Saturday was the day Typhoon Pabuk, apparently, began to wreak havoc with the 2013 Bend Roots Revival.
First came the creeping wall of dark clouds. Then the howling winds. And finally, the rain. The miserable, miserable rain.
There were two stages that bore the brunt of Saturday evening’s winds: Casey’s Corner, on the southwest corner of Pakit Liquidators’ property, and the Junkyard Stage on the southeast corner. The former was simply the festival’s first line of defense against the elements. The latter was located at the eastern end of a channel between a building and a fence that turned out to be a pretty effective wind tunnel.
My first stop Saturday was at the Junkyard Stage, where the Travis Ehrenstrom Band was bundled up and playing some easygoing roots-pop jams. Ehrenstrom’s album “Remain A Mystery” is one of the better local releases of 2013, and he played a handful of tunes from it before doing a couple of covers. First up was “Give Us Light,” a song by local band The Mostest and, I would imagine, a tribute to Revival founder (and Mostest main man) Mark Ransom. Ehrenstrom’s band just happened to include not only Ransom on guitar, but Mostest members Pat Pearsall on bass and Kaleb Kelleher on drums. “I’ve never played this song before,” Ehrenstrom said, “but these three guys have played it a lot.”
The other cover was the Bob Dylan / The Band classic “I Shall Be Released,” which never gets old no matter how many times you hear it. Here … hear it again.
Throughout the night on Friday, the Bend Roots Revival — now coming to you from Pakit Liquidators on Bend’s east side — had the look of a festival still working some things out.
Hastily made performance schedules were copied from The Bulletin, blown up huge and duct-taped in various places. Artists convened stage-side powwows to try to figure out how to overcome power-supply issues. Soundmen fiddled with lights mid-set in an attempt to illuminate a stage that was otherwise so dark you couldn’t see who was playing.
Folks gather around a fire pit / sculpture at Bend Roots Revival. All photos and videos by Ben.
The big stuff — clearing out Pakit’s considerable mess — got done ahead of time. So did most of the little stuff. But … y’know … things come up. Especially in a place like this.
And with weather like this.
Whatever. They made it.
Still, someone has to be ready to plug in and play first. In the case of Roots ’13, that was Problem Stick on the BIGS Stage and Gotama at Casey’s Corner.
(All photos by The Bulletin’s Joe Kline. More of his excellent shots ran in today’s edition of GO! Magazine in The Bulletin. See them here.)
Note to self: Don’t wait almost a full week before writing a review of one of the biggest indoor shows in Bend this year.
Reason 1: Readers don’t want to wait that long. It’s 2012, bro. Internet.
Reason 2: I can’t really remember the more nuanced thoughts I had in the moment about Friday night’s Macklemore & Ryan Lewis show at Midtown Ballroom in Bend.
Here’s what I do remember: Passion. Effort. Sweat. The skyrocketing popularity of the Seattle-based rapper Macklemore — aka Ben Haggerty — has been, as I wrote in my story on him, “fueled by passion: the passion that permeates his songs, and the passion of the people who adore his music.”
Add to that Haggerty’s passionate live performance and you have a pretty clear idea of what’s pushing this guy beyond his grass roots into major mainstream success. He seems to put everything he has into his shows, which is a striking thing in the frequently ho-hum world of live hip-hop. I’ve seen lots of rap shows over the past several years, and too often, they end with a phoned-in 45-minute set by a headliner acting like they can’t wait to get back on the bus.
Friday’s show couldn’t have been any further from that. For 90 minutes, Haggerty bounded around the stage, throwing his whole body into his verses and working the sold-out crowd — 1,200 people, the vast majority under the legal drinking age — into a lather. With Lewis stuck mostly behind the decks and offering the occasional shout, Macklemore was, in essence, his own hype man.
That’s not to say he was alone under the lights. Besides Lewis, there was a female cello player and male violin and trumpet players on stage all night, plus four guest vocalists who joined the party throughout the set. It was a pretty interesting thing to see: The presence of the instrumentalists was an immediate indication that this was not your typical hip-hop show, while the parade of singers (not to mention the sweet Macklemore-branded tour bus parked on Hill Street) made me wonder just who’s paying all these folks to cruise around the country. (Dude is famously doing this without record-label money.)
Macklemore's trumpet player, Owuor Arunga.
Anyway, on to the music: After a dramatic entrance and the loudest crowd-scream I can remember in the Midtown, the set started off a little slow, I thought. The soundman seemed to still be dialing things in during “Ten Thousand Hours,” while “Crew Cuts” and “Life is Cinema” were both a bit muddy and lacking in oomph. (Haggerty did compliment our town’s collective facial hair at this point, however. As a bearded Bendite, this scored points with me.)
Then, the whole tenor of the night changed when Haggerty borrowed what looked like a vintage fur coat (may not have been vintage, may not have been fur) from a fan and the beat and bass for “Thrift Shop” buzzed through the Midtown, laying the foundation for one of the night’s highlights. People went nuts. Just nuts. Here, through the magic of video, you can watch for yourself. Sorry about the sound quality, but … yeah, the bass was loud:
From there, Haggerty and his crew ran through a bunch of faves: “My Oh My,” a sentimental tribute to the late Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus; “Otherside,” a cautionary tale about drug use; “Same Love,” the touching pro-marriage equality anthem that elicited a huge, approving roar and sing-along from the audience. The manic house-music beat of “Can’t Hold Us” was another high point; the song’s bass hit me in the chest like a medicine ball, traveled down through my toes to the floor, and, I assume, on to the center of the earth. It was devastatingly thunderous.
Along the way, two video screens flanked the stage and showed footage of bears, martial arts, Mariners highlights and lyrics. About halfway through his main set, Haggerty soaked his own Macklemore-branded tank top with sweat, before switching into a Seattle Supersonics jersey for “The Town,” an ode to Seattle and its hip-hop scene. He ended the main set with “Wings,” a commentary on consumerism built around adolescent obsession with fancy sneakers, and “Gold,” a poppy, celebratory tune about being on top of the world.
After a very short break, the group returned for a three-song encore — “Castle,” “And We Danced” and “Irish Celebration” — that didn’t live up to the energy of the main set, in my opinion. But the show came to a serendipitously appropriate ending when the light show shorted out during the encore’s second song and Haggerty performed most of “Irish Celebration” with the house lights on, hazily illuminating both the crowd and the stage.
That was not planned. I know, because I watched the guy controlling the lights completely lose his mind when he realized he’d lost his show during the night’s climax. But in a way, it was perfect: Right now, the music career of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis is reaching new heights every day, thanks in large part to the devotion and support they receive from their fiercely loyal fans. The makeshift light situation during “Irish Celebration” gave the final song of the night a sort of communal feeling, as if these fans had been purposely drawn into the show as a way of acknowledging their role in this story, and/or to reflect the humble, man-of-the-people persona of their pale leader.
“I f–king love you guys,” Haggerty said, before raising his hands to the sky and slinking off stage, on to the next sold-out show in the next town.
(I was going to write this for today’s GO! Magazine, but we ran out of room. So here you go. Photos by me.)
I feel a little funny about even putting the word “review” in the title of this post. Because, frankly … I don’t have that much to say about folk-pop band Poor Moon‘s show Sunday at Les Schwab Amphitheater.
The band wasn’t amazing, but pleasant enough. Although I suppose if you consider the context of their performance, they were pretty much perfect.
You see, for me, the Schwab’s Summer Sunday Concerts are about the music. But that’s because I’m an abnormally passionate music nerd who will pounce at just about any chance I have to go see a band play, especially one good enough to score a deal with the unimpeachable Subpop Records label, and that shares two of its members with one of my favorite bands, Fleet Foxes. And especially when it’s free and it’s outside and the weather is wonderful and I can take my wife and kid, and, and, and …
One of the best things about my job is being surprised by an artist and/or a show.
And by that measure alone, Memorial Day weekend at Bend’s Les Schwab Amphitheater was a success. Two of the three nights of concerts — Tenacious D and The Sights on Saturday, and Beck and Metric on Sunday — were, to me, somewhere in the neighborhood of shockingly good. The third — The Shins, The Head and The Heart and Blind Pilot on Friday — was exactly what I expected it to be.
So, this is a week old, but cut me some slack, buddy.
The Chicago-based band Outer Minds (Facebook / Bandcamp) slipped into The Horned Hand last Thursday and played a really terrific set of psychedelic garage-pop that, it turns out, was timed just right for someone to catch it all and then hurry across downtown in plenty of time to see most of Galactic’s set at the Domino Room. If they wanted to, of course. (I know at least one person who did it, is what I’m saying.)
Anyway, Outer Minds has a real knack for super-catchy songs that sound shipped in straight from the 1960s, fueled by flower power and bubbling over with fuzzy, lo-fi charm. My personal favorite part of their sound, though, were the oooohs and aaaahs and backing vocals in general provided by Mary McKane and Gina Lira, two indispensable ladies who flanked frontman Zach Medearis.
Also worth noting: The sounds McKane made with her green and white 1967 Farfisa organ, a beautiful little instrument that did much of the heavy lifting when it came to giving Outer Minds their throwback sound. (Check out this old Farfisa ad. They knew what was up.) McKane’s warm, melodic work on the keys turned what was a perfectly solid garage-rock band into a very convincing, spirited slice of the original psychedelic era.
Watching Danny Barnes play the banjo is a sweet, sublime experience. The alt-country veteran — a former Bad Liver and current Dave Matthews associate — possesses an endearing blend of virtuosic skill and experimental eccentricity that, when combined with his soft-spoken style and goofy, ever-present grin, makes for a very mellow but mind-bending kind of show.
Last Thursday at Maverick’s Country Bar and Grill in Bend, Barnes bounced back and forth between his twangy, low-key tunes and extended banjo jams, which he often introduced by singing “let the banjer play,” as if it was its own entity. And in a way, it was. When Barnes would retreat into a long instrumental stretch, he’d back away from the mic, his eyelids would lower, and that grin would creep across his face, as if he was checking out of reality and letting his fingers cast a spell.
The magic wasn’t all in Barnes’ fingers, though. It also came from a small table covered with electrical cords and effects pedals that the man treated like his own personal grown-up toy box. Barnes made heavy use of reverb and delay effects, as well as spacey, ambient noises, and he used some sort of pedal that lowered the pitch of his strings, allowing him to play bass lines, which he would record and then play back on a loop. And he seemed to delight in ending his songs by pushing a button that sent all the recorded loops into reverse (like this) for no apparent reason other than just for fun. Which is a better reason than any other, I guess.
Barnes did several songs from his outstanding 2009 album “Pizza Box,” including the lolling title track, the bumpy clatter of “Miss Misty Swan” (complete with some of the most tolerable scat singing I’ve ever heard), and the cheeky love song “TSA.” The prettiest and best song of the night was also from “Pizza Box,” called “Overdue.” Even in a venue with pool tables across the way and a bar ringed with people, it was one of those show-stopping moments where it seems like everything outside the stage lights fades away.
Barnes also played a few songs from his upcoming album “Rocket,” which he pulled out of the suitcase at the back of the stage to offer to the crowd. (The suitcase had a sweater draped across it, as if Barnes rolled into town and headed straight to Maverick’s, bringing inside everything he had with him.) He also declared himself a “tape freak” and showed off some cassettes he had available for sale, hand-made at his kitchen table. “I found some sparkly paper at the copy shop,” Barnes said, pointing at the cover.
And therein lies the considerable charm of Danny Barnes: Mega-talent, DIY enthusiast, smart businessman, oddball experimentalist, and above all, creator of beautiful music. And now, provider of the most understated great show of 2011 in Central Oregon.
Here are a few videos of the night that showcase all the twangy, pretty and jammy sides that make Danny Barnes so interesting:
(Thanks to a busy schedule, it’s been a month since MusicfestNW took over Portland and I still haven’t published daily recaps of my experience. My bad. Still, I think seeing 20 of the coolest bands going over three days is worth documenting, even belatedly. So below, you’ll find Day 3. Day 1 is here and Day 2 is here. And if you’d like to read my overview of the festival’s highlights that ran in print, click here.)
One of the great things about events like Portland’s MusicfestNW is the shoulder-to-shoulder variety. You can see a funk legend and then a futuristic electro-pop duo and then a throwback ’90s indie rock band like I did on Day 1 of this year’s festival. Or you can see a local pop-rock band followed by a white-hot hip-hop artist followed by a quiet, heart-wringing female singer-songwriter like I did on Day 2. (And that’s without venturing out to the venues that focused on electronic, metal, jazz and country!)
Or you can do what I did on Saturday night of MusicfestNW 2011 and see seven bands that all fall somewhere on the post/punk/psych/rock/metal/drone spectrum.
The part of me that digs that particular musical spectrum has been growing over the past few years; after a lifetime of pop-rock, twang and hip-hop, I have found myself increasingly attracted to the sludgy, spacey, squealy sounds of good ol’ psychedelic rock bands. So I was excited for Saturday’s lineup.
An oasis of calm in the madness of MusicfestNW.
That excitement was tempered, perhaps, by two things. 1) I was tired. By Saturday afternoon, I’d grown cranky and indecisive; I skipped a bunch of sweet day parties with free music and food in favor of shopping for records and sitting, quietly, in a Big Town Hero with a Diet Coke and an alt-weekly in an effort to chill. I am not proud. And 2) That night’s headliner at the Doug Fir, the fine British pop band The Vaccines, canceled just days before the festival because of health issues. There are a lot of great acts at MusicfestNW, but that cancellation took out one of the bands I was most excited to see.
Anyway, Saturday began at 4 p.m. at Pioneer Courthouse Square, “Portland’s living room,” as it’s known, in the middle of downtown. There, one of my favorite artists ever — Matthew Cooper, aka Eluvium — had the unenviable task of playing ambient music for a mid-afternoon crowd on what might have been the hottest day of the year. I loved every second of it, but I can certainly understand how passers-by (and even many folks who showed up early to get a good spot for the evening’s headliner, Explosions in the Sky) might’ve thought, “What the hell is this noise?” Well, that noise is some of the most mind-bendingly beautiful music being made these days by one of the most inventive musicians of the past decade. Here’s a long sample; please note that all I did for most of the time was hang the camera from my wrist while filming. Whatever you see here was the intent.
(Thanks to a busy schedule, it’s been a month since MusicfestNW took over Portland and I still haven’t published daily recaps of my experience. My bad. Still, I think seeing 20 of the coolest bands going over three days is worth documenting, even belatedly. So below, you’ll find Day 2; find Day 1 here and be sure to look for Day 3 on Monday. And if you’d like to read my overview of the festival’s highlights that ran in print, click here.)
When you attend a large music festival like Portland’s multi-venue, multi-genre MusicfestNW, you have to know going in that such events cost money, and therefore they’ll be pursuing sponsors, and so you’re likely to be bombarded with corporate promotions and logos when all you’re trying to do is go see some rock shows. It’s just the way it is.
Still, it felt a little funny to me to be sitting and waiting for Ted Leo — one of the most staunchly independent punk-rock figures of the past two decades — inside a Dr. Martens store, surrounded by former- and faux-punk fashion staples and eating free barbecue-flavored popchips and drinking free berry-flavored vitaminwater, both grabbed from giant bins full of product meant to get me hooked on popchips and vitaminwater. (Did those two companies lose their shift key and space bar or what?)
When he took the stage in front of a packed house, Leo announced that he was playing the show because Dr. Martens revived its vegan line of boots, which at least made the whole thing make a little more sense. He then launched into a solo set that included pretty much all my favorite Ted Leo tunes: “Me and Mia” and “The Sword In the Stone” and “Under the Hedge” and “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?” Here’s that last one: