As 2014 draws to a close, one can reflect on Portland’s eclectic music scene where singer songwriters, electronic magicians and pop rock experimentalists are entreated to come by eager fans in search of hits and newly minted classics. The following short list exemplifies the scene’s musical offerings.
Spring is a good time to listen to music inside. As the rain and chill of winter lingered, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) warmed hearts with her most theatrical show yet. Gone in the production were the physical elements of her guitar virtuosity (pedals, amps, cables, etc.).
Her voice remained: at once, delivering tender proclamations of loves lost and then forcefully asserting her dominance not only on her audience but on rock music itself. She exists as both guitar hero and pop chanteuse, constantly pushing the envelope of her sound.
The band fronted by the pleather clad Dee Dee Penny (Kristin Welchez) played reverb drenched ballads like “Coming Down” off the He Get’s Me High EP, Their set resonated with the vocal strength of Chrissie Hynde and atmospheric guitar Lush’s Miki Berenyi.
The Doug Fir Lounge also hosted the Walkmen’s former frontman Hamilton Leithauser in August. Leithauser, a towering figure, crooned about love with the grace of a balladeer and antics of a journeyman. Los Angelinos Avid Dancer opened and quietly then loudly poured on the indie rock. Their set paid homage to the to the late seventies easy melodies and the independent spirit of the West.
Somewhere in between journeyman balladeers and the blips and beats of electronica sit the Flaming Lips. The band played a free, typically bombastic, costumed-filled extravaganza at Waterfront Park for the Major League Soccer All-Star week.
Many in the audience chose to stay back to avoid the heat of the day or perhaps it was to take in the overwhelming spectacle that is Wayne Coyne and company. No confetti rained down on fans this time, but there where bubbles and puppets of all kinds.
The highlight of the set came as Coyne entered the audience in the now familiar plastic bubble. His careful steps allowed him to work his way towards the undulating throng. Most interesting was the appearance of a sign that boldly pronounced “Costume is not culture”, a reference to Coyne’s Instagram post regarding the Christina Fallin controversy.
As fall approached, newly formed bands like the Ex Hex added to an already fine year in Portland music. Brit pop fans were also privy to A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets, a documentary recounting Pulp‘s final show in Sheffield, England, their hometown.
The film which played for one night only at the Hollywood Theater in November, features concert footage as well anecdotes from band members regarding the band’s recent history. One is also greeted by well photographed vistas of Sheffield, stories from townspeople about Pulp and its relation to their home with the occasional septuagenarian suggesting that they too like the band. Other highlights include lead singer Jarvis Cocker’s discussion of why the band got back together as well as what he packs for a tour. The film’s most poignant moment comes as older guests at a luncheonette break into “Help the Aged” from the This is Hardcore album. The song’s lyrics point to life’s inevitability and on a smaller scale, the scene also works as a metaphor about the band aging and its ultimate end. Supermarkets then is a final act to one band’s storied career and in some ways to the 90s Brit pop moment as well.
One final moment of reflection on this year’s offerings came with My Brightest Diamond’s recent show at the Doug Fir Lounge. Led by Shara Worden, the band played a set nuanced with Worden’s extraordinary vocals. “Pressure”, a song off this year’s This is My Hand exemplifies her jazz leanings and high energy show.
The always intimate “I Have Never Loved Someone” simply featured Worden’s voice and its few guitar chords. Her voice coupled with the music’s arrangement, created a swell of emotion within each note. As with the aforementioned, Annie Clark, Worden commands her stage while seamlessly and energetically blending her voice’s evocative qualities with the other performers on stage.
This past year featured an incredible number of acts that temporarily called Portland home if only for an evening. The hope exists that future years will continue to echo this diversity and Portland can remain a special home for talent of all kinds.
The following images expand on the highlights presented above: