It's a birthday party of the most depraved sort. It's an event from which ears and livers quake in terror. It's the rowdiest weekend in Portland, a veritable "shart-storm of booze and disasters," as Jon Barron of the band Therapists puts it. Or, as Patrick Foss of Pure Country Gold says, it's "debaucherous last-call drunken rabblerousing badassery music for the people."
Marking Slabtown's third anniversary under the ownership of Sam Soule, Brinda Coleman, and Chris Spinelli, the Slabtown Bender kicks off this Friday night, February 6, and lasts all damn weekend, with three dozen bands blasting out punk, pop, garage, rock, 'n' soul from free afternoon matinee shows clear into the wee hours. The Bender has already become a Portland tradition, not just because of the music, but for the beer-drenched celebration that accompanies it. After all, it is called the Bender, and like all good benders, it had deliberately planned origins, but at some point ungodly intervention took over.
"I lived across the street from the Bear Paw [on SE Milwaukie]," says Barron, who organized the first two Benders, "and had been booking shows there for a few months. We got away with murder. After a few bills went really well, I decided it was time for an all-day BBQ show or something. About the same time I heard that Sam and Brinda—who I had met when they worked at Billy Ray's—had taken over Slabtown and were having their reopening the same weekend. I knew them from their zine in the late '90s [Multiball], so rather than compete I got in touch with Sam and I moved the show to Slabtown.
"I had no idea how big or small it was going to be or if people were going to show up at all. It was big enough to catch me off guard. By year two we had lots of help, and between the extra hands and a (slightly) bigger budget, it allowed the show to double in size." Barron adds, "Maybe it wasn't exactly twice as big, but we got twice as fucked up."
This year is even bigger, with acts from all over the country, and more than a few indisputable legends. "Pretty heavy-duty lineup this year," says Matto Howe of the Pity Fucks. "Mudhoney's gonna be playing in a little club with a foot-high stage... if you're into that sorta thing." There are also a number of alumni from the Memphis, Tennessee festival Gonerfest, including King Louie, Hank IV, and Jack Oblivian.
As Howe explains, "Gonerfest is put on by Goner Records, a label and record store owned by Eric Friedl of the Oblivians and Zac Ives of the Final Solutions. I went two years ago and had a fantastic time, and saw a lot of great bands, so at the pre-planning meetings for last year's Bender, we kind of used the Gonerfest template as far as program design, general structure, and such."
The range of this year's Bender lineup has a hearty helping of punk, but the breadth of the genre spills out in almost every direction. For instance, San Francisco power-poppers the Pleasure Kills make a return appearance this year, their taut songs cracking and humming like a very live wire, with sparks flying everywhere. Their frontwoman Lydiot isn't doing Joan Jett or Debbie Harry or anyone for that matter—she's doing Lydiot, plain and simple.
On the gentler side of the spectrum is another Gonerfest alum, Harlan T. Bobo, a man shrouded in mystery, often quite literally. His recent Christmas show in Memphis is already the stuff of legend, complete with costumes, props, outrageous sets, and a script that was apparently dictated to Bobo by Martians. Bobo's plainspoken songs are entirely more down to earth, and his everyman croon is equal parts Ray Davies, Beck, and Leonard Cohen.
And of course, there are buttloads of Portland bands, like Howe's band the Pity Fucks, who channel blistering snot-punk through the Castaways' roller-rink organ, sounding like garage legend Question Mark fronting a meth-addled lineup of the Buzzcocks. Plus, the super-fun Hairspray Blues, whose drum-and-guitar crunch is feverishly radioactive, and another husband-and-wife band, Pierced Arrows, who shouldn't require any introduction at this point. (Hint: It's Fred and Toody of Dead Moon.)
"It's a down-home, actually pretty diverse set of bands, stylistically speaking," says Howe. "And, of course, a lot of drinking, revelry, and general merrymaking... it is the Bender, after all."