You Have Been Rocked

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Reputation, The Lashes, Lucero, Bossonova, Nov. 8

When I arrived at the Bossanova The Reputation was already hard at work. The trio’s brand of simple, riff-based rock went over well with me, but the ten or so people standing around the floor seemed disinterested, almost like they were waiting for something. This was the vibe throughout the sets of the opening bands, as more and more people began to accumulate in anticipation of the Pharmacists.

Following The Reputation was Seattle’s The Lashes, a band composed entirely of what appeared to be 퀌_ber-hipsters. Their aesthetic was validated with some good rockin’ – fleshed out indie-punk made interesting by their singer, who wasn’t afraid to strike a pose astride the monitors. At one point, a bespectacled woman from the audience chastised him for saying "faggot" in a song. She ordered the band and its alleged homophobia back to Seattle, to which the singer replied, "Half of the band is gay! Just look at our haircuts!" Although this didn’t quite smooth things out, and the woman remained angry despite his later apology, I have to admit that it was hilarious and seemed to make the audience like The Lashes even more. Cries of "You rock!" ensued and they finished their set in fine form.

Lucero was next, with people continuing to trickle into the room. By the end of their Hank Williams-meets-Heatmiser set, I was completely boxed in. Sweater-and-white-shirt nerds besieged me, trying to inch their way to my choice front spot. Lucero’s raspy-voiced singer/guitarist Ben Nichols earnestly poured out love-weary country songs, while backed up with punk rock riffs and an occasional barbed-wire solo.

Nothing, however, measured up to the electric medicine of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. From the moment Leo’s huge Fender Solid State amp powered up, it was blasting out treble-heavy power. He jumped, gesticulated, sweated, grimaced and shot the shit with the crowd between songs, demonstrating an amazing amount of professionalism and a healthy dose of intellectual ire. Although famous for his politically charged lyrics, I honestly couldn’t hear a fucking word he was saying. Come on, guys. What is working the mixing board, a monkey?

Even so, what I did hear pleased me, and I can always listen to a record if I want to hear words. After all, the most important part of seeing someone perform live is watching their body and fingers do the speaking on stage and fret board while being deafened by a ridiculously loud amplifier. Judging by those criteria, Leo’s show was excellent. This group has it together. They have the passion, the volume and the skill it takes to play convincing and artistic rock. My inability to hear his voice was conditional; the raw power was not. –Nick Buono

Magnetic Fields @ Aladdin Theatre, Nov. 11

There was something mysterious yet cozy in the atmosphere that night. Maybe it was the thick fog outside or the limited space of the sold out theatre, or maybe it was that the Magnetic Fields never, ever tour. But it was there, and I was happy to take it in. So happy, in fact, that I didn’t even mind not getting a seat. Sure, it would’ve been nice, and I showed up early to increase my chances, but when Magnetic Fields took the stage I felt treated.

The band members (cellist Sam Davol, banjo player/guitarist John Woo, pianist/vocalist Claudia Gonson and ukulele-ist/vocalist Stephin Merritt) were instantly charming, sharing stories of their last experience in Portland and the encore they performed from the balcony of the same venue. Claudia expressed her sadness over the legalities barring them from reenacting such an encore and joked about spending the night in jail for the cause. I loved how comfortable she was on stage and was excited for that attitude to come across in the music. Every song began with a short introduction by Stephin or Claudia and was welcomed by applause from the devoted fans of the tune. Everyone had a favorite and some had many, which was great because it showed the excitement and happiness of the audience.

For the night, my favorite was "Papa Was a Rodeo." When Stephin complained about a cold neck, he got a scarf. When he saw empty seats, he directed those without to sit. Not a single sound competed or interfered with the acoustic set of songs, and I reveled in this show of respect. I think everyone knows how much it sucks to go see a quiet performance only to have the crowd’s conversations wash over it. This was equivalent to the symphony, but with a much more living room/fireplace/sweater environment.

I could be wrong, but it seemed that they played a song from every album, including many from this year’s i, as well as the ever-popular 69 Love Songs collection. Most songs played off of The Wayward Bus and Charm of the Highway Strip were explained to have zombie themes, which is something I never really picked up on before – they’d always sounded like heart-break set to music. I guess "Baby, I Was Born on a Train" is about a zombie train. Following these songs, a discussion between the band on how to kill a zombie and which films prove zombies’ daylight aversion ensued. Hilarious. But underneath the humor was heartache, and every song spelled out Merritt’s fascination of the subject. Whether it’s getting over the one you truly love, realizing that you’re no longer in love with the one you truly love, not being able to get the one you truly love back or not ever wanting to truly love anyone again, there’s a theme. And yet it’s not depressing, it’s uplifting. It’s always easier to share these feelings of loss and pain with others, and that night was like the largest group therapy in existence. True, we weren’t all telling our own stories, but we didn’t have to, because the Magnetic Fields were telling it for us and they were also telling us it would all be OK. Maybe she’s not coming back, but you didn’t like her anyway and you can always write a song about it. –Nathan McKee

Les Savy Fav, Cobra High, Smoke and Smoke, Meow Meow, Nov.10

I find that before every Les Savy Fav show a certain amount of curiosity exists in the audience. Questions and speculations can be overhead in people’s conversation because it’s anyone’s guess what vocalist Tim Harrington will do to personalize the night. He has an extreme sense of creativity, using the stage as an opportunity to perform the music of Les Savy Fav while spontaneously engaging each audience member in the performance so that afterwards, when they listen to the recordings, they realize that the songs have more meaning, that they’re humorous or ironic. After all, it’s hard to take anything that comes from the mouth of a man in a bad wig and a Police Academy T-shirt too seriously.

Before Les Savy Fav took the stage I’d had the pleasure and misfortune of hearing other musicians perform. First was Cobra High, a once-Portland band that now resides in Seattle. I was excited for them because when they lived here, we’d discussed music and they’d always mentioned Les Savy Fav as a band that meant something. Now they were opening up for them and that is a nice thing to see happen. They played really well, and Justin was able to sing in a much higher register than I remember. Their songs are progressive and don’t follow the typical verse-chorus guidelines. Instead, they’re kind of epic and triumphant, like Fragile-era Yes, although I’m not sure they’d appreciate the comparison.

After the set, it was off to the bar, which is where we met the misfortune I mentioned earlier (open mic night, why do you taunt me so?). We entered just in time to catch a man in a Rod Stewart shirt covering the Beatles. We discussed his incredibly lo-fi guitar tone and made comparisons to the White Stripes. In fact, Randy (Rod Stewart shirt guy) sounded a lot like Jack White and simply needed an untalented drummer to complete the transformation. I would’ve volunteered, but alas our beers were done and we had a much different show to attend. Back at the Meow Meow, Smoke and Smoke were doing their thing, by which I mean not sounding very good. If I were once again sixteen, angry at the world and not aware of music involving harmony, I would have enjoyed them. They did have nice beards, though, and the singer sounded a little like Spencer Moody from Murder City Devils. (Sorry, Spencer, if that was you. I loved your old band.)

Then, hooray, Les Savy Fav took the stage. Tim was wearing a cloak and when the music began it was the music of an ancient time, the time of Stonehenge. If you haven’t seen Spinal Tap, you won’t know what I’m talking about, but if you have then you probably know how funny this was. Quickly they moved on to their first song and rocked me like a hurricane. Their sound was angular and focused, creating the desire to shake it like a Polaroid picture. Tim plugged in a glowing globe and pointed out Portland and Brooklyn, their home towns, while singing lyrics that were interesting and phonetic, concentrating on the sound the words had in combination with each other while playing with the idea that their definitions were contextual.

Then he borrowed a scarf and sweater from the audience and threw his cloak into the crowd. He later stripped from the chest up like a bashful teenage girl and ran from the stage to the club entrance, moaning repetitiously and sweating like, well, a balding, bearded fat man. None of this came across as gimmicky or put-on, but instead provided an amazing live experience that added to the intelligence of the music. Les Savy Fav have enough interesting quirks and qualities to keep the music geeks interested while maintaining the cerebral "something" that causes the average listener to have fun and rock the party that rocks the party – which is exactly what happened until the amps were turned off and house lights came on.

–Nate McKee

Death Cab For Cutie, Crystal Ballroom, Nov. 11

I’m pissed off! Why? Because last Thursday at the Crystal Ballroom, against my better judgment, I found myself bouncing along to the dulcet tones of Death Cab For Cutie. Surrounded by a sea of high school girls (and their boyfriends), I tapped my foot to Ben Gibbard and company’s carefully constructed indie-pop and waxed nostalgic about my own teenage outings to Quasi.

The title of Death Cab’s latest release, Transatlanticism, is a word that Gibbard defines as "distances so vast and daunting – such as a body of water creates between people – that they seem impossible to breach."

In honor of Gibbard’s linguistic creativity, I would like to define "suckalicious" as meaning highly pleasing despite glaring flaws.

It wasn’t that I was unaware of Death Cab’s derivativeness or Gibbard’s middle-school cleverness. It just didn’t matter.

The Crystal Ballroom had never felt so much like an arena. The audience sang along and cheered endlessly, girls were hoisted onto their boyfriends’ shoulders, drunk jocks got into fights about which was the best song and, I swear to God, lighters were unleashed during two earnestly heartbreaking songs. The crowd thinned out noticeably at 11 – it must suck not to have a license.

Ben Gibbard cast himself as a rock star on the Crystal Ballroom’s tiny stage, a well-coiffed indie big fish in a pond of devoted teenage fans. He swayed his hips in time with drummer Michael Schorr’s bubblegum beats and switched guitars – with the help many roadies – at every opportunity.

Gibbard isn’t the only self-conscious member of Death Cab. Every indie-heartthrob musician on stage did their best to look good: exaggerating drum fills, lip-syncing along to Gibbard’s images of lost love and positioning themselves for optimal dramatic wall shadows.

Luckily, the sound technician knew how to make the best out of the ingredients available, deemphasizing Gibbard’s voice until it became another instrument and letting the layers of pop-hooks form a single wave of sound.

Death Cab songs are constructed to be performed live. Songs like the epic title track on Transatlanticism, with its sprawling landscape, become jam sessions that allow Gibbard to change instruments and stroke his arty ego.

Yeah, Death Cab is kind of lame, but I dig them, and so might your girl.

– Leathan Graves-Highsmith