, perhaps trying to be understated but instead ending up plain old boring. The woodwork struck me as hokey and self-insistent, and the stage was framed by two concrete pillars with all the charm of those cardboard tubes left over when you get to the end of a roll of paper towels. At first I sat at one of the tables off to the side (the only tables were off to the side, and only at the ones farthest from the stage could you hope to see anything like a full-on front view of said stage, and they were already taken even though I got there early.) I eventually settled on sitting on the carpeted stairs so I could see what was going on.

Per Se was the opener. This act consisted entirely of one woman, Grey Anne (the stage name of Portlander Anne Adams.) She took the stage in an old-fashioned flowered dress with a long crinoline underneath and a sad, battered pair of butterfly wings on her back, reminding me of the disembodied spirit of some lost London orphan girl who was run over by a rich man's carriage at the end of the 19th century, come back to haunt the world with electric guitar in hand. And from the first moment she started playing, I was completely entranced, and extremely impressed not only by her songwriting but by her DIY musicality to boot.

Her voice was high, thin and spidery, and yet it seemed to fit perfectly with her songs (later she hinted that she was feeling sick and apologized for her singing, but I thought it was fine.) She used looping pedals consistently and to great effect, on one song tapping out a rhythm on a bodhran and using that throughout her playing, other times layering multi-part vocal harmonies, and even laying down a whistling echo loop at one point. Her songs were wistful, daydreamy, and immediately accessible. Adams has a deliciously silly way of playing with language, such as in her song Flapjack Devilfish: "Isn't it sweet to retreat to a waterworld, isn't it fine to unwind...Bottom feeders closing in, and the flapjack devilfish flies again..." She had another song where the chorus consisted of a varying play on the words 'Paraguay,' 'paramour,' and 'paradise.' Adams is a bit of a raconteur (raconteuse?), joking with the audience and painting verbal scenes in between songs. While her songs are very original, I heard whispers of some of the very best things I love about the softer side of Liz Phair.

Grey Anne was very original and unpretentious, singing, playing guitar, bodhran, ukulele, and accordion, and I love multi-threat musicians. I would have enjoyed a bit more variety in pacing i.e., interspersing the livelier songs more evenly throughout the set, but that's really being nitpicky. I loved her show. Per Se doesn't have a CD yet, but I've already downloaded all of the mp3s available at her website. I especially enjoy The Liking and Flapjack Devilfish. This musician warmly, defiantly wears a childish heart on the ragged edge of her sleeve, and it was great fun to behold.

The next act, Sophe Lux, couldn't have been more different in style and temperament from Per Se, and yet I did notice some commonalities. (More about the subtle string of similarities I noticed in all three acts later.) Fronted by a trio of gorgeous women dressed variously like a naughty nurse (or maybe a 1950's airline stewardess), a feathered masquerade baller, and something that was later described as a spirit from the "Scandinavian forest primeval," Sophe Lux was very much about the spectacle. The bearded drummer sported a viking hat that would do Wagner's Brunhilde proud, and the bass player was some sort of disco dufus.

And that's not to say they didn't shine musically. They had some very catchy tunes, especially Target Market and Marie Antoinette Robot. Some of the tunes were a tad self-important, but maybe that's part of their whole mise-en-scene. They had some great sounding four and five part vocal harmonies, and a set list that displayed a wide variety of styles and themes, from vaguely Pink Floydian spoken word (a la 'how can you have any puddin' if you don't eat your meat?' ) to very pensive numbers with eerie sonic effects, such as the viola being played high up on the bridge for a whiskery, scratchy tonality. Lead songstress Gwynneth Haynes (Mercury Lux) delivered stirring and impassioned vocals, and the entire group displayed solid musicianship, with people switching instruments throughout the set. They even tried to get the audience to participate (although expecting a room full of white hipsters to consistently and accurately clap on the 'and' of 2 and 4 was a bit much to ask....sorry, there I go again). There were a number of problems with the balance throughout the show. Apparently the sound man was filling in at the last minute, but as the set went on some of the problems were corrected with help from Mercury.

They've got two CDs, including their brand new one Waking Mystics that has received rave reviews from Spin Magazine among others. Their Myspace page (link above) has individual tracks available for download at a buck a pop, as well as a cryptic, space-aged manifesto that sheds some light on their aesthetic. For those who want the spectacle back in their pop music, Sophe Lux is a great group, and would need to be seen live to appreciate the full experience.

Finally Rachel Taylor Brown took the stage, along with her band. I liked the way the first song started so that you didn't really realize it had started, sort of a bunch of found sounds overlapping one over the other: telephones ringing, subway sounds, a busy street, etc, and then the music comes in slowly out of nowhere. I plan on saying more about this group when I review their brand new CD Half Hours with the Lower Creatures. (Besides, I was a little bit loaded by the time they took the stage and I'm having a hard time reading my notes. That's the trouble with reviewing concerts in clubs...) A couple of things I would like to mention though: one is that her song Passion is fucking fabulous; it's melancholy, soulful, honest and deeply moving. It is replete with heavily cynical Judeo-Christian iconography (as were a number of other songs,) and is one example I can see of why she's getting so much press lately. I think big things are ahead for her. (Read an interview with her here at Bullz-Eye.) And that wasn't the only wonderful song I heard from this group.

Despite being completely dissimilar stylistically and even from a presentational aspect, there were a few underriding factors that linked these three acts. One was originality and approachability: there was nothing that was difficult to grasp or dreadful to listen to. But just because I heard a preponderance of catchy tunes didn't mean there was no depth; to the contrary, I was struck by how introspective and honest the music felt, albeit from radically different perspectives. Another thing that linked these disparate acts together as a good show was that there were a lot of musician's musicians there, and by that I mean artists who were skilled at multiple instruments, a talent which (since I possess it myself) I value highly in others, and it always bumps up a performance a notch or two in my view when I see this. From the dude with Rachel Brown who whaled away contentedly on an overturned garbage can and then delicately picked up a viola to the self-accompanied talent of Per Se, it's fun to see people with musicality solid enough to allow them to approach music in this way.

So the hipster nightmare I had feared never materialized; as prejudices tend to do, the roaches of my own preconception scattered once exposed to the warm firelight in the courtyard outside the restaurant. I had a lot of great conversations with interesting people, met members of a new band who have just moved to Portland from Boston (I hope they wrote down my blog name and will remind me what they're called since I forgot to write the name of their band down. Curse that delicious alcohol!) and had a great time in general. My first time at the Doug Fir, but definitely not my last.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My first article up at Primer Magazine

Primer Magazine, a brand-new online magazine that covers a wide variety of topics, ran my first (of hopefully many) articles, entitled "How to Talk about Classical Music." I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it, either here or in the comments section at Primer.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sasquatch Part 3: The Final Inebriation

Monday, the last day of Sasquatch Music Fest, dawned bright and clear like Sunday did, the sun rolling me out of my bed before I was ready yet again. Sunday night had been rough; I really thought I was going to hurl that night but managed to pass out without doing so. I felt much better Monday morning, especially after the Tequila Sunrise that we shared with our Idahoan friends. They complemented us on our traveling bar, saying it was the most extensive they had ever seen at any fest (and believe me, Nate is a fester extraordinaire.) I wasn't sure whether to be proud of that or vaguely ashamed...I can't help it if I've got great taste in the matter of spirituous beverages...

Hanging out again with our neighbors in the morning was sort of a bittersweet affair; I develop a childlike, infatuous friendship quickly at events like this, and it's always sad to know that these cool people I've only known for a few days will soon be heading their way and we ours. I often find myself wondering what their lives are like: where do they work, what are their hangouts, who do they know. It's like you become a small part of someone's life for that short period of time, and perhaps the brevity of the event allows everyone to drop their guard a bit and let people in sooner and farther than you might normally do, precisely because of the fact that you know you'll probably never see them again. Ah well. We said our farewells, exchanged phone numbers and a vague offer to maybe see each other at surferboy-dreamboat Jack Johnson's concert at the Gorge in August (we've got our tickets for that already) but who knows if that will happen. C'est la vie, that's part of the fun of it all.

It was a spectacular early afternoon, and I managed to finally get sunburned despite my best efforts while hanging out with the Seattleites and bidding a wistful farewell to the gorgeous Italiana and her tall, perfect athletic American boyfriend whom I tried my hardest to pretend wasn't there...I lay down to take a snooze but never really fell asleep. I reflected on the strangeness of time passing. There in the cool shade of the canopy, with my sweetheart lying next to me and the breeze blowing over me like a whisper, the sounds of campers packing up and the rustling of the trees, it seemed as though time slowed, like an eternity was crammed into three quarters of an hour. Yet that strangely contrasted with how the entire weekend had seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, and here we were about to go into the show for the last day of the fest and just 5 minutes ago we were leaving the house bright and early on Saturday morning.

Built to Spill, one of my favorite groups of the last few years, was the reason we got tickets for Monday and one of the main reasons I decided to go to Sasquatch this year. The bill described them as a 'jam band,' a lable which sort of fit...maybe, but certainly not in the sense of Phish (a group I can do without) or the Grateful Dead (whom I love dearly...what a long wonderful trip it was with you Jerry!) Built to Spill has a very dreamy, heavily guitar-oriented sound in which the consonant melodies play a crucial role. They are based in Boise, and are one of the originators of what has become known loosely as the 'Northwest Sound,' although with the exception of Quasi I'm very familiar with all of the artists that Wikipedia lists as being purveyors of this sound, and there are far more differences than similarities between them.

The singing is very introspective and has a tendency to take a back seat to the music at times, which could be the reason they're called a 'jam band' sometimes (to me that word has a vaguely pejorative connotation to it.) At any rate, it was a good show, and they played my favorite song of theirs, Carry the Zero, although again, I think I'd rather see this group in a smaller venue on a Friday night somewhere than in the immensity of the gorge. I think the distortion and 'wall of sound' effect is diffused somewhat in the open air, and though this is the first time I've seen them, I have a feeling that close-in reverberation would have added a great deal to their live sound.

Next came Rodrigo y Gabriela, much hyped and another of the hottest acts at Sasquatch '08, a group that was the specific reason many people came to this show. I heard an interview with them on NPR a couple of years ago and had forgotten all about them until they took the stage. They're an interesting couple: they played in a thrash metal band in Mexico City before moving to Europe to check out the scene there. They currently reside in Dublin and have a huge following worldwide. They play acoustic guitars with an intensity that can only be described as virtuosic. My favorite moment of their performance was when they did an instrumental version of Master of Puppets, the title track and my second-favorite song from my favorite Metallica LP of all time. It was blisteringly fast, absolutely perfect, and missing none of the nuance of this song despite two acoustic guitars being a radically different medium than that presented by the ultimate speed metal group ever. If R.E.M. is my generation's Beatles, then Metallica is my generation's Led Zeppelin. (Very loose and perhaps crude analogies that no doubt many a fan of any of those groups could rightfully skewer me for, but hey, it's my blog.)

Don't want to offend anyone here, but I just want to ask this question: When did Gen Y get old enough to drink, and why didn't someone raise the drinking age when that happened? First off, Saturday night during The Cure, some dumb girl barfed into a big soda cup and left it sitting there, which someone proceeded to knock over just a few feet in front of us. We left for a different spot shortly after that...Then Monday afternoon, some 20-something casanova sitting right behind us was trying to put the moves on some girls and kept blathering on and on and on and talking out his ass (drunk off his ass too) until I finally said, loudly, 'let's go sit somewhere besides right in front of Chatty Cathy here.' We moved downhill, and then he came and sat right next to us and started talking to Kristin, I don't even remember about what but it was more stupid bullshit, until I finally had to ask him to leave after he refused to take the hint. I'm glad he did; I didn't want to have to put some 22 year old moron in a headlock that afternoon, but I was getting to that point. Then there was the guy who loudly bragged about how much "honey" he had deposited into the "Honey Buckets," (the portajohns.) That was another wonderful youth moment. I wonder if I was that guy 10 or 15 years ago. I don't think so. At least I hope not...

The last act I wanted to see was Flight of the Conchords, a musical comedy duo from New Zealand. They've exploded into popularity since the release on DVD of their tv series that features their own well-written, hopelessly goofy songs in the form of parodies of 80's pop videos. Although I did recognize Jermaine Clement from the Outback Steakhouse commercial, I didn't even know who they were until after we had bought the tickets, and my friend Jeanne came over to our house one night and said 'you've got to check these guys out, they're hilarious.' I watched their show and it killed me: they're very talented, masters of sublime Kiwi understatement, and it was a great show all around. So then I found out they were playing Sasquatch, to which I already had tickets, and I knew I had to see them live.

The last two bands on the main stage that night, the Mars Volta and the Flaming Lips, while they both have a number of good songs, K and I decided we could live without seeing them, so we headed back to the shuttle and then to the camp ground. Fortunately someone had left my fleece at the main office of Wild Horse, so I was able to get that before we left, although I really would've liked to have it during The Cure, as I might've stayed for their whole set. Oh well.

That's pretty much it; a long, boring night drive from the Gorge to Portland, and work the next day. This was a good music fest, with a wide variety of bands and many different styles represented. I'll definitely consider going back again, depending on who the groups are. And I'll be back at the Gorge in August for Jack Johnson, another guy I've wanted to see for a long time. That's all folks!


I'm kind of late in posting this, but I heard yet another wonderful performance by In Mulieribus on Sunday, June 8th. You can read that review on Northwest Reverb. I purchased their inaugural cd, Notre Dame de Grace and plan to review that here at Musical Oozings soon. Keep your eye open at Northwest Reverb this winter for a multi-media project that Anna Song and I are planning, which will present photos and audio clips of In Mulieribus performing live.

Also, James Bash is currently at the annual convention of the Music Critics Association of North America in Denver and is publishing regular updates and reviews also at NWR. Interesting reading there.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sasquatch Day 2: Sunday Bloody Sunday

I'm not sure what time it was I rolled out of the tent Sunday morning, but it wasn't by choice: despite the fact that we were (more or less) beneath our canopy, with the residue of the night's moisture and the beating sun, I felt like I was in a sauna and finally had to get out to breathe. A little bleary and slightly hung over (but not terribly so; long gone are the days of blackout drinking for me. That's one of the advantages of being an aging party monkey: I know my limits, and can get there without going over) I made the mandatory trip to Ye Olde Honey Bucket and cracked open the morning brewski and looked at the schedule for the day.

I would have loved to see Tim Meadows in the comedy tent, but knew there was no way I'd be able to be ready in time to get to the fest by 1. Plus, I wanted to chill at our campsite and enjoy some GOOD beer before heading out to the show. Our neighbors to the side of us who had pulled in while we were at the fest Friday night were cool; I do remember one guy's name (Nate) but the rest escape me; I do know they were from Coeur d'Alene. After I whipped out our eggless scramble (i forgot the eggs) consisting of tater tots, pre-cooked sausage links, salt, pepper, tobasco, and some delicious white whiskey cheddar that took forever to cook on our rinky dink stove, we Irished up the old morning coffee and shared with the Idahoans. They had a monster canopy so we sat over there with them for most of the morning, drinking stiff Bloody Marys and just drinking in the delicious weather; more of the high, dark clouds, pregnant with rain, and the same stiff breeze that kept an otherwise muggy day cool and bearable. The air was redolent with the heady scent of cannabis....yep, the summer rock fest was here.

It rained in the early afternoon, and our other neighbors, a rather larger troop from Seattle with no canopy, came over and joined us. There was a guy who had grown up in Detroit and had on a weathered blue t-shirt from the Pistons 1990 NBA Championship (the one where they beat the Blazers) so we reminisced, me talking about how much I hated those Pistons (and Bill Laimbeer in particular) and he took it with the good-nature of a victor acknowledging the grudging respect of a vanquished foe...there was also a voluptuous Italian girl who I immediately developed an infantile crush on (which I immediately confessed to Kristin, who laughed and could immediately see why). I'm sure I impressed her with my extensive knowledge of Italian (mostly consisting of che cazzo fai? ('what the fuck's up?') and voglio vomitare (' I want to barf.')

So most of the late morning--early afternoon was spent in easy conversation with any one of a dozen strangers camped around us. I listened to a lot of Bob Marley's 'From the Vaults,' those old ska and early rock-steady tunes are timeless and I can never get enough of them. We all hid from the rain, bonding with infectious, necessary rapidity in that way that only fests can bring out. Here today, gone tomorrow; I always get a twinge of ennui when leaving my newfound fest friends, to most likely never be seen again. Of course I didn't think to get any photos of these great folks. Oh well.

Kristin and her perfect teeth...

Music for the Day...

Sunday was rather an easier choice for me than Saturday; the Presidents of the United States of America were opening on the Sasquatch stage at 5. Although I'm not a huge fan the way some people are, they have come up with a number of light-hearted, catchy tunes over the years and since I was already here, why the hell not? The only band not playing on the main stage that I'd heard anything of was Rogue Wave, and since I knew them more by reputation than by actual music, we decided to just camp out in front of the main stage all evening. We had made arrangements to meet up with our Idahoan friends on the inside, but it was so noisy that when we called them it was impossible to understand anything, so we never met on the inside. The Presidents were great; how could you not sing along with "Millions of peaches, peaches for me. Millions of peaches, peaches for free." Goofy, fun, and certainly not a group to take themselves too seriously.

Michael Franti and Spearhead were next. I've seen him once before at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, where he's one of the headliners again this year. (This is one of the best reggae festivals you can go to anywhere in the world; I've only gone once but it's probably the best music fest I've ever been to.) He's a legend in the socially conscious hip hop community, and has been doing his thing in various incarnations for a long time now. The sometimes reggae-inspired hip hop and very danceable beats certainly speak to why he's been so popular over the years, but still, I was biding my time.

Death Cab for Cutie came next. I've got a bit of a conflicted relationship with this band. This was the third time I've seen them, and each time I'm less impressed than I was the last. There's no question they can write some good songs, sometimes poppy and catchy, sometimes hauntingly beautfiul, deeply lyrical and oh-so-self-consciously introspective (like any emo band worth its salt) but I'll just say this: Death Cab is not a band that needs to be seen live in order to appreciate their music. My favorite sardonic comment from the weekend was my own, when I said "I don't need to drive 250 miles to be bored by Death Cab for Cutie; I can stay home and do that for free." (And you can be sure I said it loud enough for all around me to appreciate.) I think this is a group that means a lot more to the generation born after mine as a general rule. (God I sound old...) Still, I'll hand it to them: The Sound of Settling and especially I will follow you into the Dark are really, really great songs. Yes, those are their two biggest radio tunes, and no, there aren't many more gold nuggets to be found by mining their LPs. At least not for me. They played right at sunset, and kudos to the schedulers, they were an appropriate warm-up act for the main reason I came to Sasquatch, and that was to see...

Sunset at Sasquatch. Note the two UFOs we captured in the lower portion of the photo.

The Cure

This is another group whose influence on what came after them, and whose worldwide renown and barrel of hit tunes simply cannot be overstated; this group coupled with R.E.M. are what made me say, immediately upon seeing the line-up for this year's festival: "My first Sasquatch will be 2008."

Like so many other things, I came to this band after their big radio smashes in the U.S. following the release of their seminal album Disintegration in 1989. By that point they'd been around for 13 years, since I was 4 years old, and in the years since I discovered them (following the smash hit Love Song that still receives ample radio play,) I've gone back and dug into all their works from the beginning forward. They have definitely been the most enduring of the bands from the post-punk explosion of the late 70s, and they preceded and helped found the Goth rock movement in the 80s, although they seemed to go their own way once they helped germinate the seeds of that genre. Frontman Robert Smith has been a somewhat stern taskmaster with his band, but no one can argue with the results. (My cool cousin made out with him at a seedy punk club in L.A. in the early 80s. This the same cousin who hung out with rock god Perry Farrell and got stoned with Dave Navarro and then made a trip to 7-11 with him to get Slurpees.) The Cure is often known for their gloomy dirges, long, depressing anthems to despair, apathy, self-loathing and loss, but for every song of this type there is another where Smith shouts at the top of his lungs about the glories of love, the heady ecstasy of lust, screaming in his strangely boyish voice and exploding in self-immolating odes to the simple joy of being alive. To focus completely on one type of song or the other is to gouge out one of your eyes when analyzing the music of this band.

Since there's no way I can list one, I'll list a handful of my favorite tunes of theirs: Hot Hot Hot!, Just Like Heaven (yes, that's everyone's favorite and there's a good reason for that), Disintegration, Lovecats, The Caterpillar, Boys Don't Cry, Plainsong, 13th, To Wish Impossible Things (the list goes on and on and on). Invariably there's always a whole horde of people who lambaste all the music that comes after a band's first mainstream commercial success (in this case Disintegration), and who imply that people who don't worship the oldest and/or most obscure and/or least accessible tunes are somehow shallow and johnny-come-latelys (you get this attitude often with image-conscious Cure fans) but to them I say: screw you, there's a reason that certain songs become popular (often, though not always, because they're good) and that doesn't mean a group sucks forever thereafter. In my opinion The Cure got better in the 90s, as Robert Smith matured and appreciation for alternative music grew. I heard some Gen Y chick behind me, explaining to a companion who had never heard of The Cure (I had to shake my head in wonder at that) that "they're, like, the first emo band ever." Kristin and I looked at each other and laughed, but actually from that girl's perspective that probably wasn't a bad way to explain it. She knew how to relate this music in a way that the person she was speaking to would understand.

The Cure rocked long, and they rocked hard. I was especially impressed with drummer Jason Cooper. He busted out solid lick after solid lick, and the percussion for this group's music is incredibly difficult, subtly shaded and nuanced and he nailed it all with machine-like precision. Robert Smith is only as tall as I am but he looked a lot taller (must have been platform shoes) and a lot heavier (hey, he's 49 now) but he looked disturbing and ghoulish as ever: his trademark smeared lipstick, pasty makeup, ratted hair and hollowed-out, blackened eyes were as unsettling as they were when he first took this look (and kept it unchanged ever since) almost 30 years ago. They all looked super cool, like retro demon-ghost rockers from some obscure 80s alt-rock video. They actually were still playing as we left; this night I'd left my fleece on the shuttle and there was no rain but the wind was freezing, it was after midnight, and I'd been drinking (moderately of course) for 12 hours at that point, so it was time to go home. The Cure rule! and I'm glad I finally got to see them.