“We’re The JZ Band,” said David Z after his band’s first song at the Bend Roots Revival, “and it’s daylight.”
It was daylight. That’s one of the funny things about an outdoor, all-day music festival; bands that are used to playing in dark, cramped, stale-air bars are suddenly exposed to the sun, the wide open sky and fresh air.
In Bend, it’s a nice place to be. It could’ve been chilly this weekend — it’s late September in the High Desert, after all — but instead the weather has been absolutely perfect for this arsty cornucopia.
I was slow moving Saturday morning and didn’t get down to the Revival until mid-afternoon, when The JZ Band was onstage at the Victorian Cafe. It’s a project of Joe Leonardi and David Z, two Sisters-based musicians who probably have experience equivalent to a PhD in rock ‘n’ roll. They ably led their band — their four-part-vocals band! — through a slew of reliable rock numbers, including some bluesy stuff, some twangy stuff, and Leonardi’s pleasantly hummable pop song, “What I’m Thinking.”
After a half-hour or so of JZ action, I suddenly remembered there was other music happening across Galveston Avenue, so I ducked into Parrilla Grill to check out Raise The Vibe, a newish jazz trio fronted by Duncan McNeill on the saxophone. McNeill is a focused, go-getter kind of guy, a Scottish physicist-turned-computer programmer who took a break from work to concentrate on his music. He’s also a ball of energy, lurching back and forth to the sound of his rhythm section as he plays. And the rhythm section is solid; Rob Sidle’s bass lines have some serious funk pop, and Johnny D drives the pace from behind his electronic drum kit.
At this point, I had to walk over to some friends’ house to feed their cats, but before I did that, I sneaked back to the Vic to catch a few minutes of Laurel Brauns and The Sweet Harlots, who were running a contest: They play a song, and the first person to tell them who wrote it gets a free CD. The song was “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, and some lucky woman scrawled the band’s name on a scrap of paper and dropped it in front of Brauns, who said it’s one of her favorite songs of all time. It’s one of mine, too.
Also, the Harlots’ current lineup includes Amy Mitchell on cello and Molly Grove on mandolin, and both add a lot to Brauns’ gothic indie-folk songs, especially that cello. Cello always grounds a song, I say.
After a short break from the festival to hang out with some cats and watch 15 minutes of football on a TV that doesn’t belong to me, I had to hurry back down to Parrilla so as not to miss Jenna Lindbo, a folk singer-songwriter formerly of Bend but now living in Asheville, N.C. Lindbo is a quiet, unassuming performer, and her socially conscious tune “Spectacles” was powerfully delivered. But she followed that up with a burrito shack full of kids and moms singing along to “The Fox,” a traditional ballad commonly used in schools. (In Bend, Lindbo taught at the Cascades Academy of Central Oregon.) She looked genuinely surprised when the room erupted in song. I thought it was one of the best moments of the festival.
After a quick stop at the Vic’s firepit stage for some of Joanna Lee’s smoky, commitment-phobic pop songs, it was time for Ruins of Ooah. At this point, my friends had joined me at the festival and they asked what the Ruins are all about. “It’s basically live dance music,” I told them, “made with drums, harmonica and didgeridoo.” They looked at me like I had just said “live dance music made with drums, harmonica and didgeridoo.” Which I had.
I’d not yet seen the Ruins, but had spent plenty of time on their MySpace, and I’m here to tell you: This really works. It’s odd, but it works. It’s trance music made by live musicians, it’s totally compelling and unique, and it’s more fun to watch than a DJ spinning breakbeats, y’know? If nothing else, you can marvel at the Tyler Spencer’s collection of drop-dead gorgeous didgeridoos, which he makes himself.
By about halfway through the Ruins’ set, dusk was really starting to drop in, and Dusk + Ruins of Ooah = Dance Floor Curiosity. And you follow that with local hip-hop poet Mosley Wotta, and you get Dark + MoWo = Dance Floor Mayhem. The dancers stormed the space in front of the stage, and Mr. Mosley joined them for a bit, until a girl’s pants started falling off. And then another girl fell over a speaker. And then it was time for me to get out of there.
MoWo was solid as usual, and funny when goofing with the crowd in between songs, and then he morphed into MoWo + Empty Space Orchestra (lots of math here). Bend’s rising-star instrumental space-rock quartet took the stage, backed the rapper on a couple of his tunes — “Roll On, Bye” is always a treat, and the ladies love it — and then Empty Space took over for the rest of the evening.
I know I’ve gushed about ESO a lot on this blog, but the fact is, they’re really, really, really good at what they do, which is build epic, bruising rock jams that sound like they were shipped overnight from Jupiter. I’ve seen the band four times in the past year now, and I keep wondering if at some point it’ll lose a little luster for me. So far, it hasn’t.
While other bands come and go, or they lose their drummer, or they get rid of their vocalist, or whatever, ESO is fortunate in that they’ve found a lineup with four talented musicians who do their jobs very well. Together, they’re a living, breathing beast of a band that seems like it’s on the verge of something great. I’m convinced that if the right person heard ESO’s live show, they could be touring nationally sooner rather than later. They’re that good. (Note to the band: You’ve got to get that sound on tape and get it out to people yesterday!)
If Empty Space is a trip through a mind-bending galaxy, then a trip over to Parrilla to close out the night with longtime local guitarist Richard Taelour was like dropping on to another planet. Seriously. The two scenes couldn’t have been more different. ESO was playing outside under the lights to a packed parking lot of people. Taelour was inside, riffing and goofing on a sweet guitar to an equally enthralled group of about 10 folks.
Taelour made funny faces and let his hands fly up and down the fret board in a sort of one-man pop-music review. “Now for a little Gershwin,” he said, before stopping and saying, “No, I don’t know that one.” He started playing the easily recognizable “Mr. Sandman” and sang: “Mr. Sandman … bring me some sand!” It made me laugh. Hard.
Taelour was fun in his own way, and a totally odd capper to a day full of great local music. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to hustle back to Parrilla. There’s music all day again today, and I’m late to see The Autonomics.