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Tour Diary: Hellpets – Fall 2001: Birds, Dogs, Catfish and Clowns


August 9, 2001
Venue: The Blackbird
City: Portland, OR

This was our CD release party for Teddy Bears Gone Bad, a title that one of our local alt newsweeklies, the Portland Mercury, publicly cringed at. It was the only title we could think of that didn’t include the word “Satan,” so we went with it. The Mercury made us a “pick” of the week for some reason, though their write up wasn’t exactly overflowing with accolades or enthusiasm. Of course, I’m always amazed when I get any press at all.

Every time I had been to the Blackbird up to this point (which was twice), the place had been so packed with people that the fire marshal would have had to wait outside. Since our shows tend more toward deserted, I was curious to see how these two worlds would collide. It basically averaged out to a full bar that it was still possible to walk around inside. We played last on a Thursday night, but everyone stayed until the end. They even seemed to be paying attention, which I’m not entirely used to. Thanks to Dani, who was traveling with the band Bite Size, we sold more CDs here than at my last CD release party. That”s still not very many, but hey. We were also a Willamette Week pick of the week. Maybe the bizarre stream-of-consciousness write up we got in there helped to intrigue the audience. In any event, we slayed ‘em. I even remembered most of the lyrics to the songs! And my dramatic leap across the stage at the end? Death defying!

Enraptured Hellpet fans on the verge of euphoria.
Enraptured Hellpet fans on the verge of euphoria.

Truth be told, we were actually a late addition to what started out as Bite Size’s show. They were on a weeklong tour up from San Francisco at the time. We always seem to meet the coolest people by playing shows with them. The Countess hung out with drummer Steve for a while outside the club and discussed all things Bay Area. They were fantastic when they hit the stage too. They played frenetic power-pop with tag team male/female vocals and no shortage of wackiness. I got their CD “Sophomore Slump” (it’s their second album) that night and it’s the best new music I’ve gotten in months. Hilarious too.

The Hellpets thrill and delight the many patrons of the Blackbird.
The Hellpets thrill and delight the many patrons of the Blackbird.

The evening was kicked off by Portland”s own indie rock juggernaut, The Drakes. They put on a tight, highly enjoyable set. I liked them more this time than when we played with them before, but that was at the Medicine Hat, so I’m sure there were extraneous circumstances at work.

August 15, 2001
Venue: Art Gallery
City: Portland, OR

It sure looks high when you're actually up there.

Dave of the band Sauvie Island Moon Rocket Factory got an email from a couple San Francisco bands looking for a place to play in Portland on their way north.

This evening was entertaining on so many different levels, though my favorite part might have been the fact that the place is only 4 blocks from our house. Scratch that. My favorite part was that we didn’t have to bring any amps or drums. For one thing, nothing else would have fit up there. We played on a ten foot by seven foot loft that served as the stage for bands. The gallery floor was a good ten feet below with no railing. The sheer exhilaration from fear of falling to death certainly contributed to my fun. It actually worked out quite well.

The only major piece of equipment I had to bring was my P.A. power amp since no sound was coming from the Peavey mixer head brought by the Sauvie boys. Sauvie bassist Lincoln called me up about 90 minutes before show time, so I went ahead and popped on over with the needed stuff. For the next 25 minutes, Linc, Dave and I worked in close quarters on the P.A. situation and were making headway until the guitarists from one of the bands wanted to practice a song. They proceeded to play the same chord progression for the next 10 minutes at a deafening volume that pretty much ground our P.A. efforts to a halt.

The crowd.
The crowd.

When I finally got back to the task at hand I was joined in the loft by a thirty-something punk rock slacker type who insisted on checking the microphones with GWAR-esque yelps interspersed with his illuminating technical analysis of the P.A situation. It basically went like this:

Dude: “Yeah man…I”ve got this punk band…and I sing like RAUOGHH and stuff.”
Me: “Are you playing tonight?”
Dude: “No.”

He left the stage not too long after that and I was able to finish working. The next I hear of him, he”s taking (and I can only assume pocketing) money at the beer keg for drinks that were supposed to be included in the evening”s cover charge. Finally, at the end of the night he staggered drunkenly around managing to brush up against all the women while somehow missing the guys. Peachy.

The most bizarre person of the evening (no small feat) was a woman who looked like a burned-out Wonderbra spokesmodel who spoke in some sort of put-on eastern European accent. Along for the ride was a little green bird that she kept putting into her mouth and an English Mastiff “puppy” that was approximately twice my weight. By the end of the night she was crawling around on the floor, the dog was roaming freely (though amazingly well-behaved under the circumstances) and the bird was nowhere to be seen.

It was quite the dog party. At one point there were at least four dogs of various sizes chasing each other around and barking on the floor below us. We ended our last song at the same moment (as if it were planned) that a Great Dane barreled up the stairs and onto center stage. It was very friendly and, according to the Countess’ feet, also very heavy.

Nathan (from SIMRF) and C. Baker discuss manly drum-related topics.

Oh yeah, there were bands too. The Cave-Ins was actually one guy singing and switching off between acoustic guitar and banjo. Really excellent, low-key stuff. Next up was Pleasures of the Harbour, who were also an unexpected delight. They had some definite groove. The singer gyrated wildly on stage like Calvin Johnson, which was extra impressive considering how little room he had to work with. A couple of times I was concerned that he would fall off the ledge. We played third and had a warm reception. As usual, our Sex Pistols cover received the loudest cheers. The P.A. set up came back to haunt us as the Countess got shocked three times, once so severely that she nearly expired onstage. Sauvie Island MRF gets better every time I see them. While I”ve never heard Dave”s guitar sound completely in tune, once they get going everything fits perfectly.

Early on in the evening I lent a microphone cord to a guy who was recording the show in the loft across from the stage. He seemed like a pleasant enough fellow. However, in the middle of the Sauvie set, he stormed out of the place fuming and spouting long strings of obscenities. Going up to him in the parking lot to inquire after my mic cable was no fun, let me tell you.

This tour diary originally included some honest observations of our host at this event, a certain Mr. T. Oliver. It was nothing that a person with a reasonably developed sense of humor wouldn’t take in stride. Considering the way this guy behaved, I was actually taking it easy on him – though perhaps I should have factored in alcohol. Anyway, this person, being of particularly thin skin, threatened to sue me for libel. Although he had no grounds for a case (and in spite of the fact that they repeatedly insulted me in their email), I chose to remove the passages in question. I clearly overestimated this individual’s ability to handle a ribbing and underestimated their sense of self-importance. Since annoying or upsetting people is not something I’m generally interested in doing, the decision was easy. He also asked me not to mention the name of his gallery, which was called the Blue Catfish. With people skills as well-honed as his, I can’t imagine why it’s no longer there.

Oh Jesus and her fire juggling paraphenelia. Not pictured: fire.

September 1, 2001
Venue: Billy Ray’s Neighborhood Dive
City: Portland, OR

If memory serves, this is the first time I”ve played where the opening act was a fire juggler. Her name was “Oh, Jesus” and she came over with the wonderful Pepto Dizmal Clowns, who were again emceeing the night”s festivities. If you ever have the opportunity to witness this clown troupe, I highly recommend it. They”re usually found in the vicinity of such things as anti-police brutality demonstrations and civil rights parades. This night they were as hilarious as ever.

Also performing was the enchanting Amoree Lovell. She”s the keyboardist from the band Human Genome Project (with whom I thought we were playing) and she”s quite excellent. She lugged in an electric grand piano that must have weighed 400 pounds and proceeded to display an awe-inspiring combination of virtuoso playing, expressive singing and interesting songwriting, not to mention a cover of the obscure Duran Duran song “Too Late Marlene.” I noticed that she”s also quite skilled at smoking a cigarette with one hand while playing piano with the other.

Dingo Dizmal gets funky on the acoustic.

This night we were the “Hellpet Power Trio” due to the absence of Grettie the Machete (aka the Audrinator) who was spending the weekend at Burning Man. There was just barely room for the three of us, really. I guess the word I’m looking for is “intimate.” The audience feedback and energy during our set was fantastic. Afterward, we set a new personal single-show Portland CD selling record: five discs. That might not sound terribly impressive, but it represented a huge percentage of the total audience. Wait a sec. That doesn’t exactly sound impressive either, does it?

The Hellpets thrill and delight the many patrons of Billy Ray’s.

The fiery sounds of the Countess.

No, you’re not seeing double. It’s just my mother.

September 8, 2001
Venue: Belmont Arts Festival
City: Portland, OR

This show had fiasco written all over it from the get-go, but somehow it managed to work out in the end. There were some scheduling concerns in the days leading up to the show (Audrey and Dave from SIMRF both had to work at two o”clock that
afternoon), but we figured all that stuff out. In the end, we played twice: once with the regular line-up and then later as the “Hellpet Power Trio”. People seemed to like us. I would have preferred to have an actual covered stage set up in the street like they did last year instead of being in a parking lot, but that”s a minor complaint.

The Hellpets thrill and delight the many revelers at the Belmont Arts Festival.

Today was definitely a family oriented occasion, which I kind of prefer to wild booze-soaked late shows, even if they don’t make for gripping tales of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery.

We left around 3:00pm to do some Portland sight seeing with my visiting mother. There was supposed to be live entertainment through 7:00 pm, but when C. Baker and Jessica stopped back by there around five, the area was practically deserted. Maybe the beer keg ran out.

Dave:'Oh my God!  It's coming right at us!' Audrey:'Whatever.'
October 19, 2001
Venue: Conan’s
City: Portland, OR

The Sauvie Island Moon Rocket Factory and the Hellpets are turning into some sort of musical tag-team, I think. Maybe we’ll set a new record for shared bills in one city.

This was my first time inside Conan’s and I was pleasantly surprised. There was a very nice, high school theatre type stage complete with foot lights. The sound system was excellent too, aside from the fact that the soundboard was to the side of the stage (such that you can’t hear the band and twist knobs at the same time) and the actual running of the sound was entirely left up to us. This place even has a ping-pong table, but sadly I was too busy to take advantage. The owner, Doug, was very friendly and accommodating.

Also playing was the talented and congenial Jim Basnight, who was a pillar of the Seattle indie rock community before anyone realized that Seattle had an indie rock community. He”s also a longtime friend of Linc from SIMRF.

Audrey:'Up Yours!'  Chris:'Come a little closer with that camera.'
October 20, 2001
Venue: GoGirls Music Fest – Mt. Tabor Pub
City: Portland, OR

This show was one of a national string of benefit shows for the Nicole Brown Charitable Foundation against domestic violence. Because we have at least one female band member we qualified to apply and for some reason, they let us in. I was a little
nervous about being the male lead singer, but everyone was exceedingly groovy.

This was one of the most well planned and executed multi-band benefits I can remember. There were tons of friendly volunteers working and the event was ably emcee’d by a local radio personality. We even got laminated backstage passes complete with the GoGirls logo.

Dizzy Elmer taking no prisoners at Mt. Tabor.All the bands I heard were excellent. We were probably the least polished sounding of the main stage acts, but I think we provided some welcome variety. The main stage had a distinct adult contemporary vibe to it for most of the night. Well, at least until the raucous rockabilly antics of Dizzy Elmer took over at the end. Those guys clearly would have been voted Most Punk – possibly for their gratuitous profanity usage alone.

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