[BOOGIE-DOWN ROCK] When Devin Clark of doo-wop pop-rock band Welcome Home Walker got a call in December about playing an early gig at the Oregon State Hospital's psychiatric clinic in Northeast Portland on New Year's Eve, he had no idea it would be one of the best (and most upbeat) shows his band has ever played in town.
"We set up at 2 in the afternoon, and we did a couple songs and a Stones cover that they recognized," Clark says. "There was one guy that looked like the neighbor who is shoveling snow in Home Alone and he was dancing around with his shoes and socks off the whole time. It was definitely the wildest show we've ever played."
Coming without a hint of irony from Clark, you know that has to mean something. Since moving to Portland from Colorado in the early 2000s, he has been the centerpiece of two of the most fun bands in the Northwest, first as the guitar player and secondary singer in bubblegum punk quintet the Soda Pop Kids, and now as the leader of Welcome Home Walker. His current band comes complete with a name inspired by a Sam Cook song and a catalog of rollicking, sugar-rush tunes that owe more to Phil Spector and an immense love of girl-group pop than anything ever dubbed punk.
Clark started Welcome Home Walker with the Soda Pop Kids' drummer, Alan Torres, after completing a draining month-long U.S. tour in 2007 and realizing that he wanted to write a set of "real simple R&B dance songs." The band kicked around for a few years before settling on the current lineup—Clark and Torres with bassist Colin Jarrell (formerly of the Nice Boys) and second guitarist Kerby Krinkles—and releasing a number of 7-inch records that are collected on the new eight-song compilation Suds! Though it's hard to pin down one dominant sound on the record, everything on Suds!—from the infectious strut of the title track to the classic Brill Building pop of "Second Hand Store"—is drenched in three-part harmonies and a bouncy energy that's rare for anyone who makes a home at gritty rock clubs like East End and Slabtown.
And though Clark is quick to praise Portland's underground rock scene, he also wants to branch out from it as much as possible—by playing shows in Europe, where WHW is much bigger (German label Taken By Surprise is releasing the band's debut full-length later this year) and also venturing into any weird space, even a mental clinic, to get the music out. "I think a lot of us fall victim to our own circle of friends," he says. "The New Year's Eve show was so fun because it was like, 'Hey, we're not just playing to a sea of people in other bands!'"
SEE IT: Welcome Home Walker plays Friday, Feb. 25, at Plan B, with Boats!, the Bloodtypes and the Midnight Callers. 9 pm. $7. 21+.