Last night saw the start of the busiest four days in Portland's live music scene, kicking off with shows at Roseland, Crystal Ballroom and Berbati's. It was an easy decision to skip the Xavier Rudd show at the Crystal despite never having heard his music: dude has dreadlocks and plays the didgeridoo. (And I think this was the right choice; we passed by the Crystal after the show ended and flocks of hippies were on the Burnside sidewalk in a giant drum circle, just jammin', man.) It was not such an easy decision to skip the Mogwai show but I felt a responsibility to see Langhorne Slim again. As it turned out, he ruled the stage--as he usually does--kicking off the next few days with an exciting, supercharged, unforgettable set.
We walked in during the 1900s' opening set, who gradually transformed from twee pop a la Belle and Sebastian to a heavier, jammier band over the course of the setlist. They were great: unironically cheerful and fully energized, with frighteningly catchy melodies. They also correctly subscribe to the theory that the best lyrics at any given time, for any melody, are always "la la la la la." So few bands honor this golden rule. Norfolk & Western then took the stage in stripped-down four-piece form, playing a crawling, rock 'n' roll set with plenty of shade and light. They closed with a terrific rendition of the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On."
And then Langhorne Slim came out to play a set of his patented gospel-soul honkytonk, with his hollering loverman persona fully on display. And like every other time I've seen him, he was awesome. A friend who suffered through the line outside Berbati's told me she was grateful that I'd urged her via text message to tough it out; Slim was worth the wait. Without sounding like a complete jackass, can I say that Slim's greased-up bluegrass soul makes ladies swoon and grown men cry? ...No, I don't think I can get away with that. Old 97s closed things out somewhat anti-climactically, their polished pop nuggets a little too poised and prepared after Slim's sweaty spontaneity. Still, they played well, and sounded great, even if I'm a little too scattered now to remember any other details.
Tonight's lineup provides a very cruel decision: M. Ward, Bodies of Water, and Sleepercar are all scheduled to play at the same time. This will not be an easy one.