Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Concert Review: Monopoly Child Star Searchers, Tenses, Fake Hospital, White Gourds; Ella St. Social Club, Portland, OR

Egads, this place was hard to find! Turns out there's a SW 20th Place as well as a Street, and its one block south of Burnside, for some reason. This mission turned from, 'i'm gonna put on my boots and go to the show,' to 'i'm gonna go wander around in the shadowy nether-regions of Portland, racking my brain, mentally calculating how many amplifiers i can run with my sundry delay pedals.' En route, i listened to Skullflower, Jim O' Rourke, Future Islands, and The Beastie Boys, as i trekked through the damp chill of the Nov. evening. I was in prime condition for a noise show.
Ella St. Social Club is an old mausoleum; the walls flat burgundy, classy antiquated light fixtures cast cream dimness across the ceiling. The neon wurlitzer was playing 'Where is my Mind,' by the Pixies, before segueing into Cab Calloway, and i realized that i had found my new home in Portland!
Arriving early, the only people milling about were the performers for the evening. Eavesdropping, i listened to people about to depart for Los Angeles or Australia; watching people loading in gongs and record players. I felt at home in this world, in that moment; thanked my lucky stars for being an underground music junkie. Four awesome bands for five bucks. The guy at the door felt bad for taking my last five dollars on earth, and i glowingly told him i would give my last five bucks for awesome music, every time.
Tenses (featuring members of Smegma) played first, manipulating tabletop guitar and turntable to manifest soupy birdcalls and crackling hymns from thin air. People say that Ella St. is haunted, that the black drapery behind the stage conceals an elevator used for transporting the bodies for viewings. I like to think the spirits were given voice this evening; spectral vocals over the PA, from long ago and far away.
There was a sense of respectability during this set, more art house than sweaty basement show, as Smegma have been peddling their free noise associations since 1971. Finesse and nuance were in full effect, the two improvisors paying close attention, playing off of one another, against the backdrop of random images projected onto a screen. In this kind of music, its all about the subtleties, like the guitarist occasionally putting down his ax to play a bit of muted trumpet or windchimes, to seperate the gold from the endless leaden onslaught of mediocre harsh noise. There is nothing like age and experience, and i vowed to take a couple of notes from my elders.
I returned from a hurried meal at the Fred Meyer's across the street (another badass venue near a Fred Meyer's! Is this a trend in Oregon...) to bells and the sultry sounds of alto saxophone, creeping across the night as i smoked cigarettes i found in the ashtray. Returning inside, i found a lone woman in a cloak, performing against a backdrop of Atu IX, The Hermit, as she solicited a series of tones and squeaks from a saxophone, wind chimes, bowed gong, before climaxing into a bloodcurdling banshee wail, and looping the sound of ceremonial swords, sharpening. A+ for presentation and mood, however her loops were a little choppy and in this saturated world of antisocial looper artists, you have to be REALLY fucking good at what you do, to pull it off. Trust me, i am a novice sampler myself, i can't pull it off yet, either. This young lady is potent, and i will be watching expectantly to see what comes next.
I knew i was in for a treat when the third band pulled out a Dream Machine! Fake Hospital, also from Portland pulled off a set of middle-eastern trance panic pandemonium; clarinet, bamboo flutes, delay pedals and pulsating loops woven masterfully and magickally to coalesce in an event horizon of moment, slo-motion movement, reality running backwards, like flickering celluloid, stained technicolor with a psychedelic light show. Brian Jones would have been utterly stoked, as these two fine fellows brought a hint of vines and the rustle of bird-calls to the damp chilly evening. I could practically feel the Jaguar's breath, on the back of my neck.
Last, but not least, Spencer Clark's Monopoly Child Star Searchers. Spencer's infamous in the glorious glo-fi underworld, hypnagogic hierophant of Skater's fame, i was definitely not gonna miss this, but truly and utterly did not know what to expect. I've listened to MCSS quite a bit (see here for previous analysis) and had been bewitched by his plasticine bedroom devotional newage. He ended up playing a set of Atari gamelans, swooning keyboards pads and taiko drum samples, cresting like waves while you sip some cliche tropical drink. Except that drink would be laced with ayahuasca, because escapist easy-listening xxxotica this is not. Its cheap and funky and inspired, a stoned teenager's astral journey over antiquated National Geographics. In a way, this music is even more potent and beautiful than that which it is emulating, stodgy dusty field recordings from distant lands, because it makes no attempt at being authentic. This is music of the imagination, and the imagination is a powerful thing.
* * *

As i faded away into the city streets, high on hope and possibilities, i reached the conclusion that this was one of the favorite performances i've seen so far. Just the perfect combination of ambiance, inspired music, obscurity, and the random nature of how i ended up there in the first place. The people were all super friendly and accessible, most artists and musicians in their own right, eager to exchange ideas and contact information. It was like a cool breeze after dealing with the infernal heat of spiky metalheads, and i melted into the shadows, to collect bottles and cans.

Ella St. Social Club is the fucking shit, a total gem, and they have music almost every night of the week, often times for free. Their jukebox fucking rules, and i'm told their drinks are reasonably priced, although that has no relevance in my world. If you live in Portland, you should go there all the time. You'll probably see me there!

Monopoly Child Star Searchers


Fake Hospital

White Gourd

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