Skeletal ordeals: From Civil War and Halloween to psychedelia and transparent aqua vinyl

MusicWatch Monthly: November brings a wave of sounds (and don't forget Halloween and Day of the Dead).

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Well, November has come, which means a couple things. We have the October-into-November celebrations of Halloween and Día de los Muertos, plus that celebration of delicious food and football, Thanksgiving. There’s also the great Oregon tradition of the college football game formerly known as the Civil War, between the UO Ducks and OSU Beavers. There’s also Guy Fawkes Day (remember, remember, the fifth of November), Election Day, Native American Heritage Day, and the corporate bacchanales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. However, concerns over covid and global supply chains put a damper on things a bit.

Much like any other month these days, there is much to worry about in the world. Global supply chains are held up for many reasons, presaged by the shortage of integrated circuits the tech-ier among us already knew about. Businesses are complaining of labor shortages, partially as a result of massive strikes at John Deere, Nabisco and Kellogg’s, but also because people are tired of being overworked and underpaid in restaurant and retail jobs.

Portland has seen a large rise in homicides over the last year, and any movement towards something better has slowed to a halt: it took ODOT almost a month to fix an elevator near my home. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose inconveniences have stacked up over the last few months (or years, or decades, or…)

We do have a great month of concerts coming up this month, which will hopefully act as a respite from all that. We even have a couple of late October shows, including fun Halloweeny stuff that wasn’t on our radars at the start of the month.

Halloween

If your idea of Halloween involves live dancing, with or without costumes, we have you covered. There are plenty of dance parties this weekend, with Goodfoot Lounge, Holocene, and the terrible-acoustics Crystal Ballroom bringing the biggest. Bossanova Ballroom and Jack London Revue, meanwhile, aim for something a bit more macabre. And if you wanna go to Holocene for a non-Halloween Show, definitely check out weirdo rock band Black Dice on the 30th. 

One of the Halloween shows we’re looking forward to the most is Talking Heads cover band LDW (“Life During Wartime“) playing at Doug Fir on Sunday. If that’s not your vibe, try the Strange and the Familiars album release show at the Jack London Revue: the venue is already candlelit and gothic, the perfect setting for a creepy rock show.

“Psychedelic cumbia” group Orquestra Pacifico Tropical play at Holocene on November 2 in celebration of Día de los Muertos, supported by Seattle’s Terror/Cactus and Deejay Cerrero. We often group the diverse musical cultures of everything south of Texas into the vague category “Latin,” but OPT are a unique group we are lucky to have in our midst. There are also some great Mexican restaurants over that way, if you want to go full-in on the celebration of Mexican culture.

While it come be a bit late for a creepy Halloween concert, pianist and composer Jennifer Wright puts on a Scorpio-season performance for her eldritch “skeleton piano” on November 14 at BodyVox Dance Theater (where you can also catch BodyVox’s annual BloodyVox this weekend). The multimedia concert, called The Phoenix Project: Art in the Time of Climate Emergency, will also feature other “transmogrified instruments” built by Wright’s students.

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The less-spooky rest of the month

On the 8th and 9th, the Claremont Piano Trio plays two shows, hosted by Friends of Chamber Music. The highlight of the programs, besides the Shostakovich, is a trio by Kati Agócs, Queen of Hearts, performed at CMNW in the Before Times.

This month is the return of the PSU Steinway Series, which has brought amazing pianists from all over the world into Portland for a concert, lecture and masterclass. The 2021-22 season opens with Dr. William Chapman Nyaho, pianist and scholar of African piano music. The concert goes live at Noon on Thursday the 4th, both live at PSU as part of their noon concert series and live-streamed on Facebook for those who can’t attend in person (or just don’t want to be around a bunch of college students). 

And speaking of midday concerts, the Old Church Concert Hall continues their series of Lunchtime Concerts at noon on Wednesdays. The one not to miss this month (unless you’re one of those nine-to-five Monday-to-Friday people I’ve heard so much about, in which case you have an excuse) is solo cellist Diane Chaplin on the tenth. Her program is a wide mix of contemporary classical, from Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s Lamentations to music by Caroline Shaw and John Tavener. 

At Polaris Hall on the 18th, we get a great threesome of local psychedelic, mellow rock bands. Yellow Room opens the show with some mellow fuzzed-out tunes. Death Parade, formerly Laura Palmer’s Death Parade, are much more pleasant than a stay in the Black Lodge, despite their name. The headliners, AAN, are big enough to get a show on KEXP (the even-more-hipster Tiny Desk Concerts) and have been playing around Portland since their first EP in 2010. 

These groups, plus OPT, lead me to ask, “what exactly is psychedelia”? It’s one of those strange nothing genres: maybe it meant something back in 1968, but now it mostly means “they use a lot of effects.” While some chemical enhancements certainly wouldn’t hurt, you don’t need any three-letter abbreviations to enjoy these shows.

45th Parallel Universe has three upcoming concerts from their stacked 2021-22 season. Tonight (!) at the Jacob’s Center is Las Américas, a show of American composers from Gershwin to Piazzola for the resident Arcturus wind quartet. Then, on the 11th (Armistice/Veterens Day), the Pxyis Quartet plays George Crumb’s Black Angels, an unsettling and haunting modernist classic. They’ll also premiere a new piece by Kenji Bunch (who has had a busy month!). Finally, percussionist Sergio Carreno puts on a three-city recital on the 18th.

Near the end of the month we get two nights of early Christmas with The Storm Large Holiday Ordeal (read about the last one here). Large is coming hot off her amazing semi-final run on America’s Got Talent, and “Ordeal” is probably a good word to describe the general status of, well, everything right now. The show runs two nights (November 26 and 27) at the Aladdin Theater.

And let’s step a bit on the toes of December at the end here, because we also have to mention harpist/vocalist/sound-manipulator Sage Fisher (aka Dolphin Midwives) with experimental duo Methods Body on December 1 at Mississippi Studios, supporting Fisher’s latest album Body of Water. The transparent aqua vinyl signed by Fisher herself is sold out, but you can still support our great artists by buying on Bandcamp and going to this show–where they may even have some hard vinyl in reserve. There’s only one way to be sure!

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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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