All posts by Alison Dennis

Putting on a Benefit, Putting on a Costume, Putting on a Show

Halloween tribute nights have become a beloved tradition in many live music scenes. One of the most compelling aspects of the Halloween season is the culturally sanctioned opportunity to try on a different identity. For bands, it’s an excellent opportunity to embody a band that’s inspired them -or at the very least, entertained them. For audiences, it’s a chance to revel in familiar hits and the spectacle of retro costumes and comical wigs. The Trick or Treat! Tribute Night at Turn! Turn! Turn! On Friday, October 26th was no exception. It was a fundraiser for the local non-profit Not OK PDX, a women-run organization that runs training workshops aimed at empowering local businesses and service industry staff to recognize and interrupt sexual violence, and I’m happy to report that the house was packed!

The event featured 6 different local melodic garage pop bands, all of whom are somehow involved in Portland’s Nuggets Night community, masquerading as other bands: The Shriekers performed as The Oberlin Spires, Metropolitan Farms performed as XTC, The Cool Whips performed as The Monkees, Mink Shoals performed as The Bee Gees, The Mean Reds performed as The Go-Gos, and Creature Party performed The B-52s. The event organizers ran a very tight ship, creating a smooth show going experience for such a packed bill: sets were fairly short -probably about 20 minutes, the show started at 8 on the dot, and Rachel Good, a.k.a. DJ Stonebunny kept spirits high with garage rock classics during the brief change-overs between sets. The only drawback to this was that I missed the first set by The Shriekers due to my tardiness. It also meant I had to sketch extra fast, though the pace matched the upbeat nature of most of the music.

I was excited to see Metropolitan Farms play as XTC. I’ve long been a big fan of their charismatic, jangly sound and front-man Josh Mayer’s songwriting, which features intricate melodies and counterpoint, and a wry sense of humor. Many of these qualities are reminiscent of the arty pop rock of XTC, so it seemed like a great fit, and they didn’t disappoint. They powered through tricky arrangements and delivered bright, harmonizing vocals with aplomb. They also made sure to feature some Andy Partridge style glasses, and at least one puritan costume.The Cool Whips’ tight harmonies, jaunty stage presence, and A+ wig (and beanie) game flawlessly channeled the effervescent charm of the iconic made-for-TV pop group, The Monkees. They also gave a tight yet effusive instrumental performance and wore delightfully campy late sixties garb, making for a thoroughly enjoyable set of melodic pop candy.I was really delighted by Mink Shoals’ shimmering performance of Bee Gees tunes, many from the earlier, torchier portion of their catalog. This was an excellent choice, as lead singer Melissa Bell’s smooth vocals were perfectly suited for earnest Robin Gibb style crooning. I also really appreciated the expertly tied white aviator scarves donned by multiple band members, subtly adding to the soft rock aesthetic.Next, The Mean Reds took to the stage in perfectly matching pink leotards, tutus, tiaras, and opera gloves, forming a near perfect recreation of the Go-Go’s Vacation album cover –sans waterskis. They tore through their high energy pop catalog with garage rock gusto as the audience bopped along.The evening concluded with the presence of a very tall beehive wig and a frenetic set of B-52s classics performed by the festive, local monsters in Creature Party. A driving drumbeat and jittery micro-synth immediately got the crowd moving as they opened with the classic “Rock Lobster.” This energy continued all the way through their set, including its twist ending: an original Creature Party song, which turned out to be the perfect novelty garage rock treat!

Sketches from Noggin Festival 2018

I was lucky enough to catch some live music on Saturday, October 20th at Noggin Fest, a two day multi-media, multi-disciplinary festival benefitting local art and science education non-profit NW Noggin. In addition to a stellar music line-up, the festival featured neuroscience lectures, an art auction, science workshops, and raffles. I got a chance to do some sketches of long-standing Portland bands, When We Met and Human Ottoman.

When We Met is a duo that performs effusive, punkish power pop anthems with Melissa Dorres on bass and Brian Casey on guitar. Both members sing and are also accompanied by an arsenal of samples and drum programming, which gives them a surprisingly big sound for such a small group. The two also bounce around stage, creating an engaging and electrifying performance.

Human Ottoman is a band I have seen in a few times and with slightly different instrumental configurations, though they’ve always had the common thread of Grayson Fiske on Vibraphone, Susan Lucia on drums, an inventive, jazz fusion inspired sound, and an affable, humorous stage presence. This evening, they were joined by a new electric bass player who effortlessly created tight jazz/funk grooves with Lucia while Fiske delivered experimental vibraphone sounds that answered the question: what if Lionel Hampton had a sweet, sweet pedal board and was also in outer space?

PDX Pop Now Several Months Later

I got to see a few acts I had never seen live before at this past summer’s PDX Pop Now festival. It was a quintessential PDX Pop Now experience with hot sun beating down on a multi-generational crowd, musicians in slightly self-conscious athletic wear battling each other in a match of Rigsketball, and the soothing scent of food cart burritos wafting through the air. It was also a quintessential PDX Pop Now experience, because it featured transformative performances from local artists and little kids schooling all us jaded adults on how to interpretive dance our hearts out.

I first caught Bryson Cone, a psychedelic/dream pop act with a perfect combination of catchy, inventive songwriting and lush, expansive arrangements. The band also featured members of prestigious local bands Cat Hoch and Reptaliens and everyone onstage had an undeniable chemistry.

Next Moorea Masa and the Mood effortlessly blended folk and R & B elements with a super tight but also highly emotive set. Most notable were the stellar vocals from both Masa herself and her backup singers, who at one point stilled the crowd with a stirring a cappella number.

Finally, I witnessed a performance by experimental electronic musician Omari Jazz. He lists his hometown on his Facebook page as The Chronosynclastic Infundibulum. This seems appropriate for someone whose beats and soundscapes have the ability to make the listener feel unfettered by the constructs of time and space. The music undulated in mass of interwoven polyrhythms and novel timbres. It was at once a party and a meditation as the crowd bobbed and swayed and, I assume, let their minds drift into space for a while.

Three for the show at The Firkin in June

This past June, I got a chance to draw some sketches at a characteristically eclectic show at The Firkin, Portland’s coziest dive bar venue. Devin Brown, known for fronting local garage rock band Devy Metal, played a stripped down solo set of his inventively melodic pop rock songs, followed by the moody but effusive sounds of CHAD, a new project of Sarah Lane from The Late Great. Finally,  DMN rounded out the evening and transformed the bar into a mini dance club with their glossy, energetic synth-pop.

Devy Metal at the Firkin on June 15, 2018

Chad at the Firkin on June 15, 2018

DMN at the Firkin on June 15, 2018

Editor’s note: These three drawings are included in the complete collection, which is accessed from the Sketches menu.