It doesn’t happen very often – hell, my success rate of being told I’m on the guest list and actually being on the list is barely above 50-50 – but occasionally, I feel like I’ve ripped someone off by getting in free to a show. This was one of those rare nights. Not that it started off all gangbusters, mind you. The doors were supposed to open at the standard 8 PM, so my girlfriend and I rolled in blazed and mildly drunk at quarter to nine. With the inside of the hundred-odd-capacity Media Club pitch black, the nice man at the door informed us it would be at least another twenty minutes till he’d have some info for us. All we knew at that point was the bands weren’t there yet. I’m a stickler for detail myself, but what can you do?
We circled around Library Square with the justifiably striking union CUPE Local 15 till 9:40 when, by some miracle of fate, the advertised triple bill fashionably arrived. They set up with no time to spare for tuning or proper mixing and hit the stage without pause. Rawk ‘n’ roll!!! There was barely enough time to grab a beer before the openers Songs For Moms landed balls-deep in their set.
With Carey hammering away on a pared-down kit while Molly and Alana split the bass, guitar, and lead vocal duties, they constitute one of the most pungent all-girl power trios ever to come out of San Francisco. Their songs mostly ran in three-four time, but they jammed through their bluntly relationship-based waltzes and occasional post-punk, rock jaunts with all the swagger of a young Sleater-Kinney. The inadequate number of female attendees migrated steadily forward, feeding on the groundbreaking vibrations, forcing the guys to ditch their inhibitions and join in. Waves of swaying and nodding ensued. I haven’t seen a vibe like that for an opening-opening band in years. I gave the band props at my earliest opportunity, while picking up both EPs (a bargain at $8) and a t-shirt they had for sale. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for these guys, for sure. Hell, if I had a label, I’d have signed them myself. Thank gawd for nice surprises.
Next up was the real reason I was there: Portland’s favorite sextet Blitzen Trapper. Several month’s previous, I’d said in a review for their self-released third album, Wild Mountain Nation, that “it’s a wonder they’re not on a major label.” The next month, their signing to the famous Sub Pop was announced, leaving me feeling quite vindicated. Their set easily lived up to my own hype, mostly grinding out songs from their latest and obviously greatest record (save a bizarre track from a supposed unreleased children’s album, the likes of which Bruce Haack would thoroughly approve). Replicating some of the angular Steve Miller nightmare riff constructions off that album is no small feat with all those fingers, but they pulled it off in spades. Those six guys created a full, big sound for such a small venue. You can bet your ass it’ll be the last time BT will be seen there again, though. They seemed like honestly nice, down-to-earth guys from their stage presence and the brief conversation I had with a couple of them, so I’m happy for them.
Sadly, the late start forced my girlfriend home before the headlining Two Gallants, nor was I able to stay much longer, but I liked what I heard. They’re a duo from the Bay Area with roots in Robert Johnson delta blues, so White Stripes comparisons are a critic’s standard. However, from my vantage point, they’re completely unwarranted, no doubt formed out of journalistic laziness by their numbers, not by their music. Yes, they had a similarly explosive sound, but it’s pretty hard to be subtle and remain interesting as a pair with all that stage to walk around on. Adam Stephens picked away on his vintage red Gretsch while drummer Tyson Vogel exploded viciously on the kit, after initially building suspense with rubber mallets. This, in turn, beckoned Adam to cross over from quiet confession to vibrant, screaming expression. It’s easy to see why they’ve been playing together since childhood ‘cause they push all the right buttons for each other.
The whole experience was fantastically inspiring. The one-two-three knockout punch of bands all clearly on the upward path paid off in one of my most thoroughly enjoyable concert experiences of recent memory. I’ve found myself waning on the whole music thing, but this show totally reinvigorated my life’s passion. For all these reasons and more, this show was a robbery at the price of admission.