Best Jukebox James Brown
Willie Butler. IMAGE: Rob Delahanty
In the dark recesses of Lucky’s (440 NE 28th Ave., 233-6937), something suddenly hits the whiskey-slugging regulars. More specifically, someone yells, “Hit me!” as old-school funk blasts from the jukebox and a silhouette begins to dance. It’s not James Brown—he actually looks more like Morgan Freeman—but Willie Butler’s obviously got soul power. “The girls love him. People come from all over to see Willie,” says bartender Jessica Strutton. An Alabama native, Butler came to Portland in the early 1970s following a stint in the Army. He’s called Portland—and Lucky’s—his home ever since. Other regulars spin stories of the 62-year-old dancing machine commanding the jukebox like a maestro and getting others on their feet. Butler’s energy, moves and outbursts almost nightly are enough to put ants in anyone’s pants. “You gotta pep the place up, put a little sparkle in it,” he says with a wide grin before feeding the jukebox again. AP KRYZA.
Best Old-School Hip-Hop Star
Tre Hardson. IMAGE: Tom Martinez
Few hip-hop groups fit the Portland style better than ’90s South Central stars the Pharcyde, with their laid-back grooves, smart lyricism and fun live shows. So it’s fitting that Pharcyde’s Tre Hardson would fit right into the city. “It’s really real,” he told WW late last year. “And I appreciate that from traveling around the world.” You can catch him once a month at Rotture’s Live and Direct, where he joins Lifesavas’ Rev. Shines and DJ Nature to make live remix tracks. As for Hardson’s musical comeback (as Slimkid3), he says it’s only a matter of time. CASEY JARMAN.
Best Police Flack Quote
A car filled with partygoers flipped over in the eastbound lanes of I-84 on Friday, July 9, blocking all but one lane of traffic for an hour—and the passengers were dressed as zombies, complete with confusing fake blood. The Portland Police Department backup public information officer, Sgt. Greg Stewart, was tasked with telling reporters that the crash victims were OK, and he added his own George A. Romero-inspired spin: “We’re glad that everyone is alive, despite being undead,” he said. Apparently, the flack has caught flak for getting cute with the flack; Stewart declined to comment on his commentary. “He’s a little sensitive about that quote,” says head Portland Police PIO Mary Wheat. He shouldn’t be. We love it for bringing a touch of extra life into the PR game. AARON MESH.
Best Reclamation of a Dirty Word*
Not since 1994, when Green Day released its breakthrough album, Dookie, has that word had any reason to appear in the American vernacular. Tony Ozier is bringing it back. His weekly Dookie Jam sessions, which usually feature upward of a dozen rotating Portland players at venues like the Someday Lounge and Club 915, present some of the city’s finest funk and R&B on a freeform basis. The jam sessions can evolve from a deep reggae groove into a hip-hop jam over the course of an evening. When it’s all clicking—and it often is—the Dookie Jam can be transformational for the audience, a place where improvised ideas become straight-up magic. CASEY JARMAN.
Best Couple of Rockers*
Palo Verde. Image courtesy of Palo Verde.
“I was kind of scared of her at first,” Terrica Kleinknecht says of her Palo Verde bandmate and girlfriend, Lauren K. Newman. “I was walking down the street with my girlfriend at the time, and [Newman] was like, ‘Hey, nice ass!’”
The duo got its start playing experimental drum music as Stickitin, but when state highway patrol pulled the pair over in California—guns drawn, mistaking them for “road ragers” in a similar vehicle—and Newman had to defuse the situation by handing the police a copy of her band’s CD, things got weird. “We felt so uncomfortable giving these cops a CD that said ‘Stickitin’ on it,” Newman says. “Then [in Arizona] we passed the sign for the Palo Verde Nuclear Generator, and we’re like, ‘Holy fuck, that’s the best name ever.’ That’s us—two big, ominous smokestacks in the distance.”
Palo Verde’s improvised songs fit that description: They’re chugging, dark, low blasts played with unflinching intensity. Lately, the duo will pick a word or subject to set the tone. One gig was inspired by the 2008 horror flick The Strangers. “It was one of our best shows,” Newman says. “Because we were both playing while being totally freaked out.” CASEY JARMAN.
Best Tribute Band
Heavy Nova. Image courtesy of Heavy Nova.
Moments before taking the stage for the first time as Robert Palmer, local drummer and first-time frontman Jake Morris couldn’t find the right slacks to wear. Palmer—the English singer-songwriter who is almost more famous for his fashion sense (Rolling Stone named him the “best-dressed man in rock” in 1990) than his ’80s MTV hits like “Addicted to Love”—always wore a suit onstage; Morris walked out at the Southeast Portland Eagles Lodge on April 23 in a jacket, tie and jeans. “The hard part about putting together the suit is that you can’t just walk into a thrift store and ask for a Robert Palmer suit and get a two-for-one deal,” Morris jokes. “They’d be like, ‘Who?’”
Surprisingly, some of Portland’s most well-known indie rock musicians not only know Palmer’s material but adore it. Morris, who has spent the past decade drumming for the Joggers and the Shaky Hands, says he was always a fan but only became obsessed after picking up 1980 album Clues for dirt cheap. Palmer tribute band Heavy Nova, named after the 1988 album of the same name, debuted this spring, with Ben Whitesides (the Joggers), Kevin O’Connor (Talkdemonic), Jay Winebrenner (31Knots) and Mitchell Dries (Missouri Studio) backing Morris’ dead-on impersonation of Palmer’s mix of northern soul and New Wave cool.
The band started out as kind of an in-joke between friends, but became a reality once the members realized how much fun they had playing Palmer’s songs. Heavy Nova even features the band’s “MVPs,” The Palmer Girls, whom you might remember as the stoic, identically dressed women who starred in the endlessly replayed videos for “Addicted to Love” and “Simply Irresistible.” Local dancer Kathleen Keogh organized the group of six girls, who look and act exactly like their video counterparts.
“The girls rehearsed on their own,” Morris says. “We’ve played two shows and they still haven’t smiled once. Me, I can barely stand to open my eyes onstage.” MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
Best Musical Multitaskers*
Cat Stalks Bird. IMAGE: Kadi Rae
Many bands struggle to bolster their sound with four or more musicians. For Cat Stalks Bird, filling in the musical nooks and crannies is no problem, despite only having two members. Upper Michigan transplants Nate Weber and Jake Early have found their niche by crafting jagged, experimental and hugely progressive riff rock using every limb available. Early shreds guitar while Weber multitasks like a psychotic one-man band, singing, playing the drums with his legs and left hand and hammering frets on his guitar with his right—all without benefit of loop pedals. Amazingly, it doesn’t sound like two dudes just fucking around. Cat Stalks Bird’s compositions are rich and complex, jumping from melodic to ambient and back on a dime. “You have the tendency to want to insert something into a song, but you can’t,” says Early. “We try to get as big of a sound as possible.” AP KRYZA.
Best Circus Band
Image courtesy of Juan Prophet Organization.
Portland’s more curmudgeonly rockers like to gripe that the city’s vaunted music scene has been overrun by “washboard bands.” While we certainly have more than our fair share of post-folk neo-bohemians, few fit the big-top bill with as much style as Juan Prophet Organization. The quintet—the three founding members of which moved to Portland from Tennessee in 2008—is the house band for Wanderlust Circus and performed the score to Portland actor/acrobat CarlosAlexis Cruz’s wild circus-theater production, A Suicide Note From a Cockroach, this spring. (A second collaboration is in the works.) Its sound is suited to the emotional thrill ride of acrobatics; the brass, accordion, clarinet, violin and suitcaseful of percussion leaping in tone from joyous to menacing to mournful and back again as the aerialists flip and soar. That suitcase, by the way, is literal: “The suitcase is full of pots, pans, spatulas, brass vases, brass candleholders and various other noisemakers,” says accordionist Jeff Holt. “Whenever a drum set is not feasible for the venue, the suitcase (and its various contents) becomes the drum kit.” BEN WATERHOUSE.
Best Woman-Run Record Label
The music industry is a total sausage fest. But Kill Rock Stars (killrockstars.com), in this writer’s opinion Portland’s best record label, is run by two sausageless individuals: Portia Sabin and Maggie Vail. Since its founding in 1991 by artist Slim Moon, Kill Rock Stars’ catalog has been a who’s-who of Pacific Northwest rock gods, including Elliott Smith, Bikini Kill, the Thermals and Sleater-Kinney. After Sabin (who is also Moon’s wife) took over the operation in 2006, Kill Rock Stars became one of the country’s largest, most successful woman-run record labels. And the dudes in the business aren’t total dicks to these chicks. “As soon as someone finds out you run a label, they just want to find a way to hand you a CD of their band—they don’t care about your gender,” Sabin says. “That said, I still believe that American culture has plenty of sexist options available for people to act on, and thus it’s still important for women to pick up instruments and start their own bands or start their own labels.”
In addition to landing legends of rock, Kill Rock Stars has become a champion for marginalized genres of music, from riot grrrl and queer to spoken word. All that music has landed on curious, open ears. “Maggie and I are feminists for sure, but that said, we put out music that we love and think is amazing, groundbreaking,” Sabin says. “A lot of this music happens to be made by women and queers. I don’t think that’s really that surprising, since ‘marginalized’ people tend to have more to say.” With new releases by local powerhouses Horse Feathers and Quasi, and Elliott Smith vinyl reissues out this year, Kill Rock Stars has a good jump on 2010. It’s not easy being the best, but Sabin and Vail sure make it look like a snap. WHITNEY HAWKE.
Best Offstage Cameo by a Giant Sexual Metaphor
It was the second weekend of Atomic Arts’ (atomic-arts.org) first Trek in the Park production—free, live reenactments of classic Star Trek episodes staged in Northeast’s Woodlawn Park—and the crowd was way bigger than the small amphitheater could contain. Spectators crowded onto the grass, around the back of the stage, and even up into the trees to watch First Officer Spock (Jesse Graff) confess to Captain Kirk (Adam Rosko) that he must return to Planet Vulcan before his hormones kill him. “It is the pon farr,” Graff intoned. “The time of mating.” And right on cue, a big, throbbing Lombard Street freight train horn cut in: bronnnnnnk! The crowd erupted in laughter, but the actors held it together, as Graff continued, “The ancient drives are too strong.” BRONNNNNNK! “We—we are driven by forces we cannot contr—” BRRRRONNNNNNNNNK! Graff collapsed, laughing hysterically. He and Rosko quickly recovered, however, and the show proved so popular that this year’s staging (“Space Seed”) has been expanded to run four weekends, ending Aug. 1. We hear the train has auditioned for the role of Khan. HANNAH FELDMAN.
Best Olympic Hope
Kaia Wilson. IMAGE: Desdemona Burgin
While Kaia Wilson’s name has, for the past 20 years, been attached to her musical ventures (Eugene’s Adickdid, legendary Portland queer punk band Team Dresch and her quieter recent solo work), her interests don’t end with music. She can also paddle your ass into submission…at the ping-pong table. “I am on a mission to help bring table tennis to a more recognized and valued place in U.S. sports,” she says. Wilson is working on a documentary film that follows her trials and tribulations as a fledgling ping-pong professional, and the movie’s zenith will likely be her appearance at the eighth annual Gay Games in Cologne, Germany, at the end of July. Wilson—who has been playing casually since childhood and training intensely for the past 18 months—raised money for her trip at a recent celebrity table tennis fundraiser (with Team Sleater-Kinney knocking out Team Starfucker to become its eventual champions), and she’s now packed and ready to take the Gay Games (“Gaymes for short,” Wilson says) by storm. Her greatest challenge? “I am really going to have to keep my cussing in check,” she says. Godspeed, Kaia Wilson. Make Portland proud. CASEY JARMAN.
Best Singing Historian
“The bridges in town/ Go up and down/ So boats can go through/ Oh yes they do/ And cars have to wait/ Something they hate/ And drivers get mad/ TOUGH LUCK, TOO BAD.” So begins “Bridges in Town,” one of the 20 or so songs in Portland, a Musical, a local-history-teaching production that plays at elementary schools throughout the city (musicalkidsonstage.com). It is the creation of Ralph Nelson, a former employee of the Oregon Symphony, who in addition to his marketing position was also the official Portland historian. He wrote a short script and 10 songs for his wife’s third-grade students, to help teach them about important events in their city’s history, like the famous coin toss between Pettygrove and Lovejoy, the Lewis and Clark expedition and the flood of ’96. Now, Nelson works full time producing the musical and other educational-based performances, rotating about eight schools at a time during the school year. “What I have with these kids is really special,” he says. We agree. PETER GRIFFIN.