Hiss & Vinegar


In the early morning hours of Sunday, Aug. 19, the aftermath of a Roseland Theater hip-hop show headlined by Living Legends degenerated into a confrontation between approximately a dozen Portland Police Bureau officers and a crowd cops estimated as anywhere from 150 to 300 people strong. The cops' use of pepper spray and riot-control tactics left some hip-hop fans wondering why their night of fun ended with blasts of Mace to the face.

According to police reports, tension started to build at about 1:50 am, when a patrol officer reported a large crowd gathered outside the theater at West Burnside Street and Sixth Avenue. Sgt. Ken Whattam reported issuing a large can of "aerosol restraint" to a pair of officers early on, fearing his small number of Central Precinct blues was no match for the crowd should things turn nasty. Whattam stated that at this point, however, the crowd was calm. That apparently changed when Officer Matthew Delenikos drove into the crowd (in his report, Delenikos said "several loud screams" drew him into the masses) shortly thereafter.

"I heard the the once-quiet crowd's demeanor changed instantly," Whattam reported, noting that people began throwing bottles and debris at Delenikos' car while chanting "Fuck the police!" and brandishing middle fingers. Delenikos reported that a "half-full can of Pepsi" hit him in the leg. At this point, officers withdrew to the parking lot across the street from Embers at Northwest Broadway and Couch Street, mustered a squad of about a dozen and marched on the crowd, directing people to clear the street. Whattam reported using his Mace on a group of five defiant, potty-mouthed, young white males and another member of the crowd who chest-bumped him. "I was stunned!" Whattam reported of the latter man's confrontational approach. After the crowd dispersed, officers split into small groups and roved Old Town, on the lookout for further malfeasance.

While police reports describe the situation as a riot, some concertgoers complain that they were unfairly targeted. "I was Maced at point-blank range, and I was just trying to cross Burnside," says one young woman. "They were Macing people when they walked out of the theater, people who had no idea what was going on. We weren't doing anything."


The Roseland wasn't the only site of recent music-related affray. A Hiss & Vinegar operative reports that fights broke out at Southeast Hawthorne's Mount Tabor Theater during a show featuring Salem hard-rock band Lowdown on Aug. 17. The trouble seemed to start when a Lowdown supporter was refused re-entry because of his participation in an out-of-control mosh pit. All hell broke loose when this aggrieved rockaholic started swinging at everything that moved, ultimately headbutting a club employee before getting arrested in front of the venue. The rockers from our capital apparently hauled hundreds of fans north in six chartered buses, reportedly adding a raffle for DVDs and car stereo equipment as an inducement to buy a $20 ride to the big city. This large core of fans only exacerbated tensions when police arrived. One of the agitated provincials was heard to decry the presence of the "fuckin' Five-O's!" Nice talk.


Portland band The Standard just signed a booking deal with the high-powered Chicago management outfit Billions Corporation. Billions represents a roster of indie-rock superstars, including faux-bluesman Jon Spencer, Olympia's Unwound, creepy Aussie Nick Cave and Portland's Stephen Malkmus. The Standard is booked for a fall tour with Sub Pop's The Shins and ex-Pavement dude Scott Kannberg's new band, which bears a name too pretentious to be printed in a family newspaper at this time.

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Gillian's Island

The old-timey music of Hollywood daughter and Berklee grad Gillian Welch has always prompted the question: How much is substance, and how much craft? Since first glimpsed on her debut's cover, in a period polka-dot print straight out of Dorothea Lange's photos or Ruth Buzzi's closet, she's played dress-up in roots music and historical fiction. On that first album, 1996's Revival, she pulled it off in style. Those 10 tunes felt not only like songs she'd waited her whole life to sing, but like songs that had themselves waited lifetimes to be sung. Each a distinct tale with memorable melody, singable hook and edgy ensemble playing, these were songs with character--and characters, ghostly personae stepping forward to reveal themselves in uncanny clarity.

But Welch's work since then has been far less inspired. She's continued to hide behind those duotone photos and period costumes, not to mention the fictional narrators who still populate her work--would the real Gillian please stand up? Her songs have lost their lilting melodies and become black-and-white, too. Welch and partner David Rawlings have isolated themselves; there's nary a drum, bass or other musician on their new disc, Time (The Revelator).

Time, the revelator, indeed--this album's slow, hushed tunes make Blood on the Tracks sound like a Backstreet Boys B-sides comp. The closing number, "I Dream a Highway," clocks in at a full quarter-hour. Yet, at times, Welch somehow makes it all work, persuading you she needs at least 15 minutes to "dream a highway," to suggest the distance between her and "you." She begins "Elvis Presley Blues" with the banal "I was thinking that night about Elvis/ Did he die," but convinces you a few bars later, with a subtle chord change, that she intuits untold depths of Presley's pain. At least her lyrics now include such contemporary usages as "fucking" and "that old Steve Miller song." The narrator in "My First Lover" sounds like it could even be Gillian herself.

Why do I want to force her from her fictions? Do I lose patience with short-story authors because they persist in not penning autobiographies? The "I" is a tricky thing in song. We want to feel the singer's sharing her own story. But in Gillian's case, who's doing the talking, anyway? Obviously, an artist who, however vexing, still has something about her that keeps us listening...and wondering when she'll let us in. Jeff Rosenberg

Gillian Welch plays TONIGHT, Wednesday, Aug. 29, at the Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave., 233-1994. 8 pm. $16.50. All ages.