Eugene Weekly : Music : 12.9.10


Music for the Working Stiff

The Stagger and Sway sound like Eugene. Their latest LP, Break Til You Bend, is unassuming blue jeans music, untucked shirt lyrics and comfortable shoe rhythms — the kind of comfortable shoes you put on after working hard all day, or perhaps after a hard day looking for work when there isn’t much work to find. 

In fact, The Stagger and Sway even have a song called “Sam Bond’s Garage,” a shuffling folk-rock tribute to drinking too much good beer from Mason jars at one of Eugene’s most famous hangouts, complete with a classic-country coda capturing the post-Sam Bond’s comedown and hangover many Eugene townies have enjoyed and suffered.

Stagger and Sway frontman and songwriter Mike Last uses a lot of Americana sounds in his melancholy palette. You can almost hear the echo of Emmylou Harris’ distinctive warble harmonizing with Last throughout the record. Acoustic guitars and mandolins chime, while wide-open electric guitars jam like Jerry Garcia and the rhythm section … well, it staggers and sways, but it also shuffles and drives. Images of nature, travel, landscape and location inspire his lyrics; trains, bridges, rain, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon are his cast of characters. 

Released on Eugene-based label Working Stiff Records, Break Til You Bend could be the soundtrack of this recession, an ode to the everyman balancing family, work and rock-and- roll fantasies while daydreaming of the open road. — William Kennedy

John Shipe, The Stagger & Sway. 9 pm Saturday, Dec. 11. Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+ • $5



John Shipe’s New Villain

John Shipe is talented, creative and prolific. That much is known given the still-ascending arc of his career, beginning with Eugene’s Renegade Saints in the late ’80s. He released his first solo feature-length studio album, Sudden and Merciless Joy, in 1997, then followed that up in 2000 with A Stealthy Portion, an acoustic unplugged album with a cello player (a pattern which has played out often; his last album, 2008’s Yellow House, was mostly acoustic). 

Shipe has always experimented, both in the manner of viewing the world through other people’s eyes and musically, enriching his melodies with a host of instruments: mandolin, fiddle, trumpet, piano, lap steel slide, even glockenspiel and ukulele. His new album, Villain, is completed and due out in February, but Shipe is making it available at shows and digitally. Villain is unabashedly Americana at times, but also boasts ballads and character studies — opening track “Lion” is an artist’s reaction to criticism, and the title track provides the POV of a man who blames his bad luck on women who prefer the villain. One standout track, “Hard to Believe,” is a glorious country-tinged duet with Eugene singer Halie Loren. 

Over time, Shipe has become more comfortable with his songwriting and instrumentation, more precise with his wordplay and wit. (And with his goatee, tuft of curly dark hair and piercing eyes, he looks ever so much more like Wayne Coyne, but that’s utterly beside the point.) Shipe’s music may exist within the familiar trope of the singer/songwriter genre, but with each new release his talents seem to crystallize even further. — Vanessa Salvia

John Shipe, The Stagger & Sway. 9 pm Saturday, Dec. 11. Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+ • $5



Psychedelic Space Jam Fusion

Ozric Tentacles (“Ozrics” for short) had beginnings in the mid-1980s that seem too much like folklore to be true. The Ozrics formed at the Stonehenge Free Festival in England after discussing mythical cereal names (Stonehenge as in the Stonehenge). They began building a fan base in North America in the ’90s with their mix of progressive time signatures, psychedelic jam-centricity, world music sensibilities and a penchant for flashy live shows. Keyboard splooshes, guitar riffs, dub-step rhythms, ambient passages with flute — it’s all fair game. With more than 20 studio and live albums, the band has a wide range of music from which to draw in a live setting. While they’ve had considerable audio output amongst various lineup changes, the Ozrics still continue their original core progressive/psychedelic sound grounded in founder Ed Wynne’s guitars and keyboards. Last year’s The Yumyum Tree, which came after a four-year studio absence, is a blend of both the rocky and ambient synth pieces. It leads off with the Eastern-tinged dance beat of “Magick Valley,” moves to a sparkly synth-laden dub step in “Mooncalf” and creates the quintessential Ozric suite with “Oolong Oolong” and the title-track’s one-two punch.

Currently on a world tour (including Europe, Costa Rica and India), the Ozrics are gracing Eugene with one of only three U.S. performances on their way back home. Eugene’s Reeble Jar open up the show with their funk, blues and jazz fusion. Ozric Tentacles and Reeble Jar play at 9 pm Friday, Dec. 10, at WOW Hall. $15 adv., $18 door. — Dan Temmesfeld


Renaissance Fare

Just as the Renaissance was a renewal of ancient glories in art and culture, a cherished Eugene holiday tradition has awakened from hibernation. After a few years’ absence, Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble revived its Renaissance-themed English Madrigal Dinner in 2008, and despite the recession, it’s been going strong ever since. Along with the family style repast catered by Billy Mac’s Bar & Grill and served by appropriately costumed volunteer servants, er, waiters, the hottest festive sounds and dances of the 16th century will be served up by the EVAE and Byrdsong Early Music Consort, who’ll be done up in period dress. Guests can join the some of the dancing and wear Renaissance attire if they desire. Lee Taylor has written a humorous madrigal play (starring the always compelling Richard Leebrick) that’ll be performed throughout the evening, and the event will boast decor and pageantry to suit the theme. It’s a warm seasonal treat that’s nice to have back, and a benefit for one of the city’s most valuable music institutions. Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble’s An English Madrigal Dinner takes place at 6 pm Friday, Dec. 10, and Saturday, Dec. 11, at St. Paul’s Parish Hall, 1201 Satre St. For tickets, phone 541-687-6865. — Brett Campbell


More in the Shadows

Smack in the middle of Tu Fawning’s darkly gorgeous, often mournful new record, Hearts On Hold, is a song called “Just Too Much.” Repetitive, lush and propulsive, its simple lyrics driven by tumbling percussion, the song is anything but too much. Its three minutes disappear as soon as the guitar intro gives way to Joe Haege leading the band as they sing four repeating lines that are a little hard to make out — are they all statements, or are some questions?  

There’s a strange blissfulness to “Just Too Much,” which ends with a cheery “Amen.” More often, Tu Fawning is a little gothic, a little spooky, a little baroque. Snippets of eerie piano melody fight for dominance with squalls of distortion. Hearts On Hold opens dolorous and slow, Corrina Repp’s versatile voice linking a ponderous drumbeat with a distant, alarm-like trumpet. Complex rhythms and intricate arrangements fill most Tu Fawning songs; Liza Rietz and Toussaint Perrault, who joined the band last year, add violin, trumpet, trombone and richer harmonies than Repp and Haege could conjure alone — though even as a duo, those two can entrance a crowd. 

Though an ominous, evil-circus tone hovers over Tu Fawning’s songs — a stately organ opens “Hand Grenade”; things seem to rattle past in the shadows before you can quite grasp what they are; the tall, lanky Haege is a captivating ringmaster — there’s playfulness in the sound, too, and occasionally in the lyrics, as in “Apples and Oranges,” which has nothing to do with comparing and contrasting. “Apples and oranges on my doorstep / Who would leave these here?” Haege and Repp wonder in dramatic harmony. Hearts On Hold never seems to wind down. The last song, “Lonely Nights,” takes time to piece itself together, layer by layer, call-and-response and complex sing-alongs. It closes the album on an anticipatory note, shifty and suggestive, like there’s so much more where that came from. Black Prairie and Tu Fawning play at 9:30 pm Friday, Dec. 10, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $8. — Molly Templeton