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Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Towne Lounge (a love note)

(Wednesday)

I do not mind telling you that I was pretty scared before we went on for our set at The Towne Lounge on Wednesday night. I would even say I was nearly terrified; but everything turned out all right, and in fact we had a lovely night.

After a day of cruising around snowy Portland in our increasingly filthy tour van, we started the evening by meeting some more creotians for beer and popcorn at The Marathon on Burnside: Alex was there, along with George and Lynnae, who were once the keytarist and drummer respectively for hiphop band Lil' Pocketknife in San Francisco. We were going to eat at The Marathon but couldn't: we wanted to play well that night and were too nervous to be hungry (I notice, on looking back at my blog entries, that I spend a lot of time describing the food we eat on this trip. I think this is because there is an unspoken agreement that our normal dietary habits and restrictions are suspended while on tour, and so we get to eat a lot of cool and probably unhealthy food that we wouldn't get otherwise).

So we decided to head on over to the club and set up. The Towne Lounge is a small room built into the side of what I think might be a church or a community center or something like that: it's just a little stage, a bar, and a couple of booths and tables. Still, I gather that it's got a good reputation and there are bands of considerable bigness that play there (I saw a poster for Great Northern and Division Day, among others). Things started getting interesting when we realized that all of the other bands playing that night with us were actually noise bands: completely nontraditional, electronic, experimental, ambient performance groups. Most of the audience (except, I think, for Alex, George, and Lynnae) were there to see the noise bands. And then there was us. This could have been a disaster...imagine, say, a traditional polka band playing in the middle of a free jazz festival. But it wasn't a disaster: we really did get into the other bands, and they were extremely open-minded and accepting of our set, and it ended up being our best show of the tour so far.

There appears to be a small scene of noise bands and audience members around the country, and they all know each other, and participate in each others' performances. The first band of the night, which was actually one guy with a mixer and some electronics, was called Acre. I'm not really smart enough to figure out how he did this, but he played a single piece, which was an electronic tone generated somehow by creating a feedback loop within a series of EQ pedals all hooked together. Then, over the course of the piece, which lasted maybe ten minutes or so, he'd slowly change the settings on his mixer and pedals to add different overtones and harmonies to the original tone. As Mary says, he created a very interesting soundscape and it was physically very nice to listen to: it sort of vibrated in my chest. I liked it.

Then we went on and played what was certainly our best set of the tour yet...thank god we'd practiced the night before, we got to that crucial point where even though we were sometimes confused as to what to do our bodies took over (no thinking, no thinking!) and we could get through without choking. In fact I'd even say that Mary was possessed, she pulverized her drums, completely ferocious. I think I did fine...it was pretty clear I was nervous as my inter-song banter was, as I recall, almost totally incoherent. I was prepared for the possibility that we were going to majorly piss off the noise audience with our very non-noise songs, but no, they seemed completely happy to listen. Clearly they liked "We Fell Dead" the best, and I made sure the fuzz bass was extra fuzzy and spikey. It was vey cute and funny: although it never occured to me to describe ourselves as a 'pop' band, more than one of the members of the other groups came up to us afterwards and said something along the lines of "I haven't listened to much pop music in years but I liked you guys." So we were very happy.

Then after us (thank god we didn't have to follow them) was two bands, Argumentrix and Your Drugs, My Money, who combined their sets and played a single piece together. I would go so far as to say they were unfollowable. I kind of lack the vocabulary to describe what I saw, but, roughly: there were four people kneeling or sitting onstage, and two standing off: all had either microphones or heavily-modified electronic instruments running through complex chains of guitar effects. I saw, among other things, a Barbie doll with some kind of voice chip plugged into the PA system; a violin entirely covered in stickers; what I think was an empty case for blank cd-r's filled with resistors and electronics; a set of cracked cymbals; and little microcassette recorders used with built-in microphones. The various performers either sat quietly, or swayed back and forth on their haunches, or screamed and thrashed about manically while yelling, singing, talking into their microphones, or fiddling with their electronics, and they created a dense wall of clashing noise. But: it was not chaos. There was a structure, and it was clear that the different members were listening to each other and playing off of each other. There were movements (a dense part, a quiet part, a part where a bunch of guys wrestled each other and smashed things), and I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that the performance was really like an orchestral piece, just without a conductor. It was pretty much unlike anything I'd seen before and now I'm interested in seeing more. Hilariously, it turned out that Justin, one of the guys in Your Drugs, My Money, actually lives in Northridge and attends CSUN in Mary's department, so it looks like we'll be seeing more of Justin soon.

So it turned out to be a very nice night. Plus the weather warmed up enough in Portland that, thank goodness: the chains could come off. We drove the next day to Olympia on almost dry pavement.

One last thing: on Thursday morning, before we left the city, we went looking for some breakfast. Originally we wanted to go to a French place called Le Pigeon, directly next to our hotel, but it was closed, so we went downtown. And we couldn't find a single sit-down cafe; it was just Thai (which we didn't really want for breakfast) or coffee shops with muffins, but nothing with hot food. After wandering around fruitlessly for a half an hour we broke down and asked the doorman of a swanky hotel for advice, and he directed us to The Bijou on 3rd and Pine, where they had an oyster hash with peppers and lemon that is To. Die. For. Seriously, I was in heaven, if slightly gassy, afterwards. It was worth it! Highly highly recommended.

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