Fernando Viciconte is an “old Portland” personality. In the annals of our city’s storied music scene, his name appears alongside artists like Elliott Smith and Pete Krebs. Speaking to the Mercury last year, Jackpot! Recording Studio’s owner Larry Crane name-checked Viciconte’s 1999 solo record Old Man Motel as one of his favorite projects ever recorded at the studio—an endorsement many Portland musicians would willingly trade their right hand for.
But unlike some of the Portland music scene’s elder statesmen, Viciconte doesn’t wax nostalgic about the (mostly fictitious) good ol’ days: “Parts of [the city changing] are good,” he says. “I see people from different parts of the world moving here, and that’s different than what it was, which was a much more Anglo-centric community. At the same time, there’s still the same artistic community I fell in love with.”
In 1998, Viciconte challenged that Anglo-centricity with Pacoima, a record performed entirely in Spanish that draws on everything from Chuck Berry to El Chicano. Two decades after its release, Pacoima remains one of the most varied and vital rock records in the history of Portland music.
For Viciconte—who was born in Argentina and grew up in the Pacoima neighborhood of San Fernando Valley before moving to Portland in 1994—Pacoima is a panacea for homesickness that doubles as a tribute to one of rock ’n’ roll’s unsung heroes.
“The whole record reminds me of these summer barbecues,” he says. “It was a love letter to Pacoima. At the same time, it was the place Richie Valens was from, so later on when I started discovering Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry and all these people I ended up loving, I was like, ‘Oh! A Latino guy!’—I could identify with that. Plus, he grew up in the same insane place that I did.”
A week before Pacoima’s initial release, Viciconte and his band recorded live versions of the songs from the album on the now-defunct KBOO show “Church of NW Music.” Those recordings were finally released as The Pacoima Radio Sessions on Record Store Day this year to coincide with the original album’s 20th anniversary.
“The recordings sat in [KBOO DJ Marc Baker’s] studio, because he went off the air about 10 years ago,” Viciconte says. “He went through his ADATs, and he played it for us, and we loved it.”
Radio Sessions is one in a handful of Record Store Day releases that doesn’t seem pointlessly opulent. It’s not merely a facsimile of the original album—the track sequences differ, and the ’60s pop-indebted studio finesse has been swapped for a sweat-drenched verve that highlights Viciconte’s mettle as a live performer. It’s a great compliment to the original Pacoima.
Both projects typify rock music’s ability to transcend language and cultural barriers. Viciconte’s official bio states that Pacoima is a “seamless blend of street Tex-Mex, garage, and barrio rock,” but that description may be unnecessarily clinical.
“Those are not my terminologies,” Viciconte says with a chuckle. “It’s all just music I loved growing up.”