Who Needs New York? 

PDX Music is Alive and Thriving, Goddammit

I WAS HALF-DRUNK at the Luna Lounge in NYC; long unwashed, the rank cigarette stench on my clothes was only outdone by seven full days of city grit caked on my hands and face. It was CMJ, and I'd been waiting in line for the bathroom for like a fucking hour, and as I was tagging "PDX Pride" on the wall for the sixth-or-so time, I came to a pure, angels-singing-in-the-choir revelation about my purpose as a j'urinalist in Portland.

This revelation came courtesy of the 23-or-so bands from our city that made the trek to New York to play the College Music Journal Festival. These are the kinds of bands that are making violently creative art; the kinds of bands that, when you see them live, elicit reactions like, "Wow they're from Portland?!" followed by, "I can't believe they're not signed to a label." These are the bands that make you want to leave your house, no matter what. These are the people who are not sitting home on their couches, drunk, and wondering what happened to the golden days of Crackerbash and Hazel.

I've been listening to Portland duo Beds' CD since I got back from NYC. It's one in a series of random recordings, and instead of a title, it's got a date: late afternoon, mid august. It's beautiful and wondrous, with shocking smears of guitars and frenetic drum improv, and I'm thinking about some statements made recently in Willamette Week Music Editor Zach Dundas' column regarding the abysmal state of Portland's music scene.

Yes, EJ's is closing. The Rocket is folding. We'll miss them both very dearly. It's not a good time for the music that, in its heyday, grew and sprouted roots at EJ's. It's not a great time for grunge or post-grunge or even roots rock and roll. But it's excellent for its new little brothers and sisters, the bands that are writing creative and kinetic music. They've developed into different little camps all over the scene; new shoegazers; the indefinable, yet undeniably brilliant, heavy texture rockers; the improv-electronica units; the soft and country-tinged; the sweater-pop bands; the spastic new punk. They are not derivative; they are utterly unafraid to push boundaries. I'm leaving out a million great local bands and styles that I would pay over five dollars to see, any time, any day. Regardless of the good The Rocket has done for the entire Pacific Northwest music scene, it's time to let the tide turn. Let's let go of the past, and open ourselves up to the new and beautiful.

So anyway, as I tagged the bathroom and some horrible New York band played the Luna Lounge stage (for future reference, it was Elk City, and I definitely do not recommend them), I thought of all the Portland shows I'd seen in the Big Apple over the weekend. I thought of The Places, who, with their quietly heartbreaking guitars and short wave radio backgrounds, lulled their audience at the Knitting Factory's KnitActive Soundstage into a dreamworld of soft contemplation. I thought of Jeff London, who sang his whole set with a sweet smile on his face, and Matthew Hattie Hein, who encouraged literacy via his quirky song about Hamlet. I thought of the incredible amount of Portland support at the Jealous Butcher Records showcase; so many familiar faces appeared that Jack Houston of Wow & Flutter commented, "It's like being at the Medicine Hat right now!" I thought of my friends 31 Knots' set in Brooklyn, and their dumbfounding, magnetic interplay between guitars, drums, and vocals, their energy intense enough to power 47 nuclear submarines. (Why aren't they signed to a label? Touch & Go/Quarterstick, it's time to represent.) I thought of The Planet The, and their awesome madcap attack of heavy guitar changes, buzzing Korg, and creepy comedy. I thought of all the Portland bands I didn't even get to see, like Kaitlyn ni Donovan, Kind of Like Spitting, Captain vs. Crew, Boy Crazy, Wolf Colonel, Operacycle, so many more. (See how many local names you recognize at www.cmj.com.)

But most of all, I wanted to be back home, where I can see these and all my other favorite bands on a regular basis. I go out five or six nights a week these days, and I still haven't seen all the great acts our city has to offer. We're lucky in Portland.

If you really believe the local music scene is bad, it's either because you've been seeing the wrong bands, or you seriously haven't left your house in two years. Don't worry about traveling to New York to find the newest thing. Portland is exploding, I promise you that. Do you really want to be left behind in the debris?

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