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July 25th, 2012 WW Staff | Featured Stories
 

Best of Portland 2012: Best Sounds

bop_sounds_3838Craig Moerer’s Records By Mail warehouse - IMAGE: Jarod Opperman

Best Record Collector’s Wet Dream

The website for online used-vinyl emporium Records By Mail (recordsbymail.comis daunting enough. But try visiting its storeroom, situated in a small complex in Northwest Portland between a zinc smelter and a wine tasting room. Twelve-foot-tall metal shelving groans under the weight of a dizzying number of 45s and LPs—at least a couple of million, owner Craig Moerer estimates—with the business’s few employees wandering the stacks to pull items for shipping and to cast slightly suspicious looks at a visiting reporter. “People ask me all the time if we have such-and-such a record,” says Moerer, who goes on record-sourcing trips several times a  year, most recently to Brazil. He gestures at the room filled with the stock that hasn’t been added to his database. “I tell them if you can’t find it on the website, chances are it’s in there somewhere.” Not that he allows folks to just come in and browse the stacks, mind you. Instead, collectors can come search for a needed piece on an in-house computer. Or just do it the old-fashioned way and order it online. ROBERT HAM.


Best Act of Grief

The (young) Beastie Boys
IMAGE: Andrew Waits
When Beastie Boy Adam Yauch—aka MCA—died in May, it surprised Portland dad James Winters just how much the loss hurt him.

“It literally is like my big brother dying,” he says.

Winters met Yauch only once, by chance, 20 years ago, leaving him so “blown away” he can barely remember any of it. But the group’s music had a much deeper effect on him and his wife, Kjirsten, 39.

“[Their music is] kind of the soundtrack of my life,” Kjirsten says.

To work through their grief, the couple conceived a weird and madcap tribute: A remake of the music video for the Beastie Boys’ 1994 single “Sabotage,” starring their two sons, Ezra, 7, and Ivan, 4, and nephew Indiana, 8.

In the video, the rappers play actors in the opening sequence of a fictitious 1970s cop drama, skittering after criminals in over-the-top suits.

A shot from the Winters’ “Sabotage” remake
IMAGE: James Winters

 “Just wrangling the talent was difficult,” Kjirsten says. “[Usually,] they are not allowed to climb on my car, we don’t really feed them doughnuts, and they’re not allowed to play with guns.”

But they somehow got the restless boys through and got the video online on a Sunday. On Thursday Winters noticed—with dread—that it had gone viral.

“It involved our children,” James says. “All of a sudden they’re everywhere, and their faces are everywhere. You weren’t intending that and you don’t know where it’s going, so it made me a little nervous.”

But so far, everything has worked out. The clip was screened at the Seattle International Film Festival in June, as well as several MCA tribute nights in Portland. Now reporters as far away as São Paulo are calling for interviews, and the family received a hand-written letter from the Beastie Boys’ management. “Even though we’re heartbroken...I’m happy the world is really showing that they care,” Winters says.

ALEX TOMCHAK SCOTT.


Best Broadcast Media Program of Any Type, Ever

The delivery comes a few minutes into the show: green plant matter, stuffed into an old bread baggie. Finally, it seems, KBOO’s weekly Grateful Dead and Friends show is about to get truckin’.

Except the baggie contains garlic scapes, tender stalks trimmed so the pungent plants can put their power into building bigger bulbs. “They won’t turn you on,” jokes the woman who hands them to host Andrew Geller. Geller doesn’t seem to mind—he’s got his hands full, reading from a meticulously researched and liberally highlighted script as he explains the context of each track from a little-known Bay Area band called the Great Society.

If you figured this show would be recorded in a smoke-filled studio by a bunch of Deadheads content to spin the B-side of Shakedown Street as they debate the merits of lyricists John Perry Barlow (Weir’s man) and Robert Hunter (Jerry’s go-to guy), you figured wrong. Actually, for Geller, whose day job is heading KBOO’s fundraising efforts, his monthly turn as the volunteer host is a chance to do some serious scholarship on the Dead and their contemporaries.

Geller, 41, saw the Dead “70 or so times, starting at 17—but it should have been younger.” He started trading tapes back when making a deal for 10 cassettes meant you were set. Now, you could replicate his collection of 1,500 shows in an afternoon. So his show—KBOO has had a Dead show for at least 20 years and no one remembers when it switched from syndicated to local—has delved even deeper. Following the Saturday bluegrass show, it’s the perfect soundtrack to a Saturday afternoon, a great blend of music and history.

The first hour of this show goes to the Great Society—originally “The Great! Society” Geller explains—best known as Grace Slick’s first band. The Society never released a proper record, but Geller has listened to everything the band recorded, including early versions of “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” (they called it “Someone to Love,” he points out), to put together this program. The listeners are digging it, judging by the incoming calls. “That guy used to play with Darby Slick,” he says, expecting instant recognition of the brother of Grace Slick’s first husband, Jerry, a guitarist. “It’s like, no shit, really? Far out!” MARTIN CIZMAR. 


Best Wireless Wit

The universe of talk-radio hosts is peopled by some of the most ill-informed and unpleasant scolds anywhere. So it’s Portland’s amazing good fortune to have Carl Wolfson (“Carl in the Morning,” KPOJ 620-AM, 6-9 am weekdays). For starters, he’s actually funny. But that’s to be expected, as Wolfson moonlights as a stand-up comedian. What sets him apart, way apart, are two qualities you’d ordinarily expect from your fellow human, but practically never encounter on the AM dial. First, Wolfson does his homework—day in and day out. If he’s interviewing the author of a book, he’s read at least a good chunk of it the night before and is well-versed in relevant material. If it’s the director of a play, he’s been to the theater. And if it’s a politician (Wolfson shines during election season), no matter what the ballot measure or candidate, he’s grounded in what the race is about. Second, Wolfson is respectful. Guests don’t feel dirty or abused after he’s interviewed them—though the questions they’re asked are anything but softballs. And he’s got those great commercials from Tom Dwyer to back him up. RICHARD MEEKER.


Best Jukebox

The Chicago Coin’s Big Box at Sloan’s Tavern
IMAGE: Ronit Fahl
It doesn’t have any deep soul cuts. It contains no obscure post-punk 7-inches. It can’t even play you the ubiquitous Top 40 pop hits of the moment. But the jukebox at Sloan’s Tavern (36 N Russell St.), the curious Boise-Eliot bar identified by the semitruck cab jutting out from its side, has something no other coin-operated music player in Portland can claim: a full band. Somewhere along the line in the tavern’s 30-year existence, the owners purchased an original Chicago Coin’s Big Box, manufactured in the 1950s and featuring a tiny, animatronic eight-piece orchestra. Drop in a quarter, pick out classic country 45s (or the lone Michael Bolton record, if that’s your thing) and the band, complete with singer, sways mesmerically to the rhythm. According to the company’s website, it’s one of only 10 still displayed and fully operational in the United States. Completing a décor which, with the exception of the high-def flat screen hanging over the bar, hasn’t changed since the Carter administration, it’s a perfect complement to Portland’s most mercurial watering hole. MATTHEW SINGER.


Best Musical Time Machine

Portland’s Mississippi Records (5202 N Albina Ave., 282-2990, littleaxerecords.com) has quietly become one of the most important record stores and labels in the country. For the better part of a decade, owner Eric Isaacson (along with record trader Warren Hill in Montreal) has been mining the lost back channels and cul-de-sacs of music to reissue some of the most beautiful (and otherwise unfindable) music ever put to vinyl, and putting it back on vinyl. In the tradition of Moe Asch’s old Folkways label, it is an idiosyncratic project subject only to the benevolent whims of its owners. The store doesn’t have a computer, and the label’s records all sell for $10 and under. Legendary Portland rockers Dead Moon and folk singer Michael Hurley have been re-issued here, but Mississippi’s current in-print stock also includes a third pressing of one-man-band and troubadour Abner Jay, 1920s Greek singer Marika Papagika, Alan Lomax’s recordings of bluesman Fred McDowell, soul and gospel compilations, and collected music from Madagascar. A tip? Buy blindfolded. Run your hands over the record like old Blind Lemon, and get whichever one feels true. You’ll be right every time. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.


Best Place to Find a Punk Show 

The best place to find concerts online in Portland isn’t via Willamette Week, The Portland Mercury, Portland Monthly or The Oregonian. The easiest, smoothest online show calendar in Portland is PC-PDX.com, an ad-free, mobile-friendly, minimally designed concert calendar run by Portland’s show-going community (PC-PDX means “punk connection Portland,” but anyone can post a show). The site plays host to message boards and serves as the city’s best source for finding underground, out-of-the-way concerts. While PC-PDX doesn’t have as many shows per week listed as some other sites, it does have an active user base that contributes—and edits the wiki-style site—regularly. The site often lists shows you can’t find anywhere else. “It is community-driven,” says founder Damian Vander Wilt, who has never made a dollar off the 5-year-old site. “People definitely know what they want the site to be, and that is something that isn’t polluted with egos and advertisements for Jägermeister or gross energy drinks.” CASEY JARMAN.


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