MusicWatch Holidays: Auld lang syne

Wring the last drops of joy from 2019 with punky, funky, trippy New Year's Eve concerts

New Year’s Eve, like Death, is the great equalizer. We all celebrate the solstice-adjacent holidays differently–Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule, Festivus, Hogswatch, and so on–but those of us who follow the Gregorian calendar all come to the end of 2019 at more or less the same time. As we look back on one crazy year and look forward to another that promises to be just as bonkers, we’re reminded that we’re all stuck in this Weirdest Possible Timeline together.

So now that the presents have all been opened and the grievances have all been aired, it’s time to kill the fading year’s unfulfilled hopes and dreams and plant them in the dark soil of the coming year, where they will either germinate and bloom or get eaten by squirrels.

Either way, you probably have New Year’s Day off, which is as good a reason as any to stay up late on a weeknight and boogie until you drop. Parties of all persuasions litter Portland and environs next Tuesday night: parties with snappy themes ranging from outer space to the roaring 20s, tribute bands and DJs galore, punk and jazz shows at all the usual venues (because punk and jazz yield to no holiday). There’s even a few religious concerts focused on Jesus and/or the Environment, and–Portland being Portland–a wide variety of LGBTQ+ concerts and parties.

The best party in town may well be happening in your living room with friends and/or family, filling champagne glasses and packing bongs and brewing [redacted] tea, playing board games and listening to the year’s best albums, talking shit on the new Star Wars movie and bolstering each other’s confidence against the near-certainty that we will fail in our new year’s resolutions but have to try anyways.

Surely you’ll buy your pint cup, and surely I’ll buy mine

But you came here for live music, dear reader, and out of the region’s 1,001 NYE bashes we’ve chosen a double-fistful of year-end concert celebrations scattered all across the moribund and increasingly irrelevant “genre” map: our selections for next Tuesday (plus one on Monday) are classical and churchy, pink and undead, dirty and funky and gay and punky. And, as always, we have a few slices of psychedelia. Hell, we’ve even got some leftover Halloween candy for you.

Some of these shows start late and run into next year, while others start early and wrap well before last call–and maybe that gives you an excuse to rush home and pay the babysitter, or maybe it’s a reason end 2019 with a wild saturnalia of music-packed revelry. Whatever you do, be safe: take Tri-Met, hire a cab, or pay one of your sober buddies to chauffeur your wasted ass around town. Stay frosty, dear Oregon, and we’ll see you in 2020!

A cup of kindness

Let’s start with New Year’s Eve Eve, when Oregon Ballet Theatre joins the Oregon Symphony at the Schnitz for “A Viennese New Year,” wherein Shostakovich’s “Tea for Two” is cucumber-sandwiched between the sparkly music of 19th-century waltzmeisters Johann Strauss Jr. and Sr. for a seriously deep look back at years gone by. Also at the Schnitz, on New Year’s Eve Proper, everybody’s favorite pop orchestra Pink Martini pits their dueling divas China Forbes and Storm Large against Portland Youth Philharmonic and local NPR host Ari Shapiro for two sets of year-ending fun at 7 and 10:30 p.m.

For a truly classical New Year’s, head to The Old Church in Southwest Portland, where baritone Kevin Walsh and pianist John Strege will join the Florestan Trio–pianist Janet Guggenheim, violinist Carol Sindell, and cellist Hamilton Cheifetz–for an evening of champagne and chamber music. Or for a more choralicious classical New Year’s party, head over to downtown’s Trinity Episcopal Church for their New Year’s Eve concert. Despite the churchy setting, this sounds like quite the shindig: the celebration features Trinity’s in-house organists alongisde Pacific Youth Choir, women’s vocal ensemble Radix, PSU’s beloved Queer Opera, vocal soloists Christine Johnson and Kathleen Hollingsworth, and–strangest of all–local bagpiper Mark Mullaney.

We can hardly think of a more appropriate band to ring in the roaring twenties with than Ne Plus Ultra Jass Orchestra, who lovingly recreate the sound and spirit of old-timey jazz clubs and close out 2019 with a Big Band Burlesque Bash at Jack London Revue. Will there be masks, costumes, maybe even some nudity? Probably! Will there be merriment and good cheer? Most definitely.

Where are the musicians of local bands Màscaras, Wet Fruit, Mini Blinds, Summer Cannibals, Moon Shy, Dan Dan, Black Water Holy Light, and Bryson Cone partying on New Year’s Eve? At Bunk Bar on Southeast Water Avenue, that’s where! This lot apparently didn’t get their fill of musical cosplay at Halloween, so they’re wringing out 2019 with another tribute show full of covers.

You’ll hear Iggy and the Stooges songs performed by 1969, who are scheduled to become irrelevant and turn into bare-chested pumpkins at midnight; the ridiculously-named Geezer, performing Weezer’s self-titled blue debut in its twee entirety; and Kraftwerk covers by a band that should call itself Power Station (kraftwerk in English) but instead goes by the quilty name Craftwork, presumably to avoid legal disputes with the ghost of Robert Palmer.

A right goodwill draught

Roseland Theater hosts two of the region’s longest-running prog-psych bands for their New Year’s affair: Floater and King Black Acid. Over at Dante’s, 2019 ends metallically with thrashy local polystilists Separation of Sanity doing their brutal thing with Portland’s aggro-groovesters Kingdom Under Fire and the inexplicable Dead Animal Assembly Plant.

The venerable Portland Weird trio Gaytheist brings their smart, goofy, energetic live show to High Water Mark on Northeast MLK for A Very Gaytheist New Year’s Eve, with guests Fucked & Bound and Hair Puller. And up at Wonder Ballroom, Kevin Barnes–the prince of gorgeously glammy psych-pop since the late ‘90s–spends the evening tripping out with his merry pranksters of Montreal and Portland absurdist pop quintet Aan.

Portland’s favorite “psychedelic punk rock doo wop” band Dartgun and the Vignettes lost a member this year–singer and beloved Trek in the Park star Dana “Uhura” Thompson, whose sudden and tragic passing in July shook the Portland music and theater community. The band commemorates their fallen comrade with Dana Fest at Twilight Cafe and Bar, featuring The Latter Day Skanks, Creature Party, Black Feathers, and DJ Thrilla.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Not if The Vignettes have anything to say about it.

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