Eugene Weekly : Music : 12.11.08

More PDX Freshness

Portland hip hop is on the up and up, and while the Lifesavas continue to reign supreme, there are a few MCs who’d like those dudes to scoot over and share the limelight. This dual­CD release party features two of those: Mic Crenshaw, a staple of Northwest hip hop whose resume includes membership in Suckapunch, Cleveland Steamers and Hungry Mob, and Serge Severe, whose first album, Walk In My Shoes, made’s Top Ten Underground Hip Hop Albums of 2006. But it’s probably Mic Crenshaw who’s closest to a breakthrough. He’s the kind of political rapper who spits like a less abrasive (but no less furious) Immortal Technique, and this, his first release, Thinking Out Loud, contains the kind of sophisticated rhymes you’d expect from a guy who’s won poetry slams in Portland and gone on to make the national finals. It also features some impressive guests, among them Nightclubber Lang of Boom Bap Project and Stic.Man of Dead Prez. What Serge Severe and Mic Crenshaw share, however, is a commitment to hip hop’s roots, though it’s Crenshaw’s more experimental approach that might bring all that Internet buzz to a boiling point. Serge Severe, Mic Crenshaw, Animal Farm and Endr One perform at 9 pm Friday, Dec. 12, at John Henry’s. 21+. Free. — Sara Brickner

Causing a Commotion

Recent UO grad Ben Darwish created a stir in 2007 with his jazz trio’s debut release, Industrial Hero. The pianist and composer mixed tantalizing keys with dizzying rhythms and funky soundscapes to take listeners on a lively, melodic journey that featured nods to Christina Aguilera and the London Underground. Now he’s fronting the band Commotion, and they’re doing everything they can to ensure their name is a fitting one.

 Embracing a sound that is part funk and part jazz, this quartet has an eclectic style that encompasses everything from ’70s-era grooves to hypnotic samples (check out the epic jam “Bomb Shelter”). The music is sedate one minute, hyperactive the next. You never quite know what to expect. And while Darwish went entirely instrumental on Hero, both he and Commotion’s bassist, Sam Howard, now occasionally try their hand at singing — an added dimension which makes for nice variety.

 The songs on the band’s MySpace page, along with YouTube videos of them in action, show the verve and enthusiasm these guys have. They know how to have a good time live and want to help you do the same. Do yourself a favor and let them entertain you. Commotion plays at 9 pm Friday Dec. 12, at the Downtown Lounge. 21+. $5. — Brian Palmer

Don’t Get Mad, Get Gladhander

After Mitchell Chamberlain moved from Eugene to Seattle in 1997, he worked with Krist Novoselic and JAMPAC to overturn Seattle’s restrictive laws against all-ages concerts. Chamberlain returned to Eugene in 2005 and formed Gladhander, which overcame personnel changes and a fire that destroyed the band’s jam shed before signing to indie Hollywood label DeMille Productions in 2007. They’ve just finished their first recording, One Against Three

Chamberlain’s devotion to Seattle grunge is potent. He’s a “huge” Alice in Chains fan and worked with the late singer Layne Staley’s mother on yearly tribute concerts. Unlike AiC, however, self-destruction and drug abuse don’t seem to be Gladhander’s main themes, though there’s no shortage of lyrical riffs on desolation.

In “Blind,” a catchy hook fills in space around such lines as “I can’t see when I am blind / Feeling like this most of the time with you.” “Space” streams forth with a surprisingly agile bass line that wraps through a spare guitar accompaniment. The whole album moves along like machinery, and with a full bouquet of minor keys, restrained-but-gritty vocals and melodies they keep on a tight leash, it’s clear that AiC is Gladhander’s main muse. 

In January the band will travel to L.A. to record a video for one of the songs on their new album, and the label is exploring some unique street-level promotions to get out the good word on Gladhander. Meanwhile, all three band members are busy at home, having each had a baby girl born within the past year. Gladhander celebrates the release of One Against Three with First Sleep and Like Breathing at 10 pm Friday, Dec. 12, at the Black Forest. 21+. Free.  — Vanessa Salvia