I happened to be in Portland this weekend seeing some friends, and one of those friends also happened to mention that Britt Daniel of Spoon would be playing a solo show as part of a benefit for PDX Pop Now, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to Portland’s local music scene. They’ve released a few compilations and put on free all-ages festivals since 2004. That’s pretty cool.
Britt Daniel wasn’t the only person playing this small show at the off-the-beaten-path Mississippi Studios, which is a pretty nice venue if I do say so myself. The guy who sold my friend and I our tickets didn’t even argue with me when I took my camera in. He said, “Just don’t use any flash.” The only bad part was the way they separated all-ages from 21+. Us young’ns got to sit up in the balcony while the 21+ crowd was on the floor. But because of the intimacy of the venue and the wraparound balcony, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.
The show opened with local band IOA (pronounced like Iowa) – a hodgepodge of a French horn, trumpet, the Latin guiro, keyboard, several drums, bass and a ukulele. Compiled of various members of other bands, mainly from another local Portland band, Point Juncture, WA, lead vocalist Amanda Spring confessed that this was their first show. They were quite at ease on stage, even though there were six people along with their instruments on the tiny stage. It’s hard to describe their music, because with all those instruments, they didn’t really have a genre. Or I guess I could say it was very Portland, if that makes sense. It was the perfect example of what PDX Pop Now was trying to accomplish – exposing those underappreciated bands of Portland.
After a 45-minute set, we all took a 15-minute break while Anita and Kevin Robinson of Viva Voce, a.k.a. The Robinsons, set up. I’d never heard of Viva Voce, but I was very impressed by the technical talent that Anita and Kevin possessed. Anita’s slide guitar was mystifying, and when she picked up the electric, it made me want to pick up my Les Paul again and learn some new sweet grooves. Kevin did most of the talking, and he thanked PDX Pop Now several times. He also mentioned that the PDX Pop Now festival was the first time he crowd surfed.
“I won’t crowd surf now,” he said.
There was a lot of love in the room. There wasn’t a lot of energy, but with an acoustic show, there can’t be much dancing, just more head-bobbing. The Robinsons were a nice balance of mellow songs with heavier, more epic songs with lots of droning guitar riffs on Anita’s part, while Kevin kept the rhythm with his acoustic. Anita even played a xylophone through one song. I strongly recommend picking up their newest album, Rose City, released last May.
Up until now, people had been trailing into Mississippi Studios slowly, filling up the 35 seats on the balcony and lining the wall all around it. The floor below had become far denser since the show started at 8. After all, most people were there to see Britt Daniel anyway.
And let me tell you – I love Spoon. It’s one of those bands you don’t get tired of. And Britt Daniel’s distinct voice is also one you don’t get tired of. His voice worked well with mellow songs like “I Summon You,” or with the louder shouts in “Don’t Make Me a Target,” and harmonizing with his guest drummer on a few songs, former Sleater-Kinney member Janet Weiss. Daniel played plenty of Spoon hits, and a few new songs, which made me really excited, plus some lesser-known songs. One song in particular, from the Home split EP with Conor Oberst, he preempted with a little story about Oberst, which got some laughs.
“Not a good guy to go to a Haunted Corn Maze with. He was scared. I had to walk in front of him the whole time. Janet was there,” he said as he looked over the Weiss on the side of the stage. “You were there too.”
Daniel switched from acoustic guitar to electric guitar to a bass throughout night, which fed the energy of the room, taking the small intimate crowd on an-hour long tour of Spoon’s newer hits from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and older songs from Gimme Fiction, Kill the Moonlight, and Girls Can Tell. Plus, we got a four-song encore, which was pretty sweet. I also was thoroughly impressed by the way the club sounded. Mississippi Studios has such a unique set up that it fit the persona of Portland just right. And the minimalist vibe of the show mixed with Daniel’s raspy vocals and modest charisma made the crowd – both on the floor and the balcony – feel very connected.
Mississippi Studios doesn’t need fancy light work or large crowds to put on a good show. They just need easygoing doormen and great music.
PDX Pop Now: website