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Pan Tourismos Ditches their Cover

HERE ARE SOME OF my favorite lyrics by Pan Tourismos, a Portland band that recently started playing shows:

"The healthy store's got mineral salts/ that way, dude, you won't have to get funky if you're playing onstage." (from "Anti-Anti-Perspirant")

"Fuck sex/ I just want to make out." (from "PDX Nightlife age 21")

"Loved by all/ Hated by no one/ It's too bad I ever thought I could be that person." (from "Innocence to Arrogance")

You'll have to hear them to fully grasp how charming those lines are, but you get the idea. They're all sung matter-of-factly by Brandon Clemmens, Pan Tourismos' guitarist and main vocalist, in this very conversational, half-talking/half-singing, early-'80s-punk-rock way. The reason I like those lyrics is because they are earnest without being too self-involved. It's as if your regular beer-drinking pal said them at a party last night--they were a little bit funnier then because you were drunk, but you woke up slightly hung over and thinking that there's wisdom to those words; they're endearing and also a little bit enlightening, like they capture the essence of simple, working-class joy.

Pan Tourismos practiced for two years without ever playing an official show. Demetri Kassapakis (bass) was attending engineering school in Klamath Falls, and would drive to Portland on weekends to play with Clemmens and his brother, drummer George Kassapakis. "We'd go to the Sandy Hut on Friday when he came up, and by the time we got around to practicing it was a little rough," Brandon jokes.

Their first performance was at a wedding, and they played mostly covers like "Walk Like an Egyptian," "Video Killed the Radio Star," and "Dancing in the Dark." Their originals (and "Damaged Goods" by Gang of Four, that George pushed hard to cover: "I'm in love with that song.") appear on a demo titled 8 1/2. (though for its official release, it is tentatively titled Tourism Everywhere Forever.). After seeing their first two official shows, and listening to 8 1/2 enough that I can now sing along with their songs, I have to tell you that Pan Tourismos' music is so tight. I think that you will like them, too.

To deconstruct: the guitar and bass, in all their rhythm and quick, broken harmonic parts, wander away and back to each other like two white-T-shirted punks kicking around railroad tracks. Typical chords are scarce--the complex, one-note melodies that have been conspicuously absent from punk for 15 years are what comprise most of Pan Tourismos' core melodies. And if you blink, you might miss a micro-melody within their metered, animated guitar changes. It might seem like "through composition"--in which a song never reverts to a previously introduced chorus or verse--but it's not. Their verses just change so subtly and smoothly that you don't even realize when, or if, they repeat themselves. "I have a short attention span. I think it's the reason I don't like James Brown; I like change. A new part, a new part, another new part, you know?" says Brandon. "But when you break it down, [the song structure] never seems all that complex to me. It's just intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, verse, part you know."

In terms for non-music theory obsessives, Pan Tourismos will make your heart stop with their precise, extraordinary skill and upbeat melodies that pile up in your memory. And they have fun: Brandon grins, Demetri marches to the beat like any good bassist, and George taps out concentrated, layered rhythms. You'll probably want to dance--that is, if you can keep from watching them play. I dare you.

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