Monday, February 18, 2008

Gluttony, music, and many visuals / Portland travelogue Part 2

Bet you didn't think there was going to be a part 2, huh?

It's funny how making a sweeping statement like "I always finish my food" can suddenly induce buried memories of the times when such was not the case. Example: I now distinctly remember not finishing my meal during a lunch date a little more than a year ago. I was way more interested in my date than the so-so Chinese food I was eating and didn't feel the desire to show off my superior gluttony skills. And I did it again on Saturday, with Chris and Krissy when we went out for breakfast on Saturday morning. I became so full while trying to finish off my blueberry hotcakes and fruit cup, that I simply could not fit the remaining one quarter of both items I had ordered. I felt a little guilty, but a lot satisfied. And relieved. Off the hook. You know, it's a vacation. Screw it, I'm leaving some scraps.

It was kind of difficult trying to peer through thick clouds to catch glimpses of Mt Hood and the other nearby peaks around Portland, but then I expected this to be the case. The weather in Portland isn't perfect, and it can be close to awful if gazing at far-off snowcaps is one of your greatest thrills. I got lucky on Sunday though, once the sky cleared up for our trip to Multnomah Falls. Mostly sunny, clear skies, water misting in the air by the falls... it was a great hike up to the top, as Chris and I pondered the adventures of Christopher McCandless in Into The Wild (which I had seen the previous Monday, to lasting and profoundly existential effect).

Saturday was the night when I finally experienced some homegrown Portland music after listening and writing about some of it from afar. And lucky me, the charming Mississippi Studios venue had yet to begin its upcoming remodel. Its current state is quite charming, though apparently not very conducive to packing in enough folks to make for better business. The stage is maybe, oh, 8 inches off the ground, immediately to your right when you walk in the front door (which you cannot enter during a performance, so you have to go through the restaurant next door). Straight ahead when you walk in the door is a stairway leading up to a recording studio, office and "backstage" area which could more accurately be called an "upstage" area. But back down on the ground, there are cute woooden folding chairs set up in front of the stage in about three rows if memory serves me well, with some pew-like benches in the last row. More seating is a few steps above, and when you walk up to that area, you also make your way past a small sound area and a tiny bar on the left, and a ticketing area on the right. Patrons are actually supposed to enter from the back, after walking through the Mississippi Station restaurant next door, which is apparently under separate ownership despite bearing a similar name. Later in the evening, when Chris and I tried to walk into the restaurant from the back, we were kicked out for having beers in our hands purchased from Mississippi Studios... but back in the performance space... the walls were red, bearing local art depicting Hank Williams, a barely recognizable Bob Dylan, and some old-fashioned signage. The bathroom in the back by the bar was quite possibly the single coolest bathroom I have ever seen -- its walls were covered with 78 RPM records. It didn't matter that the sink had no hot water or that ordinary paper towels were the only reasonable hand-drying method available. I felt compelled not only to take photos of the interior of this most awesome lavatory, but also to rave about said facility to the beautiful, soft-spoken singer-guitarist I found standing outside the door upon my exit during the afternoon soundcheck I attended.

Lila Nelson at first appeared to be kind of shy, reserved, quiet. She had a real country charm to her. She reminded me of this girl Nadine I used to know, only if she were a singer-songwriter from Northern California and not quite as scary-thin. Turns out Lila is based in Arcata. I had to hear what she sounded like. Not knowing whether I'd be returning in time to catch her set, I asked if she had a myspace page. As I'd find out, not only does she have a myspace page, she also has a myspace song that would have some of her audience in stitches over what seemed like 10 or so minutes of first-person lyrics sung to "Tom" and myspace's corporate owner, News Corp's Rupert Murdoch.

But yes, I did return for Lila's 8pm set, and the shy-ish girl I had talked to earlier was now singing "cute" (as Chris described them) folk songs and chatting up the audience about wanting to run away from kindergarten after her teacher called her a dodo bird, her displeasure over Neil Young's recent comments about music not being able to make a difference (he may be wrong in the future, but I think he's right now), and all the while making the audience laugh. She was a total ham, surely worth a smile.

The late show was the primary reason I was there though. Rachel Taylor Brown was scheduled to play a set with Chris on toy piano and assorted primitive sound effects devices, and Ben Landsverk on viola, percussion, etc. The vibe was completely different for this set, which had many decorations on stage: colored lights housed in spheres of hardened yarn wrapped around the piano at which Rachel sat, a "percussion tree" (which was really just a wooden coat rack used to hang percussion instruments), not to mention Chris' toy piano and sound effects rig... Rachel shied away from some of the heavier themed songs like "Another Dead Soldier In Fallujah" from her upcoming album Half Hours With the Lower Creatures, and the between song banter made for some entertaining moments (particularly the introduction of "Christmas Robely" and his son "Ramadan"), but clearly Rachel is cut from a very different cloth compared to what was heard earlier in the evening. Less entertainer, more artiste. (A review of the news album is forthcoiming, as I'm sure you expected.)

Book shopping (Powells!), record store hopping (Music Millenium! Jackpot!) and some yummy meals took up most fo the rest of the trip. And now I'm back... three days later and my brain is tired all over again. But at least I finished that book I bought at the airport. One down...

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