All posts by Alison Dennis

The Art of Novelty with M.A.R.C. and the Horsejerks, Latter Day Skanks, and RLLRBLL

It is rare that I make the lengthy pilgrimage to the Fixin’ To in the northern climes of St. Johns, but I was glad that I did a couple Fridays ago for M.A.R.C. and the Horsejerks’ album release party. It was a night of high novelty, art rock and goofy theatrics.

RLLRBLL started the show with a rousing set of their gothy synth-led art rock. Their dark, earnest songs made them somewhat of an odd band out on a bill with two bands that deal heavily in camp and tongue in cheek humor, but their performance was still incredibly engaging. Beautiful, delicate ballads crescendoed into cacophonous climaxes in inventive compositions executed with precision and intensity by musicians who have been playing together for more than 20 years.

Latter Day Skanks graced the stage next, clad in missionary/punk drag and rocking hard-hitting drums, screaming flying-V guitar, crabcore stances, and hilariously obscene lyrics. Their music is an in-your-face comedy/novelty take on hardcore punk and hard rock with a satirical blade pointed at the Mormon church and other institutions that discriminate against queer folks. Each member possesses a stage name and rank within the Church of Latter Day Skanks, with Prophetess Josephina Smith on lead vocals and bass, Elder Bring ‘Em Hung on guitar and vocals, and Elder Milfred Trimley on drums. They also have some pretty choice song hymn titles, like “Jesus Plasty” and “Under the Boner of Heaven.”

M.A.R.C. and the Horsejerks converged upon the stage with its six wig-clad members, over a dozen instruments, and multiple horse props. Frontman M.A.R.C. Horsejerk (who may or may not have associations with other area bands like Nasalrod, Mr. Frederick, and General Electric) remained in character throughout the performance and even during soundcheck. He embodied the role of a cartoonish, grizzled horse rancher with a penchant for cheese, animal husbandry, shopping at Sears, and bellyaching about his neighbors, singing and speaking with a vocal timbre somewhere between Captain Beefheart and Yosemite Sam.
M.A.R.C.’s backing band had a variety of whimsical stage names and instrumental talents, with Tawny Winufer Sandasin on bass and foot tambourine, Toots/Tater on banjo and guitar, Twiggy Barndust on washboard, glockenspiel and auxiliary drums/percussion, Mouse Milk on keyboard and viola, and Bobby Butts on trumpet, guitar and auxiliary percussion. Despite being flanked by such a robust ensemble, M.A.R.C. also had a bit of a one-man-band setup with foot-pedal-operated bass and snare drums that he played while strumming an acoustic guitar and yawping about his bucolic dreams and misadventures. While the off-kilter vocals and goofy, deranged lyrical content was consistent throughout the set, they began with a number of folksy and melodically pretty numbers that were at times reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens or Andrew Bird. As the performance progressed, the band began to rock harder and stranger, revealing a unique brand of avant garde folk-rock with some faint echoes of poly-genre weirdos like Butthole Surfers, Mr. Bungle and perhaps even Terry Riley. In addition to all this, M.A.R.C. peppered the set with comical and sometimes incoherent ramblings, audience members danced and hollered, a hobby horse was passed around the room, and at some point I found myself pumping a plastic horse statue up and down in the air in rhythm with the music. It was definitely a good set!

P.L.O.W. Enters the Ring at the New Kickstand Theater

Normally I cover music, but today I’m branching out and covering P.L.O.W.! What is P.L.O.W.? one might ask. It stands for Portland Legends of Wrestling, so one may infer that it is a wrestling league. Perhaps this is true. Their shows do feature over-the-top personas, bitter rivalries, silly costumes, ample trash talking and an untrustworthy host -all hallmarks of a proper wrestling company! However, there is no actual wrestling involved in their performances -though there is a splash zone! Consider yourself warned.

They claim to have lost their wrestling license, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this is all an elaborate ruse to get wrestling enthusiasts to watch long-form, character-based improv comedy built around loosely scripted plot points. But I could be wrong. Perhaps we’ll never know.

What I do know is that the Wednesday, May 22nd show I attended was P.L.O.W.’s first installment at the new Kickstand Comedy Theater space. They had just recently moved from a small space above the Siren Theater to the former Brody Theater space. I was happy to see them move to a theater and to see the Brody’s building continue to be used for comedy/improv performances. However, there are still some kinks to work out. The venue doesn’t have full curtains at the moment, leaving the room fairly bright on a late Spring evening and making it somewhat difficult to follow the show’s very funny pre-recorded video segments. Hopefully this will be remedied before their next show.

The show opened with the aforementioned video segments, which recapped P.L.O.W.’s ongoing saga. We learned that, in the previous installment, things ended with no discernible champion. Interviewer and show host, Ed Hosea, played by comedian Shane Hosea, was given an ultimatum by the league’s Benevolent Overlord, the stone-faced, shades-wearing Jane Demeanie, played by comedian/actor Anne Zander, to name a champion or be fired from the show. In an act of haste and absurdity, Hosea declared the P.L.O.W. champion to be 90s sitcom star Fran Drescher. So the question loomed large at this night’s show: will Fran show up to claim her title?

After the video intros, the aforementioned harried host and official interviewer Ed Hosea introduced the show. He sported a rumpled but professorial tweed jacket, a ponytail, and retro aviator glasses, and had the demeanor of a man whose life could fall apart at any moment, embodying a strange mix of WWE sleaze and small-town-indy-promoter desperation.

After this introduction, Ed began interviewing a series of characters, the first of which was Frank Drescher, a banal, shades-wearing, East coast dude played by comedian Steven Wilbur. Frank explained that he showed up to claim the championship belt only to learn that he had misinterpreted a tweet about Fran Drescher being awarded the the title. He was flummoxed and enraged to learn this, claiming that Fran is his arch nemesis!Next, the crowd was offered a diversion from the show’s typical wrestling-adjacent shenanigans by visiting stand-up comedian and television actor, Ron Lynch. He performed a set of absurd jokes, one-man sketches, and even a bit of prestidigitation!

On the heels of this stand-up comedy interlude came arch-heel “Hollywood” Chris Khatami from San Francisco, strutting up to the stage to the gauche sounds of Santana’s “Smooth” feat. Rob Thomas. While his name initially seems like a confusing identity/geography paradox, it perfectly encapsulates his character as a distillation of everything artsy Northwesterners hate most about wealthy, neoliberal Californians. He wore a Nancy Pelosi t-shirt and taunted the audience with claims of San Francisco’s superiority over Portland, generating a rumble of boos and jeers. He also performed his signature gross out move, chugging and spitting La Croix onto himself, the stage, and a few audience members!

Tensions mounted as the NPR-loving, trash-talking Paula Poundface was summoned to the stage. However, the in-your-face character previously (and in the pre-show videos) played by Natalie Haddad had been inexplicably replaced with a more mild-mannered version of herself, played by actor Dan Heise in a shoulder-length brunette wig. Ed Hosea seemed perplexed by this surprise, but the league’s Benevolent Overlord Jane DeMeanie insisted that this was the real Paula Poundface. So Hosea reluctantly began officiating the closest thing to actual wrestling in the show: an arm wrestling competition between “Hollywood” Chris Khatami and Paula Poundface.

Khatami triumphed much to the chagrin of the audience as the question still loomed: will Fran Drescher show up to claim her title?! That question was answered as The Nanny herself* entered the room in a loud but stylish floral jumpsuit, oversized rose tinted glasses and open-toed heels. She gracefully and nasally accepted the league’s shiny new belt between awkwardly long laughs. However she faced opposition from her nemesis Frank Drescher as well as other wrestling characters, and there were even some unexpected shenanigans at the hand of Ed Hosea’s twin brother Shane Hosea (also played by Shane Hosea)!

*portrayed by local comedian and illustrator Carolyn Main

If you’d like to follow the continuing drama, check out P.L.O.W’s Facebook page for more videos, promos, and forthcoming details about their next quarterly installment coming up in August.

A Healthy Dose of Country AND Western with Jenny Don’t & the Spurs and Federale

I took advantage of the recent holiday weekend and indulged in one of the Rontom’s back patio Sunday Sessions the evening on May 26th. This particular session featured performances by two seasoned and well-loved local bands that I hadn’t seen live before: the raucous outlaw country balladeers, Jenny Don’t and the Spurs, and the epic, 7-piece spaghetti western orchestra, Federale.

The patio was packed, but I managed to muscle my way to the front and get some sketches of the bands. Jenny Don’t and the Spurs got everyone bopping with upbeat, classic sounding country tunes delivered with rock ‘n’ roll energy and expert musicianship. Frontwoman Jenny Don’t does a great job of blending traditional and more modern country elements, playing a twangy Gretsch guitar and singing with the shimmer and ebullience similar to Patsy Cline as well as a knowing sass reminiscent of an artist like Sarah Shook. She and her band were also decked out in all the appropriate gear -ten gallon hats, a bolo tie, a gingham button-down, a bright red dress with sparkling star and horseshoe appliques- making for a shit-kicking good time!

Afterwards, Federale began setting up a multitude of instruments on the stage. Once they were fully prepared and assembled, the seven members launched into the first of many intense, cinematic, Ennio-Morricone-style ballads. Each song featured multiple dramatic crescendos, memorable pentatonic melodies, and rich, inventive instrumentation. Multiple guitars, keyboards, trumpet, drums, bass, pedal steel, and an arsenal of various percussion instruments flanked the lead vocals and haunting whistling of frontman Collin Hegna as well as backing vocals from multiple other band members and the soaring operatic soprano of Maria Karlin. In fact, the most striking part of the band’s sound may have been the intense and plentiful lyric-less hooks performed by Karlin and trumpeter Sebastian Bibb-Barrett in parallel harmony with each other. All of these instruments and elements combined to create lush emotional and narrative swells, evoking scenes of drama and pathos amid a barren, desert landscape.

Jeni Wren at the Gritty Birds Podcasting Launch

I drew this sketch at an intimate patio gathering at Barrio on Foster, with a mix of humans and canines in attendance. The performance was part of the launch party for Gritty Birds Podcasting, Jeni Wren Stottrup’s new full-service podcast editing and production business.

Jeni Wren has been hosting a podcast called Gritty Birds about the personal and professional stories of musicians from Portland and beyond for the past four years, and has recently started a podcast production company of the same name. Because she is a musician herself, she opened her launch party with a set of mellow, looper-based songs with jazz style vocals and piano and synthesizer sounds. Her live performance was followed by a lively seat from DJ Pacemaker.

Intense Psychedelic Whimsy at Motorcoat’s Single Release Party

Local psych rock trio Motorcoat recently released a new digital single and b-side called Heads & Tails in anticipation of their upcoming full-length album. I’ve long been a fan of their lush, expressive sounds and wild, humorous performances, so I made sure not to miss their release party at Kelly’s Olympian, which also featured performances by the bands Draves and Low Flyer.

Draves opened the show with a rousing set of tightly composed garage rock tunes with unexpected flourishes such as proggy rhythmic interludes, melodic lead lines played on bass, and novel lead guitar pedal effects that sometimes even sounded like synth patches. This was one of the group’s first shows, making their tight and energetic performance all the more impressive.

Draves at Kelly’s Olympian on 3-23-19

The second band, Low Flyer, was another group I hadn’t heard before, but they quickly impressed with solid songwriting, and a well-blended, expansive sound that seemed to be somewhat influenced by 90s/00s neo-psychedelia and post-rock. They excelled at playing slower, elegant ballads with cathartic climaxes, but also deftly delivered energetic rock numbers, making for nice variety of mood and tempo throughout the set.

Low Flyer at Kelly’s Olympian on 3-22-19

Motorcoat headlined with a whirlwind of sound, stage antics, and goofy banter. Alex Fulton and Michael Vincent posed and jumped around in a sparring pantomime, staring each other down and shredding while wielding bass and guitar like swords. Meanwhile drummer Matias Morel played frenetic rhythms while triggering dense keyboard samples on an electronic drum pad without missing a beat. At one point Alex jumped offstage and danced with the audience while continuing to play speedy bass runs, and Matias even spit up fake blood between a couple songs, adding to the comical intensity of the performance. All three members’ ferocious chops combined with the artfully programmed drum pad samples created an enveloping psychedelic sound that morphed in tone from doom-ish heaviness to upbeat blues rock riffs to breezy trip-hop grooves with ease.

Motorcoat at Kelly’s Olympian on 3-22-19