As concerts go, indie pop isn’t necessarily known for its face-melting, rock-your-mother’s-grave shows. But last night, Monday, Aug. 8, WOW Hall could very well have experienced a Shins-induced maple tree cave-in from the newly (re)united indie brainchild.
The show, which sold out in less than 48 hours (complete with what appeared to be a media blackout) marked the first time in nearly three years that band leader James Mercer put out a call to artists to play his melodic, bubbly and tightly structured rock.
The Shins, with a completely new line-up on stage, save Mercer, featured a selection of extraordinary talent from the current pool of Northwest musicians. How they would all come together as a coherent whole was the question on everyone’s minds. Full of cool dads, plaid-donning yuppies, gauged hipsters, and the occasional (out-of-place?) hippy, the WOW Hall crowd watched Mercer and co. wave briefly, then dive headlong into the evocative opening words of “Caring is Creepy,” and there was no doubt the band made a congealed whole.
Often an afterthought along the I-5 corridor, WOW Hall and the McDonald Theatre can sometimes draw bigger artists on their North American tours, though lately these venues have found it more difficult to eke out such artists’ best performances. In their Eugene debut, The Shins defied any apprehension fans may have had (it also didn’t hurt that this show kicked off the band’s summer tour). Although the set list was rather tame — mostly keeping to very familiar territory with the likes of “New Slang,” “Kissing the Lipless,” “Saint Simon,” etc — Mercer did divulge a few new licks. The fresher tracks had a similar feel to Wincing the Night Away and seemed more geared towards the low-tone, ambient sounds of songs like “Black Wave” and “Spilt Needles,” with (of course) a heavy dose of Mercer vocals.
It would have been enticing to see singer-songwriter (also sound engineer and producer) Richard Swift , relegated behind a synth, more involved in the performance. Presumably his presence will be felt more in the studio. Portland-based guitarist Jessica Dobson added an improvisational element that loosened the overall tone of Mercer’s conventional songwriting, while her female vocal dynamic paired aptly with the Shins’ poppy sensibilities.
The Shins played a very technically sound show, with few signs of their short two weeks’ worth of rehearsal time. — Andy Hitz
— FAN PHOTO BY ETHAN OUIMET
Wugazi Goes Viral
In the annals of time, great events have been made by visionaries who found themselves able to look at two seemingly disparate objects and imagine them as one, like the first guy to combine peanut butter and chocolate, or the inventor of the snuggie. Musically, the concept of fusion (in the broad sense of the word) has had its share of mixed results, some brilliant (a la Fishbone), some not (see Bizkit, Limp). More recent history has given us the mash-up, a sort of ADD version of the remix that made its first real impact on the cultural consciousness when a then unknown Danger Mouse released his Jay-Z/Beatles hybrid known as The Grey Album back in 2004. A slew of less skilled imitators followed and the mash-up quickly became the modern equivalent of the ‘80s hair metal ballad – played out and on life support.
Enter Wugazi and “13 Chambers” the latest madcap mash-up sensation (quickly approaching one million downloads since its July 13 release) that manages to succeed brilliantly where its predecessors either failed or fell short.
Wugazi (Fu-Tang would also have been acceptable) is the brain child of musicians Cecil Otter and Swiss Andy, a couple of white skateboarding hip hop heads from the Midwest. A year in the making, Otter and Andy meticulously combed through both groups respective catalogues (including solo projects and the larger Wu-Tang family) to create something novel without succumbing to novelty.
Wu-Tang and Fugazi have always been relative outliers in their relative genres, two groups with seemingly invincible reputations, existing largely on their own plane and succeeding largely on their own terms. The dark and grimy underworld of the Wu-Tang Clan blends seamlessly over gritty DC guitars and paranoid rants by Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto. Both of these groups possess an uncanny clarity of vision and focus, along with that transcendent gift that’s commonly described as catching lightning in a bottle. Bringing them together in such a way is akin to capturing a couple of supernovas and corralling them into the same cosmic neighborhood, which is exactly why Wugazi works so well. The problem with The Grey Album is that it was too cute, too “Piggies” meets “Big Pimpin.” Instead of the parts distracting from the whole, Wugazi brings it all together like Voltron – dangerous in his parts, unstoppable as a whole.
The great Afrika Bambaata was once asked what kind of DJ he was. His response was to lambast the idea of being a single genre DJ, arguing that if you really break it down it’s all pretty much the same thing. Wugazi continues that great tradition of being an ambassador of music, diving into new sonic territories and showing the world that things aren’t so different after all. — Mark Sullivan
Eddie Vedder live at The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall 7.14.11
Some people use "cute" as a pejorative. I don't. So when I say that the new Ascetic Junkies video is the cutest goddamn thing EVER, what I mean is it's the cutest goddamn thing I've seen in some unspecified period of time. Just look at it! Look at the way the little animated Kali Giaritta goes all frowny and slightly evil when the song rocks out! Look at the way the music appears in squiggled lines! Look at the banjo player's fluffy white cloud of a beard! JUST LOOK AT IT!
Why Do Crows? from Ascetic Junkies on Vimeo.
If you were to click over to that Vimeo page, you'd find that the video was hand-drawn by Junkies bassist Cole Huiskamp, who sometimes has devil horns poking through his cap. In the video, I mean.
The Ascetic Junkies celebrate the release of their new CD, This Cage Has No Bottom, at 9:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 16, at Sam Bond's Garage (21+, $5). I wrote about the band back in January and found, when it came time to preview this week's show, that I basically wanted to say all the same things. It's all true. All of it. (But there'll still be a new preview in this Thursday's paper.)
Though the news was pretty obvious last Thursday, when a camera crew was in attendance at their swiftly arranged WOW Hall show, it’s now totally official: Eugene’s Adventure Galley has won MySpace’s Rock the Space 2 contest. More than 17,000 bands entered a song apiece in hopes of winning a contract with MySpace Records (and $10,000 in Fender gear). After a couple of rounds of voting, AG’s “Addict” came out on top.
A little more than a week after they got the news, four of AG’s six members strolled into Monroe Street Café looking awfully calm. As keyboard and synth player George Schultz tells it, the whole thing was “just kind of out of the blue.” He saw an ad for the contest and figured it couldn’t hurt to enter. A few months later, the call came: The band had been selected — “by a judging panel made up of industry professionals and MySpace Records executives,” say the contest rules — as a semifinalist. In the semi-finals, bands faced off in bracket-style voting. AG made it to the finals, along with five other bands from around the country. “Last Tuesday,” Schultz says, “I was obsessively checking my email to see if we won, and logged off, and logged back on five minutes later and got the email.”
Yelling and running around the room ensued. Not that you’d guess these guys do a lot of yelling and running around. Over the course of a 30-minute conversation, Schultz and drummer Brock Grenfell do most of the talking; vocalist David Mills — he of the impressive moustache — barely says a word but smiles faintly; guitarist Aaron Johnson, behind sunglasses and flaking streaks of yellow face paint, breaks in to tell the story of how he and Mills originally formed the band. Though none of the bandmembers are older than 21 — the “elusive” sixth member, Grenfell’s brother Forrest, is still in high school — they project an attitude of mellow confidence. Schultz is the gregarious one, the one who’ll tell all the stories; Grenfell reins him in when those stories get maybe a little too colorful for a young band that’s about to land in a much bigger spotlight.
The attention began with their Thursday night show at the WOW. Though the band couldn’t come out and say they’d won the contest until today’s official announcement, they could, Grenfell says, “hint very heavily” that there was a reason for the quickly scheduled show, which was filmed for a promotional video (earlier in the contest, the group shot a similar video atop the Lorax Manner). Next, Schultz says, “We’re going to be signing a contract, and so in the next nine months we’re going to start working on an album and probably have that released in the next year or so.”
The album will be the band’s full-length debut. Thus far, they’ve only released an EP, The Right Place to Be, eight songs of their energetic, danceable, synth-decorated brand of indie rock. Asked to put AG in a genre, Schultz says, “I think technically it would be post-punk.” “Addict” is thick with catchy melodies and half-shouted singalongs, all set to an insistent beat and embellished with a synth part that twines through the song, giving it an airy feel despite Mills’ sonorous tone. It’s a little like The Killers, a little like Franz Ferdinand, and entirely infectious.
Adventure Galley began, Johnson says, when he, Mills and two other musicians recorded three songs “and did nothing with them.” Without a drop of self-consciousness, Johnson says, “People thought it was the coolest stuff ever.” But the band, in that incarnation, played only two shows, both in Bend. That’s where they found Grenfell. Schultz, already a fan of those three songs, met the band at a UO college party about two years ago and joined soon after. A year ago, the band’s bassist left and was replaced with Jesse Suihkonen, who played his first show with the band on the Fourth of July last year. “I feel like everything has come together a lot better since he came in,” Schultz says.
Grenfell and Schultz are aware that signing with a label means they may have to give up a certain degree of control, but they’re optimistic about the people from MySpace Records being “artist-friendly.” Grenfell says, “As far as I understand it ... we mostly just get to pick what we want to do, and they just have to put their stamp of approval on it.” The grand prize includes a “standard recording agreement” with MySpace records, with a $10,000 advance and $10,000 in Fender gear. The latter probably comes as an awfully nice touch for a band that’s had their own gear stolen twice in the last two years. “We’re due for good karma,” Grenfell says.
Though a contest win is no guarantee of success, last year’s winners, California’s Call the Cops, have been out on multiple tours since winning, including a month on this summer’s Warped Tour. Adventure Galley’s goal — apart from “taking over the world,” which they joke was the theme of the WOW Hall show — is pretty reasonable: They hope to play the Sasquatch Music Festival next spring. “Even if for the first year we do it we’re just on a small stage or something like that, just getting onto the festival circuit, getting the name out there so that the next year when we come back we can take it by storm,” Grenfell says.
With such a major opportunity in their lap, it’s possible Adventure Galley won’t be a local band for long. Though both Grenfell and Schultz are UO students, they say they’d take time off to tour. “You can go to school when you’re older,” Grenfell says.
“It’s our big shot,” Schultz says. “Why not take advantage of it?”
Adventure Galley’s next Eugene show is a house show with Pony Village and the Blimp at 9 pm Saturday, Sept. 25, at the Basement (13th & Washington). Their EP is available at House of Records. "Addict" is also in EW's Next Big Thing contest.
Additional reporting by Vanessa Salvia.
Holy crap! It's already time for my other favorite Portland festival (the other one being Pickathon, of course). Willamette Week's MusicfestNW starts tonight with just one show — Devonwho and Animal Collective's Panda Bear — and really gets rolling tomorrow. MFNW sprawls all over town, meaning sometimes it's a pain when you want to get from Holocene to the Crystal Ballroom in a hurry, but there are enough interesting shows that you can usually keep busy just skipping from venue to venue around West Burnside.
This year's MFNW lineup ranges from a generous gaggle of Portland bands to, oddly enough, Smashing Pumpkins, who play Saturday night at Wonder Ballroom. I'll head to Portland tomorrow to try to decide between the following Thursday night shows:
• Ra Ra Riot, whose The Rhumb Line was one of my favorite unexpected records of 2008
• Past Lives, the other post-Blood Brothers band
• The unstoppable Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
• Heartstring-plucking Seattle singer-songwriter Rocky Votolato
• Major Lazer, because EW art director Todd Cooper says it's going to be awesome
• And, most of all, The Thermals, whose 2009 MFNW show was probably one of my Top Ten Shows of All Time, if I kept a list like that (which of course I don't, but I could try to make one; it might be fun). The Thermals' new record, Personal Life, just came out this week, and while I haven't had enough time to properly absorb it, I know two things: 1. It's too short! I want more! and 2. It's fantastic.
Lots more blog posts – from myself and Mr. Cooper, who'll be taking photos — and the occasional bit of Twitter snark to follow over the next few days, concluding with The National on Sunday night. Then and only then will I believe it's actually fall. It can't be until this weekend is over.
Editor's note: This one slipped right by me, but I figured better late than never. Here's frequent EW contributor Vanessa Salvia on Jucifer, who play tonight! Short notice is no excuse for not leaving the house!
Between the 51 concert-going years Ed and I have between us, we reckon we’ve seen as many bands as there are grains of sand on the Oregon coast. Many of them were forgettable. Some of them quickly became mythic experiences that came alive again each time people start talking about music.
Jucifer is one of those bands for both of us. Some of our stories — like the time Ed’s overly-martini-ed friend stumbled onto Jucifer’s RV, which was parked in front of Indigo District, and got bitten by one of their dogs — may not be quite as hysterical to read in print as it is if you are having a beer or trading anecdotes at work. But when the discussion veers to music, it’s easy to pick out Jucifer from among the many bands we’ve seen that provide a performance worth talking about.
The first time I saw them, I spent money I hadn’t planned on parting with to take home Jucifer’s debut LP, Lambs, and later raved to Ed about this amazing band he missed out on. Since then, we’ve had a competition between us for the title of most Jucifer experiences.
My first experience with Jucifer live on stage was the last night of the original John Henry’s club. If memory serves, it was Friday, May 3, 2002: They had to close so the building could be razed by St. Vincent de Paul for an apartment complex. At that time I had no idea what Jucifer’s music was like, but when Amber Valentine and Edgar Livengood took the stage, it was like a dam breaking, sweeping us away on a river of sound. The two of them played in front of a wall of bass amps and speakers stacked from floor to ceiling — equipment I had wrongly assumed was to be shared among the four bands playing on that night’s bill.
I thought that as each band played they would take their stuff and carry it away or stack it back up, but it wasn’t until Jucifer played that I realized that no one else was touching any of the stuff. It was Jucifer’s own arsenal. It was like standing in front of a giant rock and roll wind tunnel, an effect added to by the fact that Livengood played with a large fan blowing his hair around. Wearing a vintage dress and Twiggy-style pale face make-up and dramatic eyes, Valentine crooned in angelic whispers and devilish gutteral utterances. Livengood's arms never stopped wailing the entire time they were playing. With surprising subtlety and personality, given their massive sludgy sound, Valentine's angelic voice floated over the top of crushing drums, then quickly shifted gears into a monstrous groove, with Valentine growling like a death metal goddess. They were incredibly loud and we in the audience were witness to a rare and unbridled display of energy. Anybody who gets lucky enough to see them play “44: Dying In White” from their first album, Calling All Cars to the Vegas Strip, will see an instantaneous creation of more forward momentum than two mere mortals should be capable of.
Since then and the half-dozen other times we’ve seen them play, our appreciation for their creativity and dedication to their music has deepened, even as they’ve experimented with their sound and dynamic over the years. Their newest album, Throned In Blood, their seventh, came out in April. Their previous album, L'autrichienne, was a sprawling concept album that utilized everything from pianos to horns. On Throned In Blood, the duo returns to using just their primary instruments. Decibel magazine calls it their masterpiece, and “a religious experience.” Go see Jucifer’s show at Oak Street Speakeasy tonight and see if they don’t quickly become one of those bands you too just can’t stop talking about.
Jucifer, Parade of Storms and Kemosabe play at 9 pm Monday, Aug. 16, at Oak Street Speakeasy. 21+. $5.— Vanessa Salvia
Pickathon is not your average summer festival.
I'd heard that, before I went last year, but you have to experience it for the difference to really be clear. It's not small — it sprawls over 80 acres of Pendarvis Farm, outside Portland — but it feels small, intimate and unexpectedly comfortable. It's not crowded. It's laid-back, but not super-hippie. You don't go to get all jacked up on cheap beer and fast food; you go to nibble ice cream and maybe find a shady corner of the beer garden to enjoy a microbrew.
Today, Pickathon announced the last additions to their 2010 lineup, which has Dr. Dog, The Fruit Bats, Punch Brothers, Blind Boy, Cardboard Songsters and Little Wings joining a list that already ranged from Bonnie "Prince" Billy to Portland's Richmond Fontaine and Weinland to Langhorn Slim, The Cave Singers and Black Prairie.
If you see a lot of familiar names on the full lineup, it's because there's a particular overlap between Pickathon's once-roots-oriented, now more broad musical selections and the bands that find a good reception in Eugene. Black Prairie's Chris Funk, who's playing his first Pickathon this year, says via email, "It seems to be a great combination of folk and indie rock, which is basically my playlist. Just enough bluegrass and Americana mixed with indie stars."
Funk says he's looking forward to seeing Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Heartless Bastards, Sallie Ford and others but, he says, "I usually just go to these festivals and wander, just try to see bands I've never heard of."
At Pickathon, that wander can take you to a stage in the middle of the woods and back out again, to where two main stages sit at the base of a gentle slope. Two indoor, barn-like stages round out the places at which bands usually play multiple sets over the course of the weekend. When asked what he's heard about Pickathon that makes is particularly appealing, Funk says, "It's a camping festival on a really great piece of property that is very, very close to Portland. I think if you run out of 'supplies' there is a New Seasons about 2 miles away, but it's got a great view of Mount Hood on this great horse farm nestled into a forest."
"Nestled" is the word that really sets Pickathon apart. You don't feel defensive, like you've got to guard your personal space or keep an eye on your blanket. It might get trodden upon by dirty kids' feet, but half an hour later, you'll be glad those same kids have super-soakers and are pointing them in your direction. You just nestle in for the weekend and forget that Portland is just a few miles away.
Pickathon takes place Aug. 6-8 at Pendarvis Farm outside Portland. Discount tickets are currently $115 (camping included; parking is extra), but will rise to $130 when the discounted ones are sold out.