MusicWatch Halloween III: The Unveiling

The dead rise in Portland with a feast of tribute bands and other spooks

The world is already a haunted house. Killer clowns, mercenary robots, dystopian surveillance states, wildfires galore–what do you need a haunted house for? Instead, go lurk in the shadows with some dark music and costumed fun. There are dozens of tribute shows and other appropriately spooky concerts happening tonight (All Hallow’s Eve Eve), tomorrow (All Hallow’s Eve), Friday (Samhain), and through the weekend.

Hiding under the covers

Bands these days tend to turn their snotty punk rock noses up at the reviled “cover”–who wants to play someone else’s dead old music, when you could be creating your own new frankenstuff? Normally I heartily approve of this virtuous sentiment, as anyone who’s heard me ask “who the fuck cares about Brahms?” can attest. Local bands are your best source of folk-based contemporary composition, and even the worst among them have a creative joy that even established cover bands like the Oregon Symphony can only rarely match.

But every now and then, these folks like to turn their noses down and play dress up. And by “every now and then,” I mean Halloween season, when the veil between worlds thins to a viscous membrane and musicians reveal their secret hearts–this is the one time of year when it’s not only acceptable but downright Cool to learn Other People’s Music and play it for all your friends. Some bands do this sort of thing full time (Portland’s very busy Talking Heads tribute band Life During Wartime comes to mind), but Halloween season is when basically everybody gets in on the tribute game. Some of these bands are even making the rounds, trick-or-treating around various local venues over the next few days. Here are some of this year’s most exciting costumes.

A Bunk Halloween at Bunk Bar down on Water Avenue features Hell Beside You as Seattle ghouls Alice In Chains, New York Kids as aughts moodsters Interpol, and Victoria as dreamy duo Beach House. Up at North Portland’s stabby Kenton Club, Lobotomen does The Ramones, Danzig Fever does Misfits, Chippunks play “Rodent Punk Classics,” and The Hauer Things plays songs from the Nuggets crypt.

The haunted Holocene itself plays dress up tomorrow night, turning itself into The Bronze for an evening of Buffy the Vampire Slayer tomfoolery. Local Ween cover band Poop Ship Destroyer–a dedicated two-piece act that sing and play guitar and bass to their own methodically programed drum machine covers, all drawn from the deepest, dingiest pockets of the goofy duo’s bizarre catalogue–does their thing at The Blue Room Bar on Southeast Shady-Second. And starting tonight, indie-folksters Old Yeller play three evenings of Grateful Dead songs at McMenamins’ Al’s Den.

North Portland’s Killingsworth Dynasty hosts two covers shows this week. Tonight, it’s Victoria again, The Candy-Ohs summoning the ghost of Ric Ocasek for a set of Cars covers, and Raveonettes tribute band Love is a Trash Can. Tomorrow, on Halloween Proper, it’s Siouxsie and the Banshees eidolons Bad JuJu, along with 1919 as Bauhaus and 1969 as Stooges.

Black Water Bar on Northeast Broadway has a whole Black Water Halloween Weekend of this stuff. On Thursday, it’s Joey’s Army (more Ramones), Wannabe Dogs (more Stooges), with Peace Force as The Skeptix and Noise Boys as Toxic Reasons. Friday is original metal night, with Funebrarum, Mortiferum, and Witch Vomit. And on Saturday it’s the perfectly-named Fauxgazi as Fugazi, The Gems as The Germs, more from the Chippunks, and Graveyard Graffiti doing 7 Seconds.

The Fixin’ To up in St. Johns is also doing three nights of dress up. On Wednesday, it’s Hell Beside You again, EL-MO (ELO, presumably performed in the style of beloved horror icon Elmo), Tom Deady (as Tom Petty–a pretty cheap pun), and Nirvana Unplugged (which will have to include a few choice covers of covers in order to be complete). On Halloween Night, it’s Turkey Necks (The Cramps), Broken Bodies (more Misfits), and the improbably named Titty Babies. Then, on Saturday, it’s New York Kids again, Best Friend’s Girl (another Cars haunting), and Fall Out Boo (Fall Out Boy, runner-up in our personal “best silly name” contest).

High Water Mark’s two-night Into the Shadows fest on Friday & Saturday features another apparition by Bad JuJu, Seattle Joy Divisioneers She’s Lost Control, and a carved pumpkinful of Portland and Seattle bands. Goodfoot Lounge also hosts two nights of fun. Tonight, it’s Funk ‘N’ Roses, the perfect band for those of us who hear Guns ‘N’ Roses on the radio and think, “needs more horns and a female Axl.” On Halloween Itself, Portland prog stars Mars Retrieval Unit lurk in the Goodfoot basement, pretending to be Portland prog stars Mars Retrieval Unit. MRU always does a bunch of proggy covers, from Björk to Zappa, which wins our golden ticket award for best “just wear your work clothes and tell everyone you’re Bartleby” costume.

Oh, you want spooky classical music? Head downtown to First Presbyterian Church on Sunday for the FPC Chancel Choir’s cover of underappreciated French composer Maurice Duruflé’s magnificently morbid Requiem, guest-starring organist Greg Homza, vocal soloists Laura Beckel Thoreson and Kevin Walsh, and conductor Shohei Kobayashi. Or perhaps you’d like to get in on this covers action yourself. The long-running Karaoke From Hell moves from Dante’s to spend Halloween night at the endearingly old-fashioned East Portland Aerie & Auxiliary 3256 at the foot of Mount Tabor out on SE Hawthorne and 50th. Put on your pointy hat, grab your broom, and go shrieking with a live band.

Technically, you could go hear local legend “Elvis” perform at Dante’s no cover happy hour every Friday. You’ve been meaning to check him out for ages, right? Can you think of a better time?

Master of fright, demon of light

Ah, but all this rock-n-roll pales compared to the apex of local Halloween tribute acts: Friday through Sunday at Alberta Rose Theatre, The Saloon Ensemble performs Danny Elfman’s heart-stopping Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. We wrote about this hootenanny a few years back, and this weekend’s resurrection looks to be more of the same: a semi-staged, full-band-with-singers concert performance of the mythological holiday singspiel costumes and all. Basically they treat Nightmare like it’s the damn Threepenny Opera–which, of course, it basically is. Picture a Deadwood-style Old West house band playing Weill from scores delivered by Pony Express and you’ll have a fair idea of what this show feels like. And until the Oregon Symphony or Portland Percussion Group manage to bring some of Elfman’s classical music to town, this is your best chance to hear the Evil Elf’s music live.

Be warned–this is a fun show. There will be singalongs. There will be placards with lyrics. There will be costume contests, photos with the performers, kids of all ages. Oogie Boogie will Do His Stuff. The band–known for their ridiculous musical version of Jaws 3D–kicks ass, and sews its beating heart full of love for the film and its songs right onto their tattered, rotted, graveyard sleeves. When it comes to surprises in the full moon light, they excel without ever even trying.

Uncovered

It’s not all cover bands, though, if you’re desperate to hear original music while trick-or-treating. Halloween night, Hocus Pocus at The Liquor Store (“not a real liquor store”) features Cat Hoch, Fire Nuns, and Arts Watch darlings Kulululu getting up to their usual gonzoidity while local visual artist Jon Timm screens the Kenny Ortega classic Hocus Pocus. Over at Southeast Hawthorne’s bar-themed No Fun bar, local bands Gunk and Anothernight send their “stoned despair” and “doom folk” to straight to Hell for No Fun’s Samhain Experience, with live visuals by Milligram.

At the Atlantis Lounge inside Mississippi Pizza (not to be confused with Mississippi Studios or Mississippi Records), lucky audients can get in on Baba Yaga’s Ball, where Chervona and Krebsic Orkestar will honor the fowl-leg-hutted forest witch with an evening of rowdy Russian folk rock and twisty Balkan brass-band dance shenanigans.

Día de Muertos: Son Huitzilín oozes across two days at St. Andrew Catholic Church on Alberta, featuring a variety of musics from cumbia to son jarocho. And back at Holocene on Friday, Orquestra Pacifico Tropical does their psychedelic cumbia thing with local one-woman band Natasha Kmeto, Seattle’s Terror/Cactus, and “radical Latinx DJ collective” Noche Libre.

High Water Mark may be saving their Halloween thing for Friday and Saturday, but they’ve still got a ghostly show happening on the holiday itself: Savage Master, Silver Talon, Troll, and Bewitcher haunt the joint on Thursday. Also on Thursday, at Barrel House on Northwest Third, we have the dueling pianos of Nathan Tembly and Shawn Grindle. If they know what’s good for them, they’ll dress up as Donald and Daffy Duck.

Portland’s favorite slaughterhouse industrial metal band, Dead Animal Assembly Plant, massacres Dante’s for Halloween, celebrating the release of their latest album with electrorockers Photona and Hillsboroan hedonists The Gentry. At Dante’s the following night, you get one more crazy tribute band, and it’s this week’s Best Name Winner: Full Metal Jackson. It’s exactly what you think it is.

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