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MusicWatch Semi-Monthly: Unholy daze

Busy December needs two monthly columns: one for holiday concerts, one for everything else. Part one: music for strings, singers, and saxophones

Bah, humbug! It’s too early for Christmas music, don’t you think? Just because December is upon us, with its flakey promises of snow, doesn’t mean there isn’t a nice pile of early unholiday presents waiting. We’ve got a good dozen or two non-holiday themed concerts for you: abstract string quartets, killer guitarists and groovy saxophonists, and a visit from Oregon Symphony’s newly appointed Creative Chair Gabriel Kahane (interview coming this week).

Aside from Die Hard the Musical at Funhouse Lounge (starts on the 5th, runs through January 4th) and Oregon Ballet Theater’s Nutcracker (starts on the 7th, runs through the 26th), all the other fun holiday concerts start around the 13th. So we’re going to play Grinch and make you wait a week or two before telling you about all that. Take off that Mariah Carey Christmas playlist, put on MAE.SUN’s latest EP, get some Thanksgiving leftovers out of the fridge, and settle down for our first half of December mixtape.

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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.

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MusicWatch Weekly: This land is mine

Retro rock, math punk, psychedelic cumbia, shredded metals, and Jimmie Herrod

Well folks, we’re almost done with Second Summer and the world is on fire, from the Amazon to Africa to Indonesia to Portland’s Rocky Butte, but the usual churn of crazy local bands and composers continues to enliven bars, cafes, and churches all over the place. This week and weekend you’ve got free funk and two days of local metal in downtown Portland, psychedelic cumbia and shreddy math punk across the river, and a retro-rock sextet up in NoPo. But right now I need to put down my panggul mallet and my kretek cigarette and talk to you about Jimmie Herrod. 

Now, normally I wouldn’t talk about former singing coaches two weeks in a row. But it’s just my good fortune that (to reference a cruel old joke) those who can sometimes also teach–and it’s everybody’s good fortune that Portland and Environs are so full of wonderful singers who are also wonderful teachers. Last week it was mezzo extraordinaire Hannah Penn, and you can read all about her performance in Opera Theater Oregon’s This Land Sings in Angela Allen’s review right here.

This week it’s singer-composer Jimmie Herrod, who left me for Pink Martini.

Singer-composer Jimmie Herrod backstage with Pink Martini's Phil Baker and Bill Marsh.
Singer-composer Jimmie Herrod, laughing at me backstage with Pink Martini’s Phil Baker and Bill Marsh.

Kidding, kidding! Herrod is a Portland State alum who got hired on as a vocal teacher right after he got his Master’s; before he got drafted by Pink Martini he had a full vocal studio with all kinds of students, and I was certainly the least of them. While at PSU, Herrod studied composition with Cascadia composer Bonnie Miksch, and it shows. His music is in that sweet spot I’m always talking about listening for in contemporary music: his songs cross genres with lyrical grace, catchy melodies, and just enough harmonic novelty to keep the ears pricked and the heart fluttering.

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