Tour Diary – Winter 2001 – Puddletown: The Revenge
January 12, 2001
Venue: The Meow Meow
City: Portland, OR
“So, where’s the service elevator?”
Thus began my evening of hilarious quips and asides. To be fair, lugging heavy equipment up three flights of stairs is a small price for playing the Meow Meow. It’s quite possibly my favorite of the venues we’ve played thus far in PDX land. For starters, it’s an all ages club. That roughly translates to no alcohol, no smoke and (usually) throngs of teenagers very enthusiastic about getting away from their parents’ houses. The co-owner/band contact, Todd, is a terrific guy. I think he is a counselor for at-risk youth during the day. He said that they’ve had very few rules-related problems after their first 100 shows. Although there was one punk band there a while back who refused to extinguish their smoking materials onstage. I guess they were trying to “stick it to the Man” or something. Please, people. If they really want to bust one out on the “Man”, why not start with the Phillip Morris Corporation that taught them that smoking is cool in the first place?
The first act of the night was called The A-Set. It consisted of one guy playing electric guitar and singing over pre-recorded rock accompaniment. Sounds iffy, I know, but he was really quite good. The backup tape was of him playing all the instruments. In fact, he was only in town to record an album at the 3rd and Failing guitarist’s studio. He (I wish I could remember his name) lives in Chicago, so he and Audrey compared Windy City geographical knowledge for a while.
The Hellpets took the stage second, playing to the sparse — how shall I say — reserved crowd. One thing is for sure: the Meow Meow has one of the best sounding stages in Portland. On the other hand, it was way too quiet between songs. I could tell that we struck a couple of people in the audience (you know, positively), but I wonder whether they’ll want us back there right away.
The next band had a direct plan of action for alleviating tense moments of silence: extreme volume. Despite advances in P.A. technology which have made six-foot-tall amp stacks quite unnecessary, 3rd and Failing made sure that their presence was, literally, felt. The bass player (whose bass had mysteriously self-destructed earlier in the week) was using a very nice Rickenbacher bass belonging to the guitar player. I don’t think it was his bass rig either. He had plugged up the rack (containing God knows what) and the two enormous cabinets in such a way to produce a tremendous electrical grounding buzz. They asked to borrow the Countess’ amp and we were happy to help. The Countess has an extremely powerful Gallien-Krueger combo, which also happens to be not much larger than a briefcase. In short, it’s the perfect bass amp. So, what do these guys do as we’re coming to their rescue? They ridicule the GK’s size and make fun of the roses on its grill (sexual insecurity? I don’t know.) During the amp transition they realized their previous wiring error, making the use of our amp unnecessary, which was fine. By that point I was feeling considerably less generous. In the end, they were way too loud to listen to so we went into the Meow Meow lounge room and played Yahtzee.
The final act of the evening, The Holy Sons, was as delightful to listen to as they were personable. They’re recent immigrants from the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina, so maybe we connected on some sort of Southern wavelength. It turns out that their bassist, James, and I are both friends of the guys in the band Jolene. But more importantly, that also makes us both only two degrees of separation from Hootie and the Blowfish.
January 16, 2001
Venue: Medicine Hat Gallery
City: Portland, OR
The morning before this show I got an email from Chantelle with the following two assurances: 1) the furnace at the Medicine Hat is fixed and 2) the owner is taking etiquette lessons.
Nonetheless, I wasted no time getting on the bad side of aforementioned owner. I made the mistake of asking Stefan if I could decline to get my hand stamped. Whoa! Not if I wanted to be able to go outside at any point in the evening, I was told. Stefan, illustrating how he’s not the bad guy here, informed me that the door guy coming in later would “make [me] sit on that bench” by the door if I came in with no stamp. No, I couldn’t simply tell the other guy that I’m in one of the bands. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, a power-mad domineering bureaucracy to be sure, must really be freaking Stefan out. The last time we played the Medicine Hat an employee searched all of our bags as we loaded in. Luckily, I had the crack cocaine in my underwear at the time. Stefan is the same guy who adopted such a scolding tone over a birthday cake in his bar, so maybe he’s just some sort of control freak. He has a nice club though.
Oh, my lord was it ever cold in there! The Countess could see her breath when she sang. Fortunately, we played first this time, unlike the last time when we had to wait around shivering for hours. Is Stefan trying to save a few bucks on his heating bill at the expense of the bands and audience? Is it supposed to make people buy expensive cognac instead of less expensive beer? The answers to these and other titillating questions will have to wait for another night.
We played a set of the obligatory pop numbers and then promptly began huddling for warmth near the bar. I think Stefan was curled up with an electric heater back there or something. It was around this point that the door take officially hit the $50 mark, a prerequisite for the issuance of band drink tickets. Despite several hot chocolates and cold beers, there were still leftover Hellpets tickets at the end of the night. Rather than giving Stefan back our hard earned beverages, I ordered a Sobe energy drink and a Cactus flavored Snapple to go. I doubt that I’ll ever drink that wacky stuff, but they’ll make fine decorations for the inside of my refrigerator.
After us came a rocking set by Portland’s own The Drakes, followed by the more melodic and tense sounds of Room 101. Very enjoyable stuff, though you could tell everybody was about to expire from hypothermia. The Room 101 bassist even made an on-stage comment about the frigid conditions. Viva la resistance!
January 17, 2001
Venue: The Laurelthirst
City: Portland, OR
When you look at those factors that determine the quality of a live music venue: comfortable temperature, friendliness of staff, presence of audience members, quality of hot chocolate, proximity to my house, etc., it’s hard to beat the Laurelthirst. Then again, there’s the small matter of the P.A. equipment. True, I had to run home for an extra mic and stand before our set, but it wasn’t really a bother. Did I mention the hot chocolate? Whipped cream and everything.
Kicking things off was the solo acoustic stylings of Jason Roark. He was quite good, but the Decemberists (led by the local folk pop icon Colin Meloy) were simply amazing. By now, I should simply come to expect that from the Decemberists, but instead it always comes as a pleasant surprise. Colin and the boys have been dragging their feet in the CD recording department, so I took matters into my own hands and bootlegged the show using a hand-held cassette machine. Fabulously bad recording quality, but it hardly even matters with them.
February 15, 2001
Venue: The Medicine Hat Gallery
City: Portland, OR
Some people say that we don’t play the Medicine Hat Gallery often enough. To these people, I say “Ha! Look at our schedule! Look at it! Submit to it!” Truth be told, I don’t even remember scheduling this show. Chantelle and I were tossing around dates over the phone one day in a conversation that eventually resulted in our January 16 show — and I guess this one too. The more the merrier!
For the first time, the illustrious Chantelle was actually in attendance at one of our Medicine Hat shows. Coincidentally, the heater in the building was running, possibly for the first time ever. Even Stefan seemed slightly lower-key than usual. That didn’t stop him from checking my ID twice over the course of the evening, but I’ll settle for that.
Tonight’s show was clearly stolen by our friends in the second band, Sauvie Island Moon Rocket Factory. Not only is their quirky lo-fi aesthetic easy on the eardrums, but they have great songs too. And, of course, they look fabulous! Quite the triple threat those Sauvie Island boys.
The last act of the evening, the Dan Creech Band, was bursting with rock energy. I hate to judge a band by their fans, but there was a palpable frat jock rock vibe when Creech & Co. hit the stage. I might have been influenced by the vulgar and quasi-misogynistic yulps of encouragement coming from one particular table in the balcony. As for the band itself, it was not very memorable but still not entirely bad. After their set, Dan quite un-ironically found an excuse to take his shirt off onstage. Oh, how I miss irony.
March 10, 2001
Live Broadcast: KPSU 1450-AM
City: Portland, OR and the World Wide Web
Trevino is the host of ‘Super Unconscious Ebonics’, the local live music show on KPSU. Tonight he told me that someone had actually invented a way to broadcast AM radio in stereo. I wonder why that never caught on.
Portland musicians must be some of the most chronically tardy people to ever work in show business. I’ve deduced this from the insanely early times that bands are told to arrive at shows. The Hellpets faithfully arrived at the KPSU studio (located in the sub-basement of the Portland State University Student Union) at 7:00 PM for our 9:00 PM airtime. And what do we find upon arrival? That’s right! A service elevator! It runs between floor “SB” (sub-basement) and floor “D” (which, from the evidence I compiled, can only stand for “dumpsters”). Needless to say, there was a less-than-glamorous odor as we lugged our equipment through the alley to the elevator. It probably wasn’t as bad as Dewey’s in Hattiesburg, though. Rotting food or no rotting food, I was thrilled that there was an elevator. Can you tell?
Audrey arrived at around 8:00 looking like she just got off a non-stop flight from Fiji sitting next to a crying baby. She set up her gear and proceeded to cuddle up with Mr. Satan (that’s our red teddy bear Hellpet, in case you were concerned) and take a nap on the KPSU couch. By 8:15, there was still no sign of Derek the soundguy (who also had the only key to the equipment room), but Trevino assured me that he would be there no later than 8:30.
Tonight was also the debut of the new rockmobile. Sadly, the Countess’ beloved Volkswagen Quantum Wagon had its transmission go out. She replaced it (not that it could ever truly be replaced, and in fact hasn’t been, since it’s still sitting outside our house) with a ten-year-old (but much newer than the Quantum) Toyota Camry Wagon. Interestingly (or possibly not) this makes us officially an all Toyota band. Meanwhile, the Smith Memorial Building was quite hopping, as I noticed on one of my frequent trips to fill up my water cup in the Men’s room sink. Everywhere except the KPSU studio, that is. Shortly after our supposed 9:00 start time came and went, Derek came bursting through the door. He unlocked the equipment room and had the entire room miked up in about 15 minutes. By 9:30 we were sound checked and by 9:35 we were on the air. That left us 20 minutes to play, which for us is still about 7 songs. Trevino scheduled us a make-up slot in April during which we’ll play the rest of our set, time permitting of course.
March 11, 2001
Venue: The Satyricon
City: Portland, OR
Our long standing ambition to play “New Band Night” at Satyricon has finally been realized! It sure is gratifying to have such low aspirations. We’ve seen a few of these Sunday night lineups and the sonic results were usually less than stellar. Tonight was definitely as exception, and certainly not entirely due to us, I might add.
The Hellpets took the stage first. Donning my official Toyota technician workshirt, I launched us into our set of the usual pop numbers. The first thing I noticed was how fantastic the stage sound was. The soundguy, as it turned out, was only doing the Satyricon as a hobby during his nights off from his usual sound gig at the Crystal Ballroom. He obviously loves his work and you can tell from the way he makes things sound. It was the most fun I’ve had playing in quite a while. A couple of times we even had dancers. Dancers, I’m telling you!
Next up was “The Radix Show,” a one-man quasi-beatnik musical monologue and zany political skit collage performed by the enigmatic Mr. Radix. He’s also a recent Portland transplant, having arrived here in November. (We’ve started meeting a lot of people who’ve lived here much less time than we have. Scary.) He most recently lived in Athens, GA, which he didn’t portray as being particularly artist-friendly. I can see his point. There just aren’t enough jobs in that kind of small town economy for the deluge of artists and over-educated hipsterites who flock there. I thought that Radix’s performance was quite hilarious and thought provoking. It was a complete change of speed from what you’d expect to see at what is essentially a rock club open-mic.
Last up was a band called 16 Second Hum. These guys rocked my socks off, figuratively speaking. Their songs were tight, their stage presence was undeniable and their antics were marvelously goofy. It was the third pleasant surprise of the night (yes, I was pleasantly surprised by us too). The lead guitarist, for instance, was all over the place with unbridled wackiness. My favorite moment was when he unplugged his guitar and made percussive amp noise by grounding his guitar cord on his tongue. I think these guys are from Eugene, OR, but I haven’t been able to find much info about them on the internet. If you’re a fan of high-energy rock entertainment, I would suggest you go check them out.