It’s rare that I’ll drive up to Portland to see a concert. And I don’t think I’ve ever done so by myself.
But that’s exactly what I did Tuesday night to see Black Moth Super Rainbow and School of Seven Bells at Holocene in southeast Portland.
About two years ago, out of nowhere, Black Moth quickly became one of my favorite bands. I don’t remember why, exactly, but I bought their 2007 album “Dandelion Gum” and was immediately taken with the band’s warped pop music, filtered through vintage fuzz, never-ending vocal effects, and a decidedly warm, analog aesthetic.
I listened to that record non-stop for much of 2007, bought the band’s entire catalog post-haste, and picked up last year’s fine solo album by Black Moth main man Tobacco. All of them, generally have the same feel: Lying in a field of cotton candy, staring at a psychedelic, gold-flecked sky, breathing in stardust and breathing out earthy bubblegum-pop that somehow sounds both ancient and futuristic at the same time.
Add the fact that Black Moth would be joined on this bill by School of Seven Bells — an intriguing trio made up of former members of Secret Machines and On! Air! Library! — and I knew I had to make the trek.
It was a terrific show, but in a way I didn’t expect.
My timing was impeccable. I wandered into Holocene at about 10:30 p.m., just as School of Seven Bells — hereafter known as SVIIB — took the stage. Within seconds they launched into a set of near-perfect dreampop that lasted almost an hour.
I didn’t know much about this band, other than hearing a track or two online. But I was really impressed. Their symmetrical stage show has guitarist Benjamin Curtis flanked by twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, who sing some of the prettiest shoegazer siren songs I’ve heard in a while.
There’s no drummer in SVIIB; the trio uses thudding drum machines to keep the beat as it drapes sheet after sheet of electric guitar across the room. As with any neo-shoegaze group, there’s plenty of My Bloody Valentine influence here, though SVIIB isn’t quite as loud/powerful/awesome as MBV (of course) and seems a little more intent on making something worth dancing to.
The gal right in front of me got that. She danced like crazy. I didn’t. I chose to stand and let the droning guitar and vocals wash over me in a state of peaceful pop bliss.
When SVIIB announced their final song, I was a little disappointed. I didn’t want it to end. And that’s saying something since my primary draw had yet to play.
Things don’t always work out quite how you expect, though. Black Moth performed, and they were very good. They faithfully recreated many of the songs from their new album, “Eating Us,” as well as a few cuts from past records. They played them crisply and cleanly, with everything in place.
Live, the band wheezed and gurgled just as they do on their recordings. In both places, the unrelenting catchiness of Black Moth’s songs shines through the robotic sheen.
What Black Moth doesn’t do, however, is banter. I knew this going in. The band had no traditional microphones set up. The only mic on stage was the tiny, pink mic Tobacco used that was attached to what looked like a suitcase full of cords and knobs and buttons and flashing lights.
That suitcase thingy sat on the floor, and so did Tobacco, behind a large speaker. He never moved. Halfway through the set, a lady behind me asked her friend, “Who’s singing?” I was literally standing five feet from the guy singing, which means she was seven feet from him. That’s how low-key he was.
Which was fine. Black Moth tried to make up for it with trippy video as a backdrop, and a drummer in a ninja mask, and a guy who came out wearing some sort of Yeti costume and a bearded-Asian-guy mask and passed out cupcakes. He hung out for the rest of the set, pumping his fist and crowd-surfing.
All of that, however, couldn’t change the fact that seeing Black Moth live is a lot like listening to Black Moth in your home. And that means you get to hear a whole bunch of awesome songs, but you don’t necessarily get all the other stuff that often makes live music so fun. And by the end of the night, I had moved back to stand near the door so I could bolt as soon as it was over. That’s never a good sign.
A side note: Dear bands, I know that you’re probably tired of watching people fiddle with their phones while you’re playing your music. I totally get that. I’d be tired of it, too. But you should know that, while many people are probably texting with friends, not everyone is. Some of us may be taking notes on the show for a review that we’re going to write on our newspaper’s music blog. At least that’s what I’m doing. I take notes for these things on my phone.
But guess what? Even if that’s not what I’m doing — even if I’m texting — it does not give you the right to touch our phones. If you don’t want people on their phones during your set, then you need to put a sign outside that says “Leave your phone in the car.” Otherwise, you’re going to see people on their phones, no matter how much that may bug you.
So to the Bearded Asian Yeti Guy: I was taking notes to write something about your friends’ band. I wasn’t texting. But no matter what I was doing, you should not have grabbed my phone. Keep that in mind at future shows, OK? Because you didn’t exactly ruin the Black Moth set for me, but you definitely dampened my enthusiasm for it.
Whether Bearded Asian Yeti Guy grabbed my phone or not, however, is immaterial to the point here: Black Moth Super Rainbow played a solid show that I enjoyed, but I don’t know that I’ll be driving three hours to see them again. And School of Seven Bells was excellent, upstaging the headliner. That’s not a result I expected.