Juan Wauters walked on stage alone, smiling infectiously. He fiddled around a bit on his keyboard before picking up his guitar and getting right into things. The first several songs were Juan alone. He waltzed around with his guitar as if he were dancing with a beautiful woman. Despite leaving The Beets behind to pursue more thoughtful sounds, the carefree, comedic attitude will never escape him. After a few songs, his bandmates joined him onstage. The musicians picked up some bongos and an acoustic guitar. They jumped immediately into “I’m All Wrong”, one of the more popular songs off of his most recent album, Who Me?
Their stage setup spoke to the same cool DIY attitude that Juan exudes: trading traditional stage lights for simultaneously blinking work lights and a huge, hand-painted banner promoting Who Me? All of this only added to the overwhelming sweetness of Juan’s music. It felt, at times, as if Juan wanted a heavier sound, but all it seems Juan can be, while dancing around on the stage, loudly humming along to the guitar parts and smiling, is charming. And the spectrum of his charm is vast, from the dancing and the joking right down to the lyrics, which are often thoughtful, like “I grab you by your ear/ until the cracks son your lips appear/ I guess there’s not much for you and me next year,” but then occasionally you come upon a beauty that harkens to his days in The Beets like, “I was hungry so I ate.”
Juan played a short set of just ten songs, walking off stage to the sounds of the crowd audibly chuckling. The briefness of the set, lasting only about 40 minutes left the crowd wanting more. After a few minutes of increasingly loud chants, Juan came back on stage for an encore that he seemed surprised to be asked for. Once back on stage, alone again, he took a few requests from the audience before officially calling it a night. Afterward he hung around with what was left of the crowd that was still there chatting: you would never be able to tell from his albums just how genuine and sincere he is.
Opening for Juan Wauters was St. Even. They’ve been scarce in the Portland music scene since the release of their 2011 album, Spirit Animal. Since that time the band seems to have taken a new direction with their music, trading straightforward pop songs for more synth-heavy beats with a focus on distortion and discordance. It certainly isn’t for everyone and side-by-side the two bands didn’t mesh. Fortunately though, the audience seemed into both bands, and if a new take on pop music piqued your interest, keep your eyes peeled for one of their rare Portland shows.