I am met with the strain of a vocal scale emanating from the Egg--an artists' enclave a couple blocks off of MLK. It is here that the Dahoo Chorus is rehearsing for their upcoming June 3 show, which is entitled "CrossPollination" and will be at the Bossanova, and this particular night holds a certain promise. Not only will they be singing the songs of Freddy Mercury and Queen, but they will, in the late singer's own words, "rock you."
The standard vocal calisthenics ensue, and for a moment I almost mistake the 27 members of Dahoo for a traditional choir. But suddenly they launch into their rendition of "Killer Queen," and all sense of normalcy is quickly left behind like a sack of drowning kittens.
Face it, dude: You've sung in the shower. Or perhaps your car is the preferred venue for your personal rock operas. Either way, you suck and you know it. But when you're rocking out that hard, quality of sound is secondary to quantity of sound. Now imagine you're sitting in a room full of people who sing in the shower, but are good at it--and they're singing Queen! And they're wearing crazy white costumes, and--holy hell--these drugs are good! Now you have an idea of the Dahoo Chorus.
The Chorus, like the MarchFourth Marching Band (a ragtag 30-piece live marching band that's become somewhat of a fixture around Portland in the last two years), is led by John Averill, a frenetic wisp of a man with penetrating eyes whose projects inevitably lean toward the grandiose side of freaky. As if all this weren't enough, Averill--along with co-director Darcy Dziedcic--heads up Kaosmosis, a production company which hosts a monthly themed event at the Bossanova. Although each show is different, Kaosmosis events are generally complex affairs, replete with live musical acts, randomly scheduled performance art, and high-energy electronica at the end of the night. And this happens every first Friday of every month.
Admittedly, it takes a certain type of guy to dream up--and then direct--both a marching band and a full vocal choir, both of which are dedicated to the idea of subverting their respective traditions. That man must be organized, driven, and demanding, willing to herd a festooned group of drummers, horn players, fire dancers, stilters, and hula hoopers from gig to gig (sometimes MarchFourth plays three shows a day). At first glance, John Averill seems a strange fit for the job.
Averill smiles when he says his projects are aptly named. "MarchFourth is this project that's all about momentum and proceeding ahead, and Kaosmosis is more of an expansive thing, a nebula-like entity, or maybe an octopus that spreads its tentacles outward. Something like that…."
Only after seeing him at work does one realize how dedicated he is to the music, and in turn how much he demands of his musicians. During the Egg rehearsal, he is adamant about nailing the choruses, and takes time to kvetch lightheartedly to the members about the keyboardist's preparation: "I fully expect him to call me up on Thursday: 'John! John! Have you heard these songs?! There's piano on them!' And then he'll spend the next week programming his computer and keyboards to sound exactly like the track."
Still, neither he nor Darcy Dziedcic seem to radiate the kind of shit-togetherness you'd expect from people who put on a large-scale monthly gig of this caliber. Dziedcic admits that most Kaosmosis events are fairly self-realizing, meaning that there is a lot of momentum leading up to each month's show. "It's an organic synthesis, the idea of chaos through order, and vice versa. We pick a date, corral all these performers, and set up a structure for it all to happen. After that, all we can do is hold a space for the artists to create within." Fortunately, the people involved want to perform, and for this reason aren't likely to fuck it up.
Still, channeling Freddy Mercury hasn't been easy for the Dahoo Chorus, says Dziedcic. "When we first set out to do the Queen material, we couldn't find sheet music. So we had one of our members transcribe the vocals and break it down into individual parts."
So why Queen, of all bands?
"In all of our shows," Averill says, "there's a fascination with live performance, and all our 'themes' are basically just parameters. Once you set some limits, then you can explode them."
For this month's CrossPollination, they've chosen a "birds and bees" theme as a way to talk about reaching out into other communities. While Most Kaosmosis events have a dedicated audience of eccentrics, burners, and like-minded party people, both Dziedcic and Averill hope to reach out and touch the mainstream. While they've chosen to contextualize the Queen material within "A Night at the Insect Opera," it's still a bit of a leap from community-building to lyrics like "Fat bottom girls, you make the rockin' world go round!"
Or perhaps not. Besides a grab bag of live performances, CrossPollination promises to blaze new trails into the territory of ass-shattering bass. Fat bottoms, indeed. With a visit from Lorin (of Bassnectar) and DJs Papachango and Shawna of the El Circo crew, the tagline for this event might as well be: "Come for the live performance, stay for the nasty breakbeats." Traveling with a sound system that is unrivaled by almost anything in the state, the after-hours beats might rock you harder than even Freddy Mercury could.
But for now, it's all about hitting the high notes. Back at the Egg, the Chorus is belting out "Bohemian Rhapsody" with Averill on lead vocals. And while they don't exactly nail the whole "Galileo" bit (this is, after all, their first run-through of the day) I have to admit to headbanging along on the breakdown. If I'd had a lighter handy, it would have been in the air long ago.
Later on, over drinks at the Kennedy School, I ask Averill what he is hoping to achieve with the Chorus. The question is somewhat redundant, because all any music can ever hope to do is touch us somewhere deep. Even during their rehearsal, Dahoo achieved that. But Averill is game. "I guess if the question is why do we do the Dahoo Chorus, or MarchFourth for that matter, the answer is: Because no one else does."