Flawless at Doug Fir

Hopefully putting an end to what has otherwise been a rather dreadful and depressing live music scene here in Portland since the rainy season began, Damien Jurado and Tara Jane O’Neil both played excellent sets on a double bill at the Doug Fir Lounge on Wednesday night.

O’Neil opened the evening. Walking onto the stage inconspicuously, she strapped on her guitar and then lightly shook sleigh bells while low organ notes drifted out of the PA. Accompanied by a multi-instrumentalist who goes by the name Christina, O’Neil then created a looping pattern by knocking on the body of her guitar. With the loop set, O’Neil began to slowly strum deep, melodic notes on her guitar. Then, her always-unique voice entered, allowing the song to drift and take intelligent, unexpected turns.

“Don’t slip now, you’re here. The fear will abate,” O’Neil sang, in a high, almost country twang. As backing vocals smoothly arrived and then faded, O’Neil played a flawless set that was refreshing in both its simplicity and its charm, the high points of which were an unnerving cover of a Judee Sill song and O’Neil’s decision to close with a track off of Retsin’s highly underrated Sweet Luck of Amaryllis.

As for Damien Jurado, the only question is: How has he gone on this long without being more – famous? Famous in the good sense of the word, that is. Or, popular. Why isn’t Damien Jurado more popular? Well, maybe he is. Because while he isn’t breaking sales records on Billboard, Jurado did pack the Douglas Fir. And as he played through over an hour’s worth of material (much of it brand new and as of yet unheard by his fans), you could hear the proverbial pin drop.

Backed by a drummer who switched off to play organ and a bassist who switched off to play drums, Jurado had a venue that is usually so noisy that it’s annoying feeling – like a bedroom. As blanketed drums and warm bass lines painted the corners, Jurado used minimal strumming on his acoustic to create a sound that was as comforting as it was desolate.

Singing lyrics that come straight out of a small town on some random exit off of I-5, Jurado’s soft, gentle voice pulled out brilliant lines, like “I found my salvation in the place where you dream,” that were contrasted by lyrics as tough as nails: “Given a chance, you’d stab me in the back and leave me here to die.”

Jurado has his art down to a science, and his set at the Doug Fir confirmed that he’s one of the best modern-day songwriters going.