MusicWatch Monthly: Back to hypernormal

September attempts to get “real” with symphonies, operas, ‘90s bands

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The pandemic is still on, although with schools and venues reopening it feels like we are resettling into a new paradigm. Much as some of us feared, the virus that has killed over 600,000 Amerians has just become a fact of life: things will go “back to normal,” or perhaps more accurately back to hypernormal, where everyone refuses to acknowledge what is plainly before them for fear of piercing the mirage.

Schools are returning to in-person classes, as are the state’s many colleges. Venues like Mississippi Studios, Holocene and the Moda Center will require patrons to bring their vaccination cards or a negative test result. Yet we still can’t shake the encroaching menace of the delta variant, which has taken over the entire scope of the new Covid cases.

The other major news item from the last month has been the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan and the immediate rise of the Taliban as the new government. The collapse of the US-backed government immediately after we leave proves the pointlessness of the twenty-year excursion: it was never about “nation-building,” it was more about filling the coffers of contractors and staging an even more pointless bullying of Iran. Thankfully Biden isn’t backing down, making his war-making policy (so far) much better than either Trump’s or Obama’s.

In the Metro area, there’s also been the effort to recall mayor Ted Wheeler, along with a more fruitful effort to restructure the city’s government, hoping that such a change will encourage politicians to actually do their jobs. Day by day, Wheeler reminds me increasingly of Tommy Carcetti from The Wire.

All this political talk may seem an odd way to open a column about concerts, but it’s important to keep aware of what’s happening to place events into the proper context. Even if it hangs in the back of our conscious minds at shows, it is still there, informing our experience. I do this for you, my reader, keeping my ears to the city by venturing where no reasonable person would ever have to go: the Portland Subreddit.

Orchestral maneuvers in the hopeful dark

The local orchestras inaugurate their (hyper)normal regularly-scheduled programming for some live shows. Columbia Symphony Orchestra comes back with a Pops concert at Grant Park on the 25th. The Vancouver Symphony Gala is on the seventeenth, a prelude to their opening concert of Beethoven, Schubert and Saint-Saëns the following weekend.

The first weekend of September brings a live performance from the Oregon Symphony, the first in who knows how long: the Waterfront Festival. Shows begin at 1 pm and end with the OSO’s performance at 7. This will also be the live debut of new conductor David Danzmayr, with whom we spoke a few months ago. 

The Oregon Symphony are just the headliners, however. Before their set of pop classical favorites is a diverse lineup spanning the breadth of Portland’s musical culture. The big recognizable name for people in the Pitchfork-o-sphere would be Black Belt Eagle Scout, fronted by queer Swinomish songwriter Katherine Paul. Before BBES are Chris Pureka and Saaeda Wright.

Joaquin Lopez, recently named one of Portland’s creative laureates, takes the stage at five along with harpist Antonio Centurion. Dj Anjali and the Incredible Kid perform at 3:30, offering a taste before the following weekend’s huge set at Tropitaal Desi Latino soundclash. Pianist, composer and PSU professor Darrell Grant performs with the PDX Jazz Masters including legendary figure of Portland’s jazz scene Mel Brown. And, since Portland Taiko’s upcoming Oaks Park performance is sold out, this will be your best chance to hear them in all their loudness and glory.

Sponsor

Speaking of Darrell Grant, this month we finally get to hear his opera Sanctuaries, presented by Third Angle. Delayed for over a year, Sanctuaries premieres the weekend of September 7, 8 and 9 in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum Pavilion. The cast and crew are full of names you’ll recognize from previous Third Angle shows and jazz clubs. Stay tuned for more coverage of the much-awaited opera in ArtsWatch in the coming weeks.

If you prefer your classical concerts to be smaller and more intimate, then 45th Parallel is for you this month, bringing the performers of its many online concerts into backyards across Portland. The Garden Concerts open their 2021-22 season called “Gratitude,” which will include a much-awaited live performance by Octocello at the opening performance on the fifth.

For those who either live on the coast or would like to head there for some music, the Siletz Bay Music Festival is happening from September 4-12, with shows across three venues in Lincoln City and Otis. One show to look out for is the premiere of a new work by OSO principal cellist Nancy Ives on the 12th. And on September 11 and 12 at the Alberta Abbey, Big Mouth Society performs music from the Americana soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ film, O Brother Where Art Thou?

Dance traditions

Holocene’s various dance parties are back, including the beloved second-Friday Dance Yourself Clean (“go ahead and dance yourself clean, we’re tearing Marxism to pieces,” as the LCD Soundsystem song says). No word yet on Slay, the Beyoncé dance party, however. One show that caught our eye is San Francisco sound collage band Negativland, who appear on the 20th in collaboration with visual artist Sue C.

There are many stories to recount about Negativland’s various shenanigans over the years, though their culture-jamming ethos is only part of their legacy as the creators of strange and hilarious music, loaded with odd samples and a vibrancy lacking from many of their contemporaries–music apt for a hypernormal age, in other words.

Many Portland stalwarts return this month as well. The Lot at Zidell Yards will be closing down their outdoor venue at the end of the month, giving us a few more weeks to enjoy outdoor concerts. The Dandy Warhols, who you may have heard of, play on the eleventh. They’re the band that’s been telling us heroin is so passé and they’d love to cook us some vegan food since they formed in 1994. Blue Cranes close out the month, performing on the 27th.

One of the lesser-known long-running Portland bands returning this month is Floater, who play at Wonder Ballroom on the 25th. They came up as part of that ‘90s grunge and alternative rock scene we all know and love, with a loyal fan base sticking with them since ‘96.

Pink Martini, also formed in 1994 (it’s so odd to think that the 1990s were over fifty years ago) is another one of those Portland bands that is just always around now. People often joke about bands being Big in Japan, but in the case of Pink Martini, they legitimately may be more popular in France and Greece than in the States. That is unsurprising, since their music takes as much from chanson and Latin music as from American jazz and pop music. They perform on the 18th at the Edgefield lawn. We also hope new member and current America’s Got Talent Semifinalist Jimmie Herrod makes it to the show.

On the road

For fans of the more experimental side of hip-hop, Armand Hammer is a must-see. Named for the red-diaper baby who became an oil baron with support from the Soviet Union (a communist billionaire, if you will), Armand Hammer is a collaboration between two of the most lyrical emcees working today, ELUCID and billy woods–be sure to have lyric annotation website Genius handy when listening to their latest album, Haram (CW dead animals for the album cover). They perform at Mississippi Studios on the 23rd, with opening act Open Mike Eagle, the thoughtful and funny art-rapper who alone is worth seeing.

Polaris Hall on the 24th features a performance by Algiers, whose music is a hard-to-describe blend of many styles (“gospel-punk, soul-punk, soul-rock, doom-soul”). They have exactly the sort of outspoken brashness lacking from a lot of modern rock music, giving you permission to be pissed off at a time when there’s so much around to make you angry and upset.

Algiers also created one of the most amazing pieces of music I’ve ever heard, Can the Sub Bass Speak?, a wild mix of angry spoken-word, free jazz and who knows what else–though it does feel odd to be a music critic praising a piece of music that holds so much contempt for music critics.

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About the author

Charles Rose is a composer, writer and sound engineer born and raised in Portland, Oregon. He graduated from Portland State University with a degree in Sonic Arts and Music Production in 2019. His piano trio Contradanza was the 2018 winner of the Chamber Music Northwest’s Young Composers Competition. He releases music on BandCamp under various aliases. In addition to composing, he is a sound engineer for chamber music group FearNoMusic and is an editor of the Portland State music journal Subito. You can find his writing at Continuousvariations.com.

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