AU Beirut Crystal Ballroom Gardens and Villa Imaginary Scoop J. Mascis Jason Isbell and the 400 Units Live Show Review LP Menomena Old 97s Passion Pit Pioneer Courthouse Square Reignwolf Starfucker Tallest Man on Earth The Helio Sequence The Roseland Theatre Those Darlins

Musicfest NW 2012: a perfect way to end the summer

I'm still recovering from the long week of bands, venues, and seemingly endless late-night photo edits, however: I wouldn't change one thing about my stay in Portland. Musicfest NW is the stamp at the end of a summer of festivals and they packed their lineup with some amazing bands. My schedule kept changing up until the day of shows, so I just decided that I was going to see bands I hadn't seen before and that worked out pretty well. The weather was perfect, if not a little on the hot side — but for the last festival before fall, I didn't mind having to stand in the sun for the two or so hours before it set. So, without further ado: here are my highs from the shows I was able to catch during MFNW 2012.

I had to keep it pretty low key for Wednesday. After a day of bus travel and running around after arriving in Portland, I decided to stick to the Crystal Ballroom (my hotel was across the street) and I absolutely made the right choice. LP was brilliant, her voice alone cuts through the room with as much emotion as one could possibly imagine, and in every conceivable way produced one of those amazing, uplifting sets where all you want to do when you get home is listen to the album over and over again.

Headlining the night was Passion Pit, and I thought to myself, what better way to get introduced to this band than to see them live? It was high energy, Michael Angelakos running from one side of the stage to the other; the crowd was phenomenal: jumping, dancing, singing. Passion Pit was the perfect electro-dance heavy-pop band I needed to kickstart me into the fest.

Thursday was the toughest day to decide whom to see. Do I venue hop? Don't I? It was a tough call. I finally decided that after missing every possible chance to see him in Seattle, my only certainty that day was to catch Reignwolf play the Roseland Theater. Every review I read up until this show had one thing in common: that the performance was absolutely mindblowing, and they are all telling the truth. My mind was blown from that first puff of fog from the fog machine to the last guitar solo. I was complete putty in the hands of Reignwolf! And as if it wasn't enough to play drums and guitar simultaneously, he then gives us a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain". Geez!

I stuck to the Roseland to check out the garage rock/punk/pop band Those Darlins.

Showcasing some insane lyrical talent, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit was a good transition from the more punk-y garage rock influence of Those Darlins before heading into the rock of Old 97's

The Old 97's crowd was literally hanging over the barrier as they pounded through the first songs of their set. It was absoluely a party atmosphere, and having only heard maybe a handful of their songs in my time, it was a huge treat to witness this band give everything they had that night. The crowd completely ate it up!

Looking back at my plans, I was probably the most excited for Friday's lineup. I was seeing three of my favorite bands, two of them for the first time, and it was the first night at the Pioneer Courthouse Square mainstage. Gardens & Villa opened the night with their dreamy synth-rock.

Saying that I love Menomena might be an understatement, I listen to Mines at least once a day, so yes, I was extremely excited to see their set. The band played mostly new songs, and it definitely left me anticipating listening to the new album Moms. Also hearing some of my favorites off of Mines left me pretty happy going into the rest of the shows for the night.

I could literally write far too much about how long I have been waiting to see Beirut, so here is the shortened version: Zach Condon's voice is easily the most addicting thing I have ever heard. Add to that the array of horns, various other instruments, and a seamless series of arrangements, and I'm pretty sure the whole crowd was swooning along just as much as me.

I saw Helio Sequence (PS, the only band from the whole week that I had seen before MFNW) in 2008, but thinking back that seems like so long ago. Yet, as I type this listening to their new album Negotiations I am feeling the nostalgia of Friday night blow over me like a ton of bricks. From singing along to every song they played from Hallelujah to dancing around all by myself in the back of the room their show last Friday made my list of best shows I have seen… ever. And yes, I could totally fangirl over Helio Sequence just as much as I fangirl over Beirut.

Saturday was my final day in Portland and the second to the last day of the festival, so naturally I wanted to run around and try to catch as many bands as I could. First up was the horn heavy, experimental rock band AU. Their sound is layered with keys, horns, vocals, synths, and drums, all building in intensity as the set rolled on, creating what can only be described as a pretty addictive sound.

I stuck around at the mainstage to check out an easygoing set from Starfucker before heading to the Roseland Theater.

Saturday was the night that had the triple threat from J. Mascis, Sebadoh, and Dinosaur Jr. and and there was definitely a buzz about the room in anticipation. If there is one person that makes playing guitar look like the easiest thing ever, it's J. Mascis. From his wickedly awesome neon teddy bear shoes to his mellowed-out set of acoustic songs (and the occasional fuzzed out rock selections) it was all a win.

I really wanted to catch The Tallest Man on Earth's sold out show at The Crystal Ballroom and when I got there the place was completely packed. I happened to catch the last couple of songs from Strand of Oaks, a folk band that are currently touring with TTMoE. After 30 minutes of waiting, I was standing in the photo pit as Kristian Matsson walked up on stage, referenced to the crowd, and picked up his guitar. It was at that moment I realized that he had the strongest stage presence of anyone I had seen that week. It was his brand of intensity, coupled with that raspy-clear voice and gut-wrenching lyrics that perfectly ended my stay in Portland, and my last day of the fest.

Thanks, Portland. Can't wait to see you again next year!

{All photos by Beth Crook.}

AU Backspace Beirut Bobby Bare Jr. Crystal Ballroom Doug Fir Gardens and Villa Imaginary Scoop J. Mascis Lake Lemolo LP Mbilly Menomena Mississippi Studios Moonface Passion Pit Pioneer Courthouse Square Reignwolf Tallest Man on Earth The Hawthorne Theatre The Helio Sequence The Melvins The Roseland Theatre Those Darlins Young Turks

Must-see picks for Musicfest NW {9/5 – 9/9}

As you wind down from Bumbershoot weekend next week, don't forget that a mere 48 hours later (yep, we're talking about next Wednesday, folks) there is whole 'nother festival getting underway midweek: Portland's own Musicfest Northwest. Boasting an impressive lineup of both local and national headliners, it's difficult to decide who to see — we feel like we've changed our schedules a million times already! So, pack some walking shoes and check out some of our picks to help keep the venue-hopping as easy as possible. Make sure to check out the MFNW site to get exact set times and to make your own customized schedule.


The first night of the fest is seems decidedly easygoing: open your night with a passion-filled set of powerful vocals from LP before catching the first night of dance-heavy pop at Passion Pit's two-night stint at the Crystal Ballroom. If you are thinking you need something to do before 9pm, head to the Mission Theater and see Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost): A Film about Bobby Bare Jr. at 7pm, then catch the man himself playing the Doug Fir at 10:40pm.

7:00p :: Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost): A Film About Bobby Bare Jr., Mission Theater
9:00p :: LP, Crystal Ballroom
10:00p :: Passion Pit, Crystal Ballroom
10:40p :: Bobby Bare Jr., Doug Fir

Runners up: The Minus 5 {Doug Fir @ 9:00p}, Sloan {Doug Fir @ 11:00p}.


Thusday is really the first full day of shows, and man, is it packed. If you're following our lead, we think there's really no excuse not to miss Reignwolf since he's the first show of the night — those screaming guitar solos and blues-laden vocals are a great way to start! Stick around and hear high-energy punk from Those Darlins before heading up to Mississippi Studios, where you can check out Portland's Mbilly before you are utterly mesmerized by the dreamy pop sounds of Lemolo. That's where we'll be!

7:15p :: Reignwolf, Roseland Theater
8:00p :: Those Darlins, Roseland Theater
9:00p :: Mbilly, Mississippi Studios
10:00p :: Lemolo, Mississippi Studios

Honorable mentions: These United States {9:00p @ Aladdin Theater}, Quasi {10:00p @ Hawthorne Theater}, Old 97's {10:30p @ Roseland Theater}.


The trifecta of seeing Menomena, Beirut, and The Helio Sequence in one night really can't be topped. Menomena and The Helio Sequence are both coming out with new albums in the near future, and Beirut's spectacular 2011 album The Rip Tide is still on heavy rotation — can there be a reason not to go? If there is, we can't find it. Make sure to get to Pioneer Courthouse Square early for Gardens & Villa, who are sure to please with their synthy sounds. If you have a gap in your schedule between 8pm and 11pm, catch the sweet dreamlike sounds of Lake or the latest lineup change-edition of the Melvins, Melvins Lite at Backspace and the Hawthorne Theater respectively.

5:30pm :: Gardens & Villa, Pioneer Courthouse Square
6:30pm :: Menomena, Pioneer Courthouse Square
8:00pm :: Beirut, Pioneer Courthouse Square
9:00pm :: Lake, Backspace
10:30pm :: Melvins Lite, Hawthorne Theater
11:00pm :: The Helio Sequence, Crystal Ballroom

You might want to also make room for: These United States (if you missed 'em the first time) {9p @ Aladdin Theater} and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart {11p, Star Theater}.


Here's our take: kick off the formal start of the weekend with AU and their spacey, multi-instrumental tunes at the mainstage, and then make sure to catch Young Turks for some hardcore rock before heading to the Roseland Theater for J. Mascis and his beautifully constructed guitar melodies. Then, close out your night with Tallest Man on Earth's sparse folky tunes at the Crystal Ballroom before you head to the Doug Fir for some indie rock with Moonface. Pow!

6:00pm :: AU, Pioneer Courthouse Square
8:00pm :: Young Turks, Backspace
9:00pm :: J. Mascis, Roseland Theater
10:30pm :: Tallest Man on Earth, Crystal Ballroom
12:00pm :: Moonface, Doug Fir

See also(s): Girl Talk {8:00p @ Pioneer Courthouse Square}, Typhoon {10:00p @ Aladdin Theater}, Sebadoh {10:00p @ Roseland Theater}, Big Freedia {11:00p, Branx}, Milo Greene {11:00p, Mississippi Studios}, and The Builders and the Butchers {12:00a @ Bunk Bar}.


Finally, an easy night of choices: the only place to be of the last day of the fest is Pioneer Courthouse Square to see Atlas Genius, followed by School of Seven Bells showing off their synth-pop tunes before the final act of the night (and of the fest itself), Silversun Pickups

5:30pm :: Atlas Genius, Pioneer Courthouse Square
6:30pm :: School of Seven Bells, Pioneer Courthouse Square
8:00pm :: Silversun Pickups, Pioneer Courthouse Square

Tickets are still available for purchase, and you can read all about your options here.

We'll see you down in Portland!

Crystal Ballroom Doug Fir Imaginary Scoop Laura Veirs Menomena On The Road The Builders and the Butchers The Decemberists The Head and the Heart The Mynabirds The Woods

MFNW recap: the weekend edition — Decemberists, the Head and the Heart, Menomena

The Decemberists / by Victoria VanBruinisse

{This is part three in a series of recaps about Musicfest Northwest 2010 — make sure you check out Thursday’s and Friday’s coverage too!}

The Builders and the Butchers:

The Woods / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The Builders and the Butchers / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Saturday at MFNW was chock full o’ rad, with bands around every corner and all kinds of PDX-style awesomeness abounding. The day started off with an excellent lineup at funeral home-turned-venue the Woods, courtesy of KEXP: The Mynabirds, The Builders and the Butchers, Typhoon, and several other bands took the stage from 1pm on for our listening and viewing pleasure. The station crew did a massive amount of taping and shooting, so keep an eye out for words, video, and stills over at their website — the BatB set was beyond epic and set up living-room style, almost microphone-free on a rug in the middle of the crowd — and we’re quite sure the fine folks of KEXP captured the performance with excellent result.

The Decemberists:

The Decemberists / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The Decemberists / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The Decemberists / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The Decemberists / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The Decemberists / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The Decemberists / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The Decemberists / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The Decemberists / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The Decemberists / Laura Veirs set was the big headline draw of the day over at Pioneer Courthouse Square, where an eager all-ages crowd packed every available seat and standing spot there was to be had. Some old favorites earlier in the set (“Billy Liar,” among others) set a perfect, positive-but-not-overly-upbeat vibe to match the falling dusk, and the Decemberists gladly sang us off into the nighttime with a few guest stand-ins from the lovely Laura Veirs to round out the sound.

The Head and the Heart:

The Head and the Heart / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The Head and the Heart / by Victoria VanBruinisse

After that wrapped, it was straight over to Berbati’s Pan for the Head and the Heart’s most recent post-Seattle-scene-explosion show, and the entire SEA camp that showed up — imaginary and others — were curious to see how the buzz had filtered down to our sister city. As they took the stage, we turned around to the people behind us who were seeing the band for the first time. “Get ready,” we said. “You’re about to meet your new favorite band.” And true to form, our new favorite band didn’t disappoint. They did their magic, modern, heart-bursting brand of hope.indie.folkcore like only they can, and had the entire room rocking along by the time a few minutes had passed.

Seriously. There was dancing.


Menomena / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Menomena / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Menomena / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The HatH power set bled perfectly into our journey across town to the Crystal Ballroom, where Menomena annihilated a sold-out crowd as the end to an amazing night. There’s not much else to say in the way of all things Menomena so far as adjective and verse go, because their sound and compositions are like no other — and if you’ve seen or heard them, you already know. They’re a wall of sound, full of crazy fresh beats, soul-yanking lyrics and the occasional saxophone. (While we’re on the subject of not being able to describe them with due justice — in the even that you haven’t heard the two most recent albums, go get them. Now. And join the fold.)

{Believe it or not, there’s still more pictures from the weekend on the way! While you’re waiting for more MFNW photobliss, you can click on over to see the rest of Saturday’s shots here, and stop and say hello to Thursday and Friday while you’re at it. Viva MFNW!}

Bobby Bare Jr. Crystal Ballroom Doug Fir Imaginary Scoop Okkervil River On The Road Tallest Man on Earth The Builders and the Butchers The Cave Singers Thee Oh Sees

MFNW recap: the pre-weekend edition, part II — Okkervil River, Tallest Man On Earth, Bobby Bare Jr.

Okkervil River / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Day two at MFNW: also known as Friday, September 10th. With tons of shows all over the city to choose from, we chose to spend our imaginary day with the folks over at KEXP for a series of kick-ass in-studios, and to focus on the highly anticipated Okkervil River / Bobby Bare Jr. and Tallest Man On Earth / Cave Singers sets that night.

Friday morning at the Doug Fir, with Bobby McHugh:

Doug Fir / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Bobby McHugh / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Doug Fir / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Bobby Bare Jr. and his de-lovely band, in-studio for KEXP:

Bobby Bare, Jr. / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The Tallest Man On Earth, in-studio for KEXP:

Doug Fir / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Tallest Man On Earth / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Underslept and over-caffeinated, we took to the Doug Fir for early performances by Bobby Bare Jr., The Tallest Man on Earth, and Thee Oh Sees. BBJ’s big-guitar, Americana-ized indie rock (as in indie.rock ‘n roll) jangled our insides awake, giving us a glimpse of what we could expect at the opening set later that evening over at the Crystal Ballroom. The Tallest Man On Earth’s power mini set — a good six songs or so — followed shortly thereafter with an entire band’s worth of sound, crippling our wide-awake hearts with sad stories and achy chords. And Thee Oh Sees’ jangly, yeller.surfcore antics took us out on a high note — their mega-upbeat songs with a little bit of noise and a little bit of B52’s-esque male / female counterpart vocals had us bouncing out the door looking forward to the rest of the night.

Bobby Bare Jr., live at the Crystal Ballroom:

Bobby Bare, Jr. / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Bobby Bare, Jr. / by Victoria VanBruinisse

By the time the Okkervil River show rolled around, we were coming out of our skin with excitement. Good as it was, Bobby Bare Jr.’s set earlier in the day proved to be only a mild, pared-down morning version of everything he was capable of bringing — as he started up the last song of his pre-OKR set, we were dancing along saddened, hoping that it wasn’t time to end his performance yet. His guitar work was enormous, the songs were fluid and transitioned well from one to the next, and the stage presence of the entire group translated fantastically. According to the chatter around me in the pit, there’s a documentary on BBJ in the works — so fans of his world will definitely want to stay tuned.

Okkervil River’s headlining set at the Crystal Ballroom:

Okkervil River / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Okkervil River / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Okkervil River / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Okkervil River / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Okkervil River / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Will Sheff and company finally took the stage after another twenty minutes or so passed, and proceeded to put forth one of their best performances we’ve seen to date. Happy — and actually enthusiastic — about performing, they had it up at 11 for the whole show, playing songs that were better than any hand-crafted fantasy set list we could have come up with on our own. They opened their slice of the night up with “Black” (a traditional closer / end-of-set song on the 2008 tour) and managed to keep the momentum up for about ninety minutes straight — songs like “Red,” “Plus Ones,” “Lost Coastlines,” “Black Sheep Boy,” “A Girl in Port,” “A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene,” and “Unless It’s Kicks” literally had the room bouncing along and / or standing stick-straight in reverent silence, depending on what the tone called for. It was hands-down the best performance of the weekend — so much so that if we were to see no other shows until rOctober, we would have done so fully satisfied.

The Crystal Ballroom / by Victoria VanBruinisse

There’s so much more to tell about Friday, like the stellar Tallest Man On Earth / Cave Singers set at the Doug Fir, the late-night Builders and the Butchers show, and all the amazingness that went on during David Bazan and Rocky Votolato’s performances on Thursday. You can read all about the latter (and everything else that went on throughout Thursday’s sets) here.

{We’ll have more photos and commentary from Friday — including shots from the Tallest Man On Earth’s Doug Fir nighttime show — up soon, so stay tuned! In the meantime, check out the imaginary flickr pool for more of Thursday’s and Friday’s photos.}

Bobby Bare Jr. Crystal Ballroom David Bazan Doug Fir Imaginary Scoop Okkervil River On The Road Rocky Votolato Tallest Man on Earth

MFNW recap: the pre-weekend edition, part I — David Bazan, Rocky Votolato, and more!

David Bazan / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Musicfest, Musicfest Northwest, M-F-N-Dubs, Baby SouthBy — whatever you want to call it, this past weekend’s slew of shows down in Portland were nothing short of an absolute blast. We ran rampant through the quadrants for four days straight, shooting every show we could get our hands on, swooning exponentially more as each night passed. Here’s just a fraction of what went on for the first half of the fest, during Thursday’s and Friday’s sets.

Rocky Votolato at the Doug Fir:

Rocky Votolato / by Victoria VanBruinisse

The big knock-it-out-of-the-park set on Thursday was David Bazan / Rocky Votolato set over at the Doug Fir. After the stage was properly warmed up all day with KEXP in-studios from the likes of the Cave Singers and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Rocky took the spotlight (after what was likely a gorgous set by Joshua Morrison, that we hit town a little too late to catch) and the room over for a good forty minutes, with a set that pleased both rabid forever-fans and fringe-fans alike. There was something almost infectious about his performance, as he surpassed the standard singer/songwriter storyteller vibe and instead delivered each song with a repectful, earnest, homage-y vibe that struck the major chords of our very own indie-lovin’ heartstrings.

The forever-fans sang along gleefully, word-for-word, elbowing each other during standout lines, chatting about summers past and how his songs had composed the very soundtracks that they’d lived by. The newer fans and never-heard-of-hims in attendance couldn’t help but get caught up in all the love, smiling from ear-to-ear at the energy the fans and Rocky seemed to be co-generating, helping to fill up the room with goodness. Much more than just an opening set for Bazan, Rocky Votolato’s slot was a standalone performance in it’s own right, and with endless choices on the dance card that evening, very much worthy of the time given.

David Bazan + Band at the Doug Fir:

David Bazan / by Victoria VanBruinisse

David Bazan / by Victoria VanBruinisse

David Bazan / by Victoria VanBruinisse

David Bazan / by Victoria VanBruinisse

As previously stated, it would seem as though the most recent incarnation of David Bazan (+ Band) can do no wrong. Every set that passes seems to get more cohesive, songs off of the newest album (Curse Your Branches) get better and better with each live listen, and any older, unearthed pre-solo Bazan work gets more polished and evolved-sounding every time the band takes a pass at it. Case in point: seeing something like “When They Really Get To Know You, They Will Run” on a non-Pedro the Lion setlist would invoke a fearful cringe from any number of long-standing PtL fans, as no cover version or reworked lineup could possibly do the original a fair amount of justice. However, it’s appearance on the DB+B setlist brought nothing but waves of joy to the imaginary camp in attendance, especially for those post-touring PtL fans present who thought they’d never hear it performed live in their lifetime.

That solid perfomance, coupled with Bazan’s signature anthematic chord progressions and a packed house, made the DB+B set the best of the night.

condiment heaven / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Thermals, kinda / by Victoria VanBruinisse

toasty / by Victoria VanBruinisse

Low-key mayhem ensued after the Doug Fir set, including (but not limited to) band sightings at one of the many Portland food-cart compounds, and much late-night geek-out-ery about the evening’s performances and everything that was coming up for Friday — most notably, Okkervil River’s headlining set at the Crystal Ballroom. Read all about that (and everything else that went on throughout Friday’s sets) here.

{We’ll have more photos from Thursday — including shots from the Thermals’ Crystal Ballroom show — up soon, so stay tuned! In the meantime, check out the imaginary flickr pool for more of Thursday’s and Friday’s photos.}

Berbati's Pan Bobby Bare Jr. Crystal Ballroom David Bazan Imaginary Scoop Menomena Okkervil River Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside Tallest Man on Earth The Cave Singers The Decemberists The Thermals The Walkmen Wonder Ballroom

It's time to prefunk! Music Fest Northwest is coming, September 8-12


While everyone is prefunking Bumbershoot, we’d like to take a moment to officially get the prefunk to the prefunk for Music Fest Northwest going. Starting today.

If you’ve never been, MFNW is like a crazier, spread-out-ier Bumbershoot — spanning four days and venues all over town — or a tinier, cleaner SXSW. Minus the industry hoo-ha and power-showcases and seminars. Beginning on Wednesday, September 8th, our sweet sister-city will be hosting a veritable slew of amazing bands all over town. Acts like Okkervil River, Menomena, the Decemberists, the Cave Singers, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, the Thermals, Dave Bazan, Bobby Bare, Jr., the Walkmen, the National, and the Tallest Man On Earth — among many, many others — will be bringing an extended weekend of bliss to Portland for our listening and viewing pleasure.

We’ll be featuring more of the bands we’re excited to see play this year over the next week, and posting our recommendations on which shows we think you’d like to catch, day-by-day. Until then, however, please enjoy the official MFNW commercial — and when that’s done, take a minute to swing over to the MFNW website and get started on your schedule. Tickets (may) still be available by the time this posts — you can check here to see what’s left, although the three-day VIP tickets have already sold out.

Stay tuned for more prefunk!

Crystal Ballroom Live Show Review Sunny Day Real Estate

Sunny Day Real Estate at the Crystal Ballroom

If you were never an awkward, unsure 14 year old clinging to a few nice words from nice girl or guy who probably didn’t feel the same way you did, you’re most likely full of shit. And if you didn’t at least cling to a few nice words from Sunny Day Real Estate to get over the fact that the girl or guy just didn’t like you as much, you’re most likely full of shit.

Luckily, SDRE is never full of shit, and here at their second show of their reunion tour, there was nothing but the huge, tight sounds of strained loneliness that hit home, no matter how cool you are (and let’s face it, we’re all uncool here).

Playing to a packed crowd in the Crystal Ballroom (where admittedly most seemed older, and in many cases very much so, than my 21 year old self), the band ripped through an hour-plus set chock full of favorites; soon after opening the set, SDRE jumped right into the good stuff, playing “Seven”, the lead single off their first album, Diary. Going through gems from their catalogue, the group hit highlights like “Song About An Angel” and “Round” while joking about some of the incoherent lyrics found in their self-titled, second album (aka LP2).

However, nothing else seemed to matter once Jeremy Enigk began to talk about… new SDRE music (!). With a playful rant to the extremely receptive crowd, Enigk explained how the group wrote a song last week, the first new SDRE material in quite some time, and that this was the first time they would be playing this new song, even referring to it as a “rehearsal.” Yes, the crowd went absolutely crazy. Yes, the new song kicks ass. And yes, it sounds like a natural progression of the SDRE we know and love: honest and intense vocals, spiraling melodies, and the grand sense of disillusion that carried us through those painful times. SDRE is back, and they’re going to make you remember why you even thought emo was a legitimate and awesome genre to begin with.

Crystal Ballroom Live Show Review The Helio Sequence

The Helio Sequence

I'd made somewhat of a habit of catching The Helio Sequence when they played the haunts and dives of Portland supporting their first two albums: tiny shows with tiny crowds, opening bands that were even more unknown, good beer and dark corners. Standing so close to the two-man orchestra that is Helio you could literally feel the music move you, your innards quiver at the low end and your teeth squeak at the treble. Watching Brandon Summers try to wrangle his bucking Telecaster as it squelched and pinged, gaping at Benjamin Weikel as he punished his drums like they owed him money, neck on a loose hinge, heaving his head to and fro like a screen door in a hurricane. It was always a good show, always.

It's been a few years since those tiny clubs and paltry merch tables, they've been on a long, deep and very real ride, so when the men of Helio Sequence took the stage at the Crystal Ballroom like they'd done several times before it was at once surprising and befitting that the house was packed to the rafters. Sure, some of it could be due to the cheap tickets provided by local alt-rock station KNRK who sponsored the show and billed it as an "I Saw Them When…" affair, but the static in the air proved that the real draw was the reputation of the band and the ever-building praise of their latest invention Keep Your Eyes Ahead, a red-letter album for the band, marking their journey into the cold embrace of real life.

The Helio Sequence. Photos by Justin KoeppenAs is traditional for a band pimping its latest endeavor they started the set with the seamless opening trio "Lately," "You Can't Say No," and "Captive Mind" just as the album does, following up with a welcome nod to their solid 2004 release Love and Distance; the comparatively cheerful "Don't Look Away" and "Let It Fall Apart" and the crowd-pleasing "Harmonica Song".

Sadly the crowd, at least from the area I chose to take in the show, decided to take what could have been a touching and intimate performance of the gentle "Shed Your Love" and instead use that time to discuss whatever the hell happened to be popping up in their minds at the moment and the show seemed to stall as half the crowd couldn't hear the song over the other half of the crowd yammering to itself. Things picked back up once the "full band" returned on "You Can Come to Me" and "Hallelujah," which moved smoothly into a ambling rendition of "Everyone Knows Everyone" and a surprisingly un-digital sounding version of "Keep Your Eyes Ahead." Act one ended with the always invigorating "Square Bubbles" and its face-melting climax.

The encore saw Brandon return to the stage alone to perform "Broken Afternoon" to a slightly more attentive audience and was after joined by Benji for a searing and appreciated cover of The Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows" as found on their first album Com Plex; it was a powerful number and was easily the highlight of the evening.

The Helio Sequence. Photos by Justin Koeppen

The Helio Sequence had always been a band with great ideas, flawless execution, and genuine energy but this time around, with the lessons of life scarred into them and the wisdom of a few more years around the block, they seemed less like a "local" band and more like true headliners. Their new songs have a maturity and a gravity that their earlier music had yet to explore, the difference between idealism and reality, the sounds of the rite of passage as told by two men who can look back on a decade of creation and chuckle knowingly to themselves at their innocence and youthful exuberance, now wounded by time but no worse for it.

Crystal Ballroom Live Show Review Love As Laughter Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse at the Crystal Ballroom in PDX

Like Hunter S. Thompson and his attorney, my friend and I descended on Portland, Oregon to see Modest Mouse play live. Touring in support of their new album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, Modest Mouse played two nights at McMenamin's Crystal Ballroom.

As Thompson's attorney was to watch out for Thompson as he drank himself stupid and did enough drugs to kill an elephant, my buddy was there to watch out for me.

Sometimes you can’t rely on your friends.

On the drive to Portland, I tell him, "Don't let me drink too much, I have to write about this show." So what does he do? He matches me drink for drink in the hotel room before the show, then encourages me to order a cocktail with dinner, then, as he’s switched to water halfway through Modest Mouse's set (which I hadn't noticed), never told me, "Maybe you shouldn't order your fifth beer." And the beers come in 20-ounce cups at the Crystal Ballroom. So, needless to say, things were a little fuzzy toward the end.

And as I sit here on the blue Astroturf of the walkway outside my hotel room, laptop on my thighs, cigarette hanging out of my mouth, maids walking past me, sunglasses on to keep the sun from making my hangover worse, I ask myself, "What angle am I going to take on this story? Especially with the details fuzzy." I yell through the window to my friend, "What angle am I going to take on this story?" And he yells back, "Write about how drunk you got."

At first I’m annoyed. I had warned him, I had asked him politely, to not let me do what I did. But then a thought pops in my beer-drenched brain. He’s right. But I shouldn't write about how drunk I got; rather, I should write about how all that beer was necessary to watch the show.

Now don’t take that statement the wrong way. Modest Mouse played a great show. In fact, it was a million times better than I’d expected. I’ve heard other people’s complaints from Modest Mouse shows in the past (boring; songs dragged on too long; the band wasn’t into it), but there’s no complaints from me about this show (thanks to the beer).

Love as Laughter provided great background music as we drank beers and smoked cigarettes in the lounge just downstairs from the Ballroom, where the show was piped in on speakers and a big-screen TV, waiting for the headliner.

When Modest Mouse hit the stage, the band seemed excited, even happy, to be up there. Isaac Brock’s confident posture and assault on the microphone was entertaining; His jerky back and forth dance incited impersonators. The crowd (which reportedly included Stephen Malkmus and Sleater Kinney) swayed back and forth in time with the gusto everyone onstage was putting into the songs.

The set began with a majority of songs from the new album and Good News for People Who Love Bad News. Since the new album wasn't released yet, I was familiar with only a couple of its songs. Rather than feeling lost due to the lack of new album familiarity, I felt privileged to have heard them live first. My excitement for the new album was stoked, and when I hear the songs on recorded for the first time, it will take me back to the energy in the air that night.

The music was fun, bouncy, "discoey" as my friend put it. And, unlike what I’m used to, Modest Mouse got the crowd dancing. Maybe it was the Portland crowd. Maybe it was because it had been awhile since we’ve been able to see the band play live; maybe it was because the night before there had (supposedly) been sound problems. The crowd in the Crystal Ballroom Thursday danced like they were at a Bee Gees show in 1978. I may have even danced a little myself (again, thank you beer).

When "Dashboard," the first single from We Were Dead… came on, I may have even danced enough to spill some of my (third) beer on my T-shirt. The dancing, screaming, and jumping had not even decelerated, an hour after the first note.

Keeping the energy alive, with the band blasting trumpets, changing guitars, and only a minimal amount of inaudible banter from Brock, Modest Mouse kept the songs clipping along, and the crowd moving. “Float On” caused the most ruckus, with the crowd causing the springs in the Crystal Ballroom’s floor to bounce so hard almost everyone’s beer was sloshed out onto our feet.

By my fifth beer, I'm now missing a couple of scenes, and as I’m sure Hunter S. Thompson had a few editors shaking their heads with disappointment, I may have some imaginary girls shaking their heads because I honestly don't recall the song the band ended with before leaving the stage.

And for that matter, the I didn't recognize the song they played as their encore. The band went into a long, slow jam, old Modest Mouse style, which (beer-soaked or not) got boring after the seventh or so minute of the tune. The band as a whole sounded great, though if it wasn’t for that last beer that kept my brain slowed down enough to enjoy a ten-minute-long jam, I might have left.

The band finished, and the crowd gave them heavy applause (as they deserve), then we headed around the corner to another bar for one more beer, glad we saw Modest Mouse play, glad we saw them in Portland, glad we saw them at the Crystal Ballroom. We anticipated the hangovers we'd have in the morning.

Crystal Ballroom Live Show Review Stars of Track and Field Tea for Julie The Thermals

"I Saw Them When"

What could possibly motivate a couple of college students to embark on a one-day, 360-mile round trip drive from Seattle to Portland and back again on a school night? What in the world would be worth draining the meager billfolds of our theater student budgets for the sake of pricey gas and enough junk food to last us through nuclear winter? Either A) we were absolutely insane, B) we were bored out of our wits, or C) there was a damn good concert going on down there (or, perhaps, all of the above). Give up? I'll give you a big hint: on President's Day, Portland natives Tea For Julie, Stars of Track and Field, and The Thermals each took the stage of McMenamins Crystal Ballroom for 94.7 KNRK's aptly titled "I Saw Them When" concert.

By the time my friend and I arrived at the Ballroom, the crowd was eagerly buzzing with anticipation. I wove my way through the compacting crowd to the edge of the stage, and soon afterward Tea For Julie were all ready to get the show on the road. Of the first seven songs they played, all but one — their KEXP single "Hello" — were brand-spanking new numbers. "Hello" was wowing as ever, especially toward the end when vocalist Michael Deresh began sailing his series of falsetto hello's over the echoing arpeggios of his guitar.

Tea for JulieThe new songs were equally impressive. Their third song, "Big Difference," was performed so energetically that at one point bassist Denver Warner's pick went flying several feet from his hand, and he proceeded to finish the tune with his bare fingers as if nothing had happened. Around halfway through the show, Jad Simpson abandoned his drum set and placed himself in front of a metallophone, with a mallet in one hand and a tambourine in the other, and the band played a beautiful new song called "Snow Globe." With Simpson away from his drums, the song began with a prerecorded drum track, which the band accompanied with a smooth, cool rhythm of reverberant keys and strings. The dynamic sound that Tea For Julie fostered while writing and recording Division was on full display in their new material, and the continual sense of sonorous experimentation in the music they've written since — with the help of [relatively] new guitarist Travis Stanek — has given the band a whole new breadth of possibilities. My personal highlight of the set was when Deresh dedicated their next song to everybody who had trekked from Seattle, and then went right into "1000 Colors" (my favorite Tea For Julie song). I could have died happy right then, but thankfully I didn't, because there were still two more wonderful bands to come.

Stars of Track and Field were next, dressed in their Monday best. During the setup interval before their set, Jason Bell was to my right, shaking hands with a few enthusiastic fans while Kevin Calaba was to my left demonstrating the different effects of his various guitar pedals to the crowd in front of him. These simple acts exemplified the deep sense of accessibility and connection between the crowd and the performers, and this breaking down of the fourth wall was a theme which permeated throughout the concert, much to the pleasure of the audience.

Once everything was ready, Daniel Orvik started off with the eight quick drum pounds which signify the start of "Say Hello," and the set was underway. As bronzed and polished as their recorded work sounds, that's how brisk their live performance was. In fact, it surprised me how different they can sound once they shed their veneer of production. Calaba's voice, naturally rich with sympathy and vulnerability, perfectly befitted the bare bones sound their live show offered, though unfortunately the harmonies which accompanied them (arguably one of the band's best traits) were sometimes lost in the mix. Bell's guitar solos had a raw, brazen, and somewhat improvisational feeling reminiscent of grunge before it became the rad thing to listen to. I can only hope that if Stars of Track and Field become the next rad thing to listen to, they won't lose the band-next-door quality of their live performance.

Coming into this concert, The Thermals were the band I had known most recently, learned the least about, and heard the least of. Walking out of this concert, they became one of my favorite live acts. There's something about a great punk show that just releases all of the stress we all have bottled up, carbonated, and shaken inside of us. There's a certain beauty to the "my sweat is your sweat" mentality of a crowd that completely loses its sense of politesse (not to mention hygiene) to the steam engine of sound coming from the stage.

Kathy Foster of The ThermalsThe Thermals' performance was an adrenaline-injected, irreverent yet levelheaded force of human nature. They were natural crowd-charmers, directing the banging heads and mosh pits that were unleashed in front of them. At one point, the crowd began a chant of "PORTLAND! PORTLAND!" which the band embellished with a ridiculously amusing impromptu accompaniment (I wonder if this little number will make the cut on their next record… they did suggest as much, if only jokingly).

Though they are great live, The Thermals don't seem to expose their best qualities, and though that may suit punk it doesn't serve them as musicians. Musical intricacies, which were usually inundated by ordinary bar chord progressions and major-scale melodies, seemed to come secondary to the energy of their presentation. Even further understated were the admirable internal rhymes and assonance of the lyrics, which were buried far beneath the overwhelming volume. Perhaps that is one of The Thermals' most interesting attributes: many of their best qualities are just below the surface, and only those who pay special attention to them can fully appreciate their music as more than just fun punk songs.

I had never been to Portland for longer than it takes to pass through it, and as far as first impressions go, this was a damn good one. There's more to this city than meets the eye, and it seems to be meeting my ears one great band at a time. So keep an ear out for what this city has to offer, and someday you too will be able to say, "I saw them when."