All posts by Alison Dennis

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

Sonic Spiritual Rituals with Jazz Boyfriends, Maurice and the Stiff Sisters, and Kool Stuff Katie

I had been wanting to see a full set from Jazz Boyfriends since catching just the tail end of their performance at Noggin Fest this past Fall. They had a sound that was adventurous but also cozy and inviting. That desire was fulfilled on a clear March night at The Liquor Store on Belmont. The group filled the room a warm blanket of sound: sizzling cymbals, smooth but powerful vocals, lilting strings and enveloping upright bass notes. Chibia Ulinwa and June Magnolia, the group’s primary songwriters and former Portland State Symphony members, traded duties on keyboard and various stringed instruments throughout the set, with Ulinwa on violin and Magnolia on Viola and guitar at times. The deft harmonic interplay of the their vocals and lead instruments soared above the skillful and dynamic drumming of veteran percussionist Clancy Hanes Feahr and the rich tones of double bassist Kyle Lissman. They take a great deal of inspiration from jazz, as their name implies, but also seem to draw a lot of influence from acoustic folk, soul and classical music to create a unique sound that doesn’t easily fit into a single genre.

Maurice and the Stiff Sisters displayed an impressive mix of showmanship, humor and earnest commentary by presenting their set as a religious ritual. Band members plodded onto the stage in even-metered steps, draped in ascetic monk’s robes to the soundtrack of a warped, pre-recorded Gregorian chant as front-man Maurice Spencer made a procession through the crowd and up to the stage. He was waving an incense thurible and styled like a hippie Christ, or perhaps a haphazard mash-up of Andrew W.K. and Peter O’Toole in The Ruling Class. Once he ascended to the stage and picked up his guitar, the chant cut out and the band launched into the first of many peppy, soul-infused nerd-rock numbers. In addition to an energetic rhythm section of Michael Doherty on bass and Dave Shur on drums, the group featured a tight horn section with Aaron Mattison on tenor saxophone and Bryant Byers on trombone, adding emotive flourishes to the songs’ driving phrases and catchy melodies. About halfway through their performance, Maurice took a moment to deliver the rock club equivalent of a homily while the rest of the band left the stage for a costume change. He described live music performances as a form of ritual and and community in a secular world, explaining the band’s gimmick and also making a compelling statement about the spiritual power of live music. After the good word was shared, the band returned to the stage sans ecclesiastical garb and continued to play more vigorous, danceable power-pop tunes. Kool Stuff Katie is long-standing Portland garage rock duo. Members Shane Blem and Saren Oliver manage to make big pop rock sounds with a drum kit, a guitar, and vocals -and admittedly also a robust array of effects pedals. They finished off the night with a set of straight-forward, but expertly crafted tunes. Their infectious rock riffs, hard-hitting drums and tight vocal harmonies were the perfect accompaniment for both dancing near the stage and relaxing at the back of the bar with a beer. They also included some choice covers, showing equal facility in interpreting Black Sabbath and Bikini Kill. It was a satisfying close to a typically eclectic night of Portland music.

Dual Release Party with The Cabin Project and Camp Crush

Two local bands, The Cabin Project and Camp Crush combined forces this past January 31st at Doug Fir Lounge to release a new full-length album and a new EP, respectively (check out Ramune’s review of the Cabin Project’s new album, Decenter, here). Both bands are defined by their strong emotive and melodic songwriting, but each has very different genre hallmarks.

Camp Crush, a synth-pop duo consisting of Jen Deale on keyboards and lead vocals and Chris Spicer on drums, quickly got the room bobbing with tight rhythms and big, anthemic choruses. Their sound combines the icy textures and dance beats of new wave with the bombast of 80s pop and hair metal. I couldn’t help but imagine some of their emphatically belted choruses being delivered by Bonnie Tyler or Foreigner. The duo also brought out bassist Benjy Rickard (Labradora) and guitarist David Ricardo (The Zags, The Cool Whips) for a few enjoyably dramatic songs near the end of their set. Both Rickard and Ricardo played on Camp Crush’s new EP, Run.

The Cabin Project quickly drew in the audience with their ethereal Americana songs that combine the intimacy of folk music with the orchestral flair of indie pop. Frontwoman Katie Sawicki’s warm, reverberant guitar tones blended effortlessly with two part vocal harmonies (from Sawicki and drummer/vocalist Zanny Geffel), melodic basslines from Kelly Clifton, and sweeping, pedal-modified violin phrases from Jean Mastaler. Additionally, Geffel’s dynamic drums perfectly complemented the melodic and emotional swells of the tunes. Sawicki took some time during the set to speak about the meaning and and intention of their new songs as personal reflections of queer women living in a trying and frightening political climate, and many of the attendees were longtime fans who sang along passionately with songs, adding to the intimacy and connectedness of the concert experience.

Melancholic Dance Jams at Miss Rayon’s Album Release

The local, arty post-punk trio Miss Rayon released their new full length album Eclipse on Saturday, November 17th with a celebratory show at popular all-ages punk club, Black Water Bar.

I received some upsetting news as I was waiting for the show to start and suddenly wasn’t sure if I was going to be in the right headspace to enjoy loud music in a crowded club. However, the crowd was more warmly enthusiastic than rowdy, and each of the bands who performed that night had a special way of blending dark, brooding, and even chaotic moods with infectious beats, creating a melancholic dance grooves that felt strangely therapeutic.

WL opened the show with a big, fuzzed out rock songs and a detached stage presence. Singer/bassist Misty Mary’s hyaline dream-pop vocals fluttered above the fat chords and insistent rhythms. Their songs are simple in structure, but have a satisfying textural breadth that manages to be both heavy and hypnotic.

After WL’s set, the 6-member ensemble Conditioner Disco Group hurriedly filled the stage with an eclectic array of gear, including bongos, alto saxophone, and mini synth alongside the typical guitar, drums and bass. They quickly animated the crowd with unique no wave party jams, blending earnest hardcore didacticism with fluttering free-jazz runs and tight Motorik rhythms into a controlled frenzy.

Miss Rayon started strong right out the gate, delivering a Yoko Ono cover with tight parallel vocal harmonies, sizzling drums, and deftly intertwined synth and guitar melodies. The original material that comprised the rest of their set continued to showcase the interplay of beatific vocals over moody, angular instrumental counterpoint between guitarist Eric Sabatino and bassist Jenny Logan, and tight, hi-hat-heavy beats from prolific portland drummer Hannah Blilie. This juxtaposition was used to particularly great effect on their performance of their new album’s title track, “Eclipse,” a mournful ballad with a blues cadence in which Blilie’s gentle voice soared over the somber instrumental riffs.