Though much of my year was invested in the ongoing debate, alternately uplifting and frustrating, over what age people should (not) have to be in order to see live music, the substantial amount of time that I spent actually attending local shows was overwhelmingly rewarding. What follows is a list of my five favorite local shows of the year, four of which I'm happy to note were all-ages. In the interest of fairness, I have not included any events with which I was affiliated, including sets from the 2007 PDX Pop Now! festival. I hope you saw some good ones this year, too. There were a lot of them.
1. Dragging an Ox Through Water— NE House Show (3/11/07)Prior to this daytime, potluck house show, my deep admiration for the profoundly moving, circuit-bending noise-folk of Brian Mumford, AKA Dragging an Ox through Water, was the exclusive product of time spent in private, basking in the warm, frayed-edge glow of his recorded output. Seeing Mumford play live for the first time, I was blown away. Though seated and motionless, save for the small stirrings of his string-plucking fingers, pedal-pushing feet, and glasses-readjusting nose, Mumford captivated the spellbound crowd more fully with his focus and calm than even the most talented of extrovert performers might have done with antics and flash. As it happens, Mumford does this regularly, but, hey, you never forget your first time.
2. Menomena—Crystal Ballroom (1/28/07)
While putting out the year's best album (in the form of Friend and Foe) was a major achievement for Menomena, we knew they were capable of it. Less expected, but perhaps even more hoped for by fans, was Menomena's transformation this year into a consistently top-notch live act. This free, all-ages album release show, where Menomena were accompanied by a massive choir of local voices (including some usually found in the Helio Sequence, Dat'r, and Boy Eats Drum Machine), was a public declaration that the avant-pop trio had overcome the demanding technical challenges of their eclectic live instrumentation and were now a force to be reckoned with on stage as well as on record. The resignedly triumphant a cappella moment at the center of this night's chorus-augmented "Rotten Hell" rendered the rest of the world momentarily irrelevant.
3. YACHT on a Yacht—Willamette River (5/5/07)
By mustering the gumption and resources to stage the record release party for his album I Believe In You. Your Magic Is Real. as an itinerant river-going adventure on an actual yacht, Portland's mantra-making, beat-birthing high priest of post-guitar punk positivity—Jona Bechtolt—made tangible the undeniable we-can-do-anything-together charm of the music he makes as YACHT. The PA overheating in a pillar of smoke as the jubilant crowd, decked out in captain's hats, passed the still-singing Bechtolt overhead along the 7-foot-high ceiling was classic YACHT.
4. Per Se & Leviethan—The Waypost (6/30/07)
This show, attended by only one person other than myself due to a scheduling mix-up, was the ultimate testament to the talent and dedication of these two singer-songwriters, as well as to the depth and spirit of the Portland music community. Per Se and Leviethan played their short, unamplified sets with enough commitment, humor, and intelligence to make attendance figures immaterial, and to transfigure an empty café into an intimate chamber full of shared warmth. While these performances merited a full house, I felt lucky to be alone with the music.
5. The Joggers—Halleluwah Festival @ Holocene (8/31/07)
One of only a handful of shows that my favorite Portland band played this year, this freewheeling set on the first night of the Halleluwah Festival answered my questions as to what exactly the Joggers have been doing for the two years since With a Cape and a Cane came out. The answer: writing songs every bit as technically rigorous, unselfconsciously joyous, and utterly unique as they ever have. Hearing this set felt like eavesdropping on the band at a particularly fun practice session.