LET IT BE SAID that Dolorean died the way it lived. The Portland band departed this earth without fuss or acrimony, leaving behind a legacy of incisive, insightful tunes that flowed through this city like a sad and steady current. It tastefully hung up its spurs before the songs dried up; it broke the hearts of its fans as gently as possible, with utmost respect paid to all sides.
Actually, this eulogizing is still a tad premature—Dolorean has one final show left to play. This Saturday will mark the end of the road for the Portland folk-rock-country band, drawing to a close a remarkable body of work that's included five exceptional albums, renown in Europe, and acclaim from places like the New York Times and NPR's Fresh Air. Frontman and chief songwriter Al James says it wasn't an easy decision.
"It just felt like the timing was right," he says, "and when I talked to all the guys about it, they seemed a little bit relieved, you know? Like maybe it had been a long time coming. I never wanted it to end in a way that we didn't feel like we were in control of."
The band—James, co-founder/keyboardist Jay Clarke, guitarist Jon Neufeld, bassist James Adair, and drummer Ben Nugent—had been working in the studio on some new songs, but it didn't feel like new ground was being broken. They finished one song, the forlorn ballad "Miami Wine," and knocked out a Michael Hurley cover, but it seemed like it might be time to call it quits, especially in light of the fact that the band had recently drastically reduced its number of live shows, only performing twice in 2013.
"By the time we had looked at what happened in the studio, phasing out didn't seem that crazy because we really hadn't played any gigs for a long time," James says. "Everyone was like, yeah, this is a bummer but specifically, Jay—who I started the band with—was like, yeah, it makes sense. There was talk of... I think the popular word now is that bands go on 'hiatus,' but I don't know what that means. That seemed like kind of a copout."
Dolorean's last show will be a wake of sorts (there will surely be whiskey). The group will sell its remaining stock of vinyl at cost, with other rare releases and posters available. "I'm sure there'll be some drunken spastic ending to it with some friends," says James. "We've rehearsed some older songs that we haven't done in a really long time. But I mean, nothing crazy. Damien Jurado's not gonna get lowered down from the rafters for the encore or anything like that. We just want to kind of stay true to what we've always done, which is basically, for better or worse, no flash, just pretty straight-ahead, just kind of being who we are. That's part of the reason it's never really gone anywhere, you know?"
All the band members have musical projects in their futures: Neufeld plays with Black Prairie, Jackstraw, and Kung Pao Chickens; Clarke records as Ash Black Bufflo and plays with Grails and Lilacs & Champagne; Adair is currently in Phantom Ships; and Nugent has a solo album planned. James' musical future isn't quite as clearly defined yet: "I'm sure I'll do something, but it just might take a while," he says. "I don't really know exactly what it will look like. Every time I think that I might have a plan, I just end up going fishing."
In the meantime, Saturday will be a fine time to celebrate Dolorean's terrific legacy (and stock up on copies of outstanding records like Violence in the Snowy Fields, You Can't Win, and The Unfazed). In its career, Dolorean did everything for the right reasons and on their own terms, something fans should be grateful for.
"I feel really satisfied with everything that we did as a band: the level of quality in the recordings, and the way we interacted as friends and creative people," James says. "We never had blowups. We never had drama. We'll continue to be good friends, and that means a lot to me."