Deerhoof’s aural adrenaline rush
BY JOSH BLANCHARD
|DEERHOOF, BLACKBLACK, LITTLE GIRL BIG SPOON. 9 pm Sun., Feb. 4 , WOW Hall. $10 adv. / $12 door.|
Sometimes it seems like there’s nothing new under the sun. Deerhoof, though, like stilted rock visionaries such as The Pixies or Devo before them, has proven that it’s still possible to reinvent the pop music wheel. The band has become a firm favorite with the more adventurous college crowd but bypasses the usual indie rock humdrums, bridging the seemingly impassable gap between avant garde and bubblegum pop.
The unpredictable trio calls San Francisco home, but Deerhoof’s members are clearly native residents of their own imaginary world. Their lyrics have a childlike fixation on animals, flowers and, oddly, milk. In her high, chirping voice, singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki routinely breaks down these already lucid categories into their simplest forms. With gleeful abandon, Deerhoof strips away any male posturing or blues plundering usually associated with rock and roll. But though decidedly weird, Deerhoof is hardly wimpy. Guitarist John Dieterich lets loose thick, colorful blasts of guitar and spiny melodies that zig where others would zag. Many an energetic drummer has received comparisons to The Muppet Show‘s plush drummer, Animal, but none deserves it quite so much as mercurial kit thrasher Greg Saunier, with whom the story of Deerhoof really begins.
The band found its genesis in the mid 1990s as a duo under the direction of Saunier, the only original member still on board today. Its early slew of releases were fragmented pieces of sonic autism that would make Captain Beefheart proud but made all but the most devout fringe music fans squirm. The later additions of Dieterich and the diminutive Matsuzaki found the group gelling into a cartoonish art-pop powerhouse, a progression which fully manifested itself in their critically adored 2002 album, Reverie. The group has since followed up that landmark record with a series of rapid-fire cult classics such as Apple O, Milkman and, most recently, the amiably titled Friend Opportunity.
Though their recorded output is always stellar, a live Deerhoof performance leaves even more mouths agape, often triggering a sugary sort of adrenaline rush that you could only hope to replicate by freebasing Slurpees at the zoo. If you’re the kind of person who loves Teletubbies, pixie sticks and spinning around until you’re dizzy, you know exactly where you be should be this Sunday.
Venerable music still kicking
BY BRETT CAMPBELL
A relic of another time with little relevance to today. Museum music. Niche market. Laments about jazz today sound similar to the wailing over classical music’s future. It’s true that America’s greatest contribution to music no longer occupies the popular mainstream as it did before the rise of rock. But like any durable art — or life — form, jazz continues to evolve, despite the recent (and not necessarily misguided) attempts to institutionalize it in temples such as Lincoln Center and schools, which have produced frozen-in-amber ossification in some quarters but also preserved and strengthened a crucial national musical foundation. Several upcoming shows provide a snapshot of the state of a venerable art finding its balance between institutionalization and continued innovation. On Feb. 6, one of the finest purveyors of mainstream jazz’s enduring legacy, Kenny Barron, comes to the Shedd for a solo concert. After paying his dues in the bands of legends Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz, the lyrical pianist- composer founded Sphere, an all-star group that transcended its origins as a Thelonious Monk tribute band. He went on to a solid solo career in the 1980s and ’90s, finding a productive balance between Monk and that other giant of postbop jazz piano, Bill Evans. Among straight-ahead jazz pianists, Barron ranks near the top of that generation’s, between the living grandmasters (Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan) and today’s younger neotraditionalists (Fred Hersch, Brad Mehldau), and no fan of mainstream jazz should miss this concert.
Of all the tributaries flowing from that stream, probably the most popular — much as it pains me to admit it — is so-called “smooth jazz.” Often decried as the Muzak of the jazz world, it attracts plenty of casual fans of easy listening instrumental music. But as with any such superficial pigeonhole, even smooth jazz has some solid musicians who transcend the category, and a couple of them come to the Shedd Feb. 9. Pianist Dan Siegel and guitarist Richard Smith both went to South Eugene High, and Siegel also attended the UO music school. They’ll be accompanied by former Crusaders and Air Supply bassist Larry Antonino.
Another jazz stream merges with funk and rock influences, and that’s where you’ll find Mike Dillon’s Go-Go Jungle. The Houston-born vibes man has played with everyone from Ani DiFranco to Sex Mob to Critters Buggin. His solo debut has enough freakouts to attract any Zappa fan but plenty of soul jazz mixed in. The band plays the WOW Hall Feb. 6. Brooklyn’s Zs (sax, drums, guitar, keys) take improvisational music even farther out, and they’re probably better categorized as experimental rock, with pronounced stop-start Zappa/John Zorn influences. They’re at DIVA Feb. 7. Any genre that can hold musicians as disparate as these still has plenty of life left in it.
A downtown benefit show at the Fenario Gallery Feb. 3 supports the Dharmalaya Center with music of Brian Cutean, Guerilla Tribal with DJ Layla, Lady Ra, New York’s Dr. Israel and San Francisco’s DJ Amar as well as dance performances by Tribalation!, Amy Peccia, Sabine and Sacramento’s Unmata. Another important community institution, the Kutsinhira Center, is sponsoring a CD release party for their dazzling marimba band Hokoyo, with proceeds from CD sales benefiting its Zimbabwean Community Development project, which supports orphaned girls in Zimbabwe. This world music and dance party for a good cause happens at Cozmic Pizza on Feb. 2. And on Feb. 7, Cozmic brings Portland cellist Adam Hurst for a solo show featuring his haunting, dream-like compositions. Hurst’s mesmerizing, Middle Eastern and Indian influenced music is so atmospheric it’s no wonder it’s found its way onto film soundtracks.
When one of today’s leading composers, John Harbison, wanted to write a piano trio that evoked the romantic tradition of Schubert’s E flat piano trio without duplicating its sonorities, he chose the Amelia Trio, a group of young players who named their group after one of their members’ guinea pig, which was in turned named for the famed femme flying pioneer. The group plays that piece, “Short Stories,” at the UO’s Beall Hall on Feb. 11, along with Rachmaninoff’s second trio and one of Debussy’s early triumphs, the piano trio in G that he wrote at age 18 and that already shows signs of his revolutionary break from Romantic tradition. Also at the UO, faculty harpist Laura Zaerr joins the University Symphony on Feb. 4 for Germaine Tailleferre’s Concertino for Harp and Orchestra and Mozart’s ever-dramatic penultimate symphony. And on Feb. 13, the UO Chamber Choir and Schubert Chamber Orchestra play a splendid program of music by Stravinsky, Debussy and contemporary composers Stephen Paulus and Veljo Tormis. Finally, on Feb. 11 at Portland’s Reed College, the most important chamber ensemble in the world, the Kronos Quartet, plays delicious music of two of the leading composers of our time, Osvaldo Golijov and John Adams, along with new works based on Inuit, Indian and Iraqi music. Like jazz, the classical tradition still has room for innovation if the musicians and audiences are open minded enough.
Good Luck, Bad Luck and No Luck
Tony Furtado shines on Thirteen
BY VANESSA SALVIA
|TONY FURTADO BAND CD RELEASE. 9 pm Sat., Feb. 3, WOW Hall. $12 adv. / $15 door.|
There’s both a philosophical and a musical reason Tony Furtado named his new CD Thirteen. For one, it’s his 13th album. There’s also a track entitled “Thirteen Below” about the Sago mine disaster that happened last year in a West Virginia coal-mining town. “Miners were down in the mine,” explains Furtado, “and there was an explosion. Twelve of them died, and the way I was kind of looking at it was, 13 went down, which was unlucky, but the 13th one lived and he was lucky. So, is 13 lucky or unlucky, or is it neither? The theme of the whole album has to do with luck and no luck.”
Furtado recorded Thirteen in Tucson, Ariz., at Wavelab. He had some all-star help, including Jim Dickinson, a famous producer of Ry Cooder’s work (which years ago inspired Furtado to take up the slide guitar), and Dirty Martini’s Stephanie Schneiderman, who sang harmony. Furtado describes Thirteen as “pretty rockin’,” with a rootsy element. Some songs are a throwback to ’70s rock like ZZ Top or Tom Petty, but not in an obvious way. Furtado found inspiration in the songwriting of Elliot Smith and the prose of Charles Bukowksi for his own tunes and chose covers “Fortunate Son,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot.” Furtado plays lots of guitars and banjos on the CD, naturally.
The musician who made his name as an instrumental banjo player has come a long way in his career. Furtado’s last studio album, These Chains, was his first attempt at injecting original songs with lyrics into his repertoire. Furtado says singing was something he always wanted to do and always knew he would do. “I just tried to let the transition happen gradually, and it happened over 10 years, pretty much,” he says. His first few albums on Rounder Records were primarily instrumental banjo, and Furtado would hire other people to play and sing. “But it didn’t feel right just doing that,” he explains. “I wouldn’t say ‘bored,’ but I didn’t feel like I was expressing myself fully.” Banjo led to slide guitar, and he gradually started working vocal songs into his sets. “Songwriting just sort of happened … and it became something that was a necessary form of expression for me.”
By the time Portland’s Furtado appears at the WOW Hall CD release show, he’ll be two weeks into his cross-country tour supporting Thirteen. He’s lined up a crackling band to back him up on the tour: local drummer Drew Shoals, bassist Damian Erskine and Al Toribio, lead guitarist and vocalist of Renegade Saints, who will join Furtado as second guitarist.
Dosh’s Lost Take
Dosh may still be kind of a wild card name on the indie music circuit, but Martin Dosh is no stranger to the avant-garde hip hop and experimental rock scene he and his peers at Anticon helped pioneer. After moving back to his childhood home in Minnesota — to live with his parents after growing tired of his transient-stoner, Dead-head caravans up and down the East Coast — Dosh soon hooked up with Andrew Broder and became a touring member of Fog. Shortly after that, the crew at Anticon caught on to his abilities as a drummer, electric pianist, producer and virtuosic, loop-building sound collagist, and released his self-titled debut album.
Now with his third official record, The Lost Take, Dosh augments his one-man-band project with a bevy of live players and a much more adventurous sound that effectively disassembles the laptop rock archetype and recasts it in a much more vibrant light. A master sampler, using found sound, recorded music and live-recordings, Dosh smashes, slices and reimagines the potential latent both in indie rock and electronic music. Echoes of Blockhead and Bonobo resonate through tracks like “The Lost Take,” while songs like “A Ghost’s Business” sounds much more akin to the work of The Books. A wild card still, but with a new album that sounds so refreshing and crisp, Dosh could very well break big this year. Dosh plays with Electric III and Organized Sound at 9 pm Sunday, Feb. 4 at Sam Bond’s Garage. $6. 21+ show. — Steven Sawada
Singer-songwriter Dar Williams has never lived on the West Coast, but when she talks politics, she sounds like any good Willamette Valley-ite. “I look down at my outfit and think, ‘These shoes are five years old; these socks are organic; these pants are from Levi’s, which provides domestic partnership benefits.’ We have an opportunity every day to make one choice that’s better than another.” Maybe it’s because she went to Wesleyan and lived in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley for most of the 1990s, but she’s capable of a Saturday-Market-worthy analysis of why we should buy earrings from a local artisan instead of Target: “To help that person make $18,000 a year and not have to work at Target. OK, you’re not breaking up a monopoly, but you’re helping independent people thrive.” Um, Dar, we’re all about that here. She laughs, “Well, New York is catching up.”
Willams, whose now-classic folk albums The Honesty Room (1995) and Mortal City (1996) launched her music career, remains independent, politically thoughtful and personally interested in developing many facets of her vocation. Writing two middle-reader novels, Amalee (Scholastic, 2004) and Lights, Camera, Amalee (Scholastic, 2006), along with having a young son, has slowed her song writing down, but she’s still planning to record her seventh major album in the fall. Her most recent album, 2005’s My Better Self, includes bluesy tunes, contemplative scenes and wickedly smart political commentary, not to mention an Ani DiFranco duet on a cover of “Comfortably Numb.” Willams tours regularly near her home in upstate New York, where she worked last fall on a successful campaign for Democratic candidate John Hall and where she wields her outrage about an unsafe nuclear power plant on the Hudson River. But she rarely visits the West Coast, especially without a band. Those who enjoy her chatty, witty, wonderfully intimate acoustic performances should not miss this chance to see her in Corvallis and nod along as she talks about local businesses or creative kids — not to mention the chance to sing along to the ever-popular “The Christians and the Pagans” or (this writer’s favorite) the cellphone-lit “Iowa.” Williams plays with Portlander Anne Weiss at 8 pm Friday, Feb. 2 in the Corvallis High School Theater. $24.50. — Suzi Steffen
Truth in Publicizing
|The Broken West|
Sometimes, new CDs come with incomprehensible press releases. You think you’re getting a jangly pop band and you get murky metal instead; you think someone’s a singer-songwriter and it turns out they create soundscapes of noise. But every so often, the press release, like Goldilocks’ bowl of porridge, is just right. Such is the case with L.A.’s The Broken West, whose debut album, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On, was preceded by an email describing Merge Records’ new band as “A little Wilco + Teenage Fanclub with sparkly California pop added.” Yes, that, with some Spoon (an underlying piano that leaps out and take the lead now and again) and a generous handful of Big Star sprinkled on top.
The Broken West (formerly The Brokedown) plays poppy rock that’s more jaunty than jangly; these songs are sweet and buoyant but not crowded with overexuberant guitars. It’s music that could fill a small bar or a spacious hall, shaping itself to a room with insistent, straightforward rhythms and a classic rock sense that takes a little bit from all those albums your older sibling tried to convince you were cool when you weren’t quite old enough to properly appreciate them. What results is timelessly summery — that California pop thing, exemplified by “Down in the Valley” — but with the requisite talent for the downtempo and contemplative, as with “Like a Light,” which continually hints at the stomping end of an otherwise soft, acoustic, tambourine-accented song.
The Broken West plays with Hello Stranger (lead singer Juliette Commagere wields a keytar, so don’t miss that) at 9 pm Wednesday, Feb. 7 at Sam Bond’s Garage. $5. 21+ show. — Molly Templeton