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.
On Oct 12th Complimentary Colors, a duo of amazing and brilliant married musical ladies, set the scene at Mississippi Pizza to release their new album named “Complimentary Colors in Dandyland”. The EP is a collaborative effort with the folks at Dandyland Studios, and consists of 5 songs deep in the heart of wonderful folk songwriting and queer tradition. The show was truly one for the whole family, as was evident as you walked in the door: parents with happy young children found their seats with delicious pizza, anxiously awaiting the start of the performance.
Up first was Stephanie Strange, who also plays out under “Strange and The Familiars”. With smart lyrics, smart guitar work, and a great sense of humor, Stephanie easily found room in her set and songs to switch between plucky folk singing, and a sometimes vibrato-led pseudo-operatic inspired voice! She used a lot of great ideas for her lyrical ideas, and had a great mastery of “mood” when it came to what chords she decided to play. With perfect unity between her voice and her instrument, she was able to quickly paint worlds and experiences for us to exist within. She mentioned to me that playing solo was “always a challenge”, as to how easy or hard it is to get a crowd with you emotionally, but the kids in the crowd seemed to help. She says, “I love playing for kids…you never have to wonder if they’re into it and they’re not self conscious. and then of course opening for Complimentary Colors was wonderful. I’d never seen them perform. I fell in love with both of them halfway through the first song.”
And it seemed that was the case for everyone in the room. After Stephanie Strange took a bow, and a short break for getting set up, Camille Rose and Ashley Elizabeth from Complimentary Colors took the stage with a small battalion of tiny instruments (all whom had their own names!). They immediately became a presence in the room with their amazing vocal harmonies which ranged from angelic to a deep bluesy growl. These two performers pack quite a punch with their wide range of expressive and creative outlets, making use of great songwriting ideas, tiny pianos, ukuleles, singing bowls, and the best god damn kazoo playing I have ever heard in my life (and I have heard a lot!). They even had their pal and Dandyland Producer Joey Helpish hop up on stage with them to beatbox, and create a really interesting mix of sound textures. The two made note throughout the night that they had been sick throughout the week and singing was tough, but I couldn’t really notice. If that was their vocal quality when they were just recovering from strep throat, I am not sure I would be able to handle the god-like attributes of their golden tones at full strength! Ending the set on an empowering, acapella song-chant which was held up by a beat of playing pattycakes, singing into each others eyes, Complimentary Colors had the whole pizza joint singing along by the end.
The show overall had an amazing, warm, vibrant feeling of community to it. It was especially awesome to see a show at a space that was so child and kid-friendly, at a time that was accessible to anyone who loves music but also has the responsibilities to their family. Camille Rose felt it was a very important issue to her, she commented, “I work with kids and young adults during my day job. Ashley and I have many dear friends with kids, babies to teens. One of the most important things to both of us is our community and we think it’s awful that the families we know never get to come out and see our shows. For these reasons, it was important to us that the EP release show was a celebration that everyone could attend. Plus, it’s great to see NEW young people get involved with our music. Maybe that’s why we love the tiny instruments so much.”
Everyone else loves your tiny instruments too, as well as the amazing new release of wonderful music. Check out “Complimentary Colors in Dandyland” on Soundcloud and Spotify!
Editor’s Note: We welcome Ruune as our newest contributing writer! See his bio on our About page.
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.
Editor’s note: These three drawings are included in the complete collection, which is accessed from the Sketches menu.
The Portland Notes coverage of Streetcar Conductors last summer was titled “Streetcar Conductors, Timeless Power Pop that is Worth the Wait”. Well, the wait is over! The winsome duo of Jonathan Moore and Carmen Charters have expanded into a full five piece band, with Jonathan taking the helm from behind the drumset while singing lead. Carmen has honed her power pop keyboard riffs and vocal harmonies. Additions to the band include, Matt Dinaro, The Toads’ bass player and local blogger, and Jimmy Ling and Michael Hollifield on electric guitars.
The full band debuted on March 11 at the Local Roots Second Sunday Happy Hour, which takes place every month at the McMenamins White Eagle Saloon. The monthly event is free, early, all ages, and hosts top notch local acts, like Streetcar Conductors.
Streetcar Conductors have been compared to Weezer, but the guitar tones and riffs definitely have a Cheap Trick vibe, and the vocal melodies hint of the Kinks. Who can argue with that?
The Streetcar Conductors performing “Pushover”, which will be on their upcoming album.
The band is releasing its debut full length album, many years in the making, on April 27 with a CD Release Party at Mississippi Studios. Don’t miss this impressive bill, which includes local legends, King Black Acid and the Fur Coats. Tickets are already on sale.
The Streetcar Conductors performing” You are the Brightest Star”, which will also be on their upcoming album.
Have you heard the soundscapes of nature? The buzzing and clicking of insects in a meadow. The wind through the forest punctuated by the sound of wood cracking. Or the cacophony of birds chirping in spring. Or even the human polyrhythms of respiration and heart beat and the deeper pulsation of autonomic rhythms that we are scarcely aware of.
It’s hard to imagine, but these are the sounds and rhythms that Secret Drum Band, a percussion ensemble featuring five drummers and two ambient musicians, evokes. Their compositions are often written in response to soundscapes, address environmental issues, and are inspired by specific physical locations in nature. The Secret Drum Band website describes their latest eight track album, Dynamics, as “inspired by the Mojave Desert, logging sites in Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon, and Hawai’i, where band founder, Lisa Schonberg’s, entomology work has helped the native Hylaeus bees attain endangered species status.”
The songs are carefully composed and performed by an all-star group of percussionists. It is a pleasure to hear the creativity and discipline when such masters of their craft come together. Recently the band played two sets at the Portland Art Museum as part of the Miller Family Free Day. It was an amazing setting for the sonic experience, with the band setting up facing each other in the middle of a large airy exhibit space, and encircled by a magical all-ages audience.
Learn more about Secret Drum Band on their website, check out a Portland Mercury interview, and follow them on facebook. Their next gig is March 15 at Holocene, but you can catch bandmates, Lisa Schonberg and Heather Treadway, at Mississippi Studios with another rhythm oriented band, Explode into Color, on Dec 30 and 31.
Secret Drum Band (Seth Lorinczi, Ali Clarys, Anthony Brisson, Allan Wilson, Sara Lund, Zanny Geffel, and Lisa Schonberg) perform their song “Robert Plants” at the Portland Art Museum.