Dan Bern: American Badass?
If the nation doesn't embrace this cult-fave folkie, the terrorists have already won.
For the past half-decade, irascible Dan Bern has stirred up a sleepy folk scene. If there's any justice, his latest release, New American Language, will find a wider audience for Bern's keening voice and searching characters. Couldn't the country use a new voice right now, after all?
Willamette Week: In several songs on your new album, I hear the characters (who, after all, resemble you) having epiphanies, maturing before our ears. Is that what's been going on with you since your last album?
Dan Bern: There's been a lot of...well, I hate to use a term like "personal growth," because it sounds so clich* or trite or New Agey or whatever....
All of that. But I think it probably applies. I started painting, and it's become, for me, as much of who I am and what I do as writing songs. And that's a whole different way of looking at the world. Writing songs, to me, is much more about 'me-me-me,' or it has been in the past anyway. You're imposing your thought, your vision, your song on the world. Painting, for me, is much more about, 'What does the world look like? How is it in itself, of itself?' Taking me out of the equation. And I think that leaked into the songs too.
Your attitude as a performer has always been, 'What you see is what you get.' Every show is different, according to your mood when you get before a crowd. What can an audience expect from a Dan Bern show, and what do you think they have a right to expect?
I think they have a right to expect I'm going to give them everything I have while I'm with them. They also need to know that they're part of the show, and whatever I'm doing, I'm not doing it alone. I'm not in a zoo, it's not a one-way mirror; I'm seeing them, too. Whatever I'm getting from them is going to wind up in whatever I'm able to give them. And that can add up to the greatest thing anybody could want from a live situation.
What performances that you've experienced influenced your approach?
A lot of things, and not just music. I used to go to comedy clubs, and in comedy it's not so much about a joke and whether it's funny or not. It's about interaction, being real and speaking to the moment-what's happening now. Like anything, there's a balance. You can get derailed and lose focus of what you're there to do. I think this time around I'm more conscious of having something that I want to do, you know, especially with the band, too. If I completely reinvented myself every night at this point, I'd tend to have a frustrated band on my hands. Which I have to take into consideration, too, because I need them, too, and I need them to be there, and into it, and focused. So I have to balance that, and I feel like right now I have the best balance going that I've ever had so far. There's still room for spontaneity, there's room for me to make up songs on the spot, there's room for me to come into the audience unplugged and play there, but there's also something solid underneath it all.
I think in the past some of the shows were wild and brilliant and crazy, and some of 'em just...lost the reins a little bit. But that's the risk you run. I think it's the performer's decision how much of that you're going to let into what you're doing. I'm doing a slightly different thing right now, that also has to do with bringing in people who aren't in the club-and by club I don't mean the venue, I mean...the coterie. It's not just for the initiated, the converted. I feel like, hey, we don't have the luxury of a ton of radio airplay, we're not on the cover of Rolling Stone, so how do we get people to hear? Local press, local radio, and then people maybe come to a show. And if they come to one show and then we move on, this is the only chance we're going to play for these people for six months or whatever, you want to kind of give them the best of the best of what you've got. It's a slightly different approach than I've had in the past.
Let me ask you about this: [quoting "Tape" from his new album] "We might get to see World War Three by Thanksgiving Day/ but as long as the turkey's golden brown, it's all gonna be okay." Did you have prior knowledge of the attacks on our country, Dan Bern?
Uh-oh, I'm going to wind up in jail...no.
You lived in New York all summer and were there on Sept. 11. How have you continued to react to events while touring the States since early October?
Five minutes after I watched the buildings fall, my first reaction was, "I can't go on tour." You go from that to feeling like you have to do this. I mean, we're not trained demolition experts, or engineers, or firemen. You know, they don't need us down there. The only place we could do any good is doing our thing: bringing people together, singing songs. As lame as it might sound, that's our work. So you want to do your job the very best you can. I think that's part of why I'm approaching this differently, too. I'm not interested in just goin' and getting as stoned as I can and playing whatever the hell pops into my mind. It's like, I've got a job to do here. Jeff Rosenberg
Pigface for Dummies
Kwik 'n' E-Z Guide to Who's Who in Pigface, Class of '01
Some estimate that more than 200 people have played in the mutant industrial-rock band Pigface, a figure that includes anyone who ever beat instruments with, coughed into a mic for, or puked on stage next to Martin Atkins. The former drummer for '80s industro-icons Public Image Ltd., Killing Joke and Ministry has drafted freaks and fringe agitators from Trent Reznor to Jello Biafra to Genesis P-Orridge over the course of Pigface's decade-plus, so don't feel bad if you've lost the plot. Here's a look at this year's lineup, in tasty bite-size nuggets:
* Martin Atkins: Field general and commander-in-chief. Tirelessly devises new ways to crossbreed members from approximately every single band in the world. Frequently inspired. Not bad for an old guy.
* Meg Lee Chin: Spunky, punky, funky studio hound. Debut album Piece and Love displayed the diminutive Chin's outsized talent for blending tenderized techno with well-stewed hip-hop and industrial flavors.
* Chris Connelly: The mad Scotsman, first seen in Fini Tribe, later on the mic with Ministry and Revolting Cocks. Voice has evolved from Lydon-esque snarls into a richer, Bowie-tinted croon. Also fronts the Damage Manual, with none other than Martin Atkins behind the kit.
* Dickless: Valkyrie drummer. For those with sensitive tastes, also answers to "Leanne Murray." Previously in mondo-stupido punk-rawk band Beer Nuts, "Chicago's most notorious party band."
* Krztoff: Singer-guitarist for, uh, "irrepressible" sex-metal outfit Bile. The eloquent Krztoff offers this deep insight about current events: "If you don't agree with the way America is handling this situation, you should move to another country now. I hear Iraq is nice around this time of year." Charming.
* Charles Levi: Critics deride industrial-dance music as mere disco played through a fuzzbox. Levi probably takes that as a compliment. Levi's bounding bass lines provide the rubbery thump (for groups like My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult) that sets backfields in motion .
* Jared Louche: A.k.a. Jared Hendrickson, the glam-damaged singer for Chemlab. Treats himself like a Bendy toy on stage. Post-Chemlab, took a road less traveled by those who used to front popular rock bands: Wall Street.
* Curse Mackey: Led The Evil Mothers, a shape-shifting Texas band that tore through tribal percussion, trippy electronics and crunchy guitar. Sorta like Pigface. Just released a new album of narcotized techno nursery rhymes under the name Grim Faeries. Here he mans the sampler.
* Siebold: Frontman for guitar-dusted pop industrialites Hate Dept., known for frequent, playful (or is it?) audience baiting between songs. Recently in town opening for Skinny Puppy offshoot Ohgr.
* You: Yeah, you, with the face. Since Pigface isn't really a "band," you can't go expecting to stand and gape at a coherent entertainment spectacle. You get out of a Pigface show exactly as much energy as you put into it.
* The Wild Card(s): The last PDX P-face show saw King Black Acid's Daniel Riddle wearing some weirdass aluminum-foil spacesuit. This current tour has already seen a couple getting married onstage in Pittsburgh. In Portland...? John Graham
Pigface plays 8 pm Sunday, Dec. 9, at the Roseland Theater,
8 NW 6th Ave., 224-2038. $16.50+ advance (Fastixx). All ages. Gravity Kills, Godhead and SMP also perform.
Triple Your Pleasure
Live Reviews-O-Rama: Noise for Pretend, Turn Me Loose, Avenue of the Strongest
One might be tempted to use boozy metaphors to describe the singing of Esperanza Spaulding, stand-up bassist and vocalist for the trio Noise for Pretend. Laconic, sharp and sly, she could be placed somewhere between a sugary caipirinha and burning whiskey, straight up. If she were of legal drinking age, that is.
The 17-year-old Spaulding's effortlessly suave turn at Dante's last Thursday elevated her band's urbane pop beyond mere cocktail background music. Her slinky singing hints at bossa nova and old-fashioned torch singing, while her nimble work on the bass that nearly dwarfs her testifies to frightening self-assurance. Noise For Pretend shares a split-CD with Blanket Music on Portland's Hush Records, so check it out.
The next night, Turn Me Loose played one of those shows that make being in a rock band just so much fun. In front of about a dozen kids who clearly couldn't be bothered, the quartet left it all on the diminutive stage. The barrelling punk of Turn Me Loose, which has strains of Roy Tinsel Band and God Hates Computers in its collective DNA, is still a little rough around the edges (maybe by design). But with its virulent energy, raging songs and wicked male/female vocal exchanges, it's a hot property. Buy in now! Buy in now!
Maybe because their new CD is very good, maybe because they have such a boss name, I don't know--but I was expecting to like Avenue of the Strongest's Saturday night show at Blackbird more than I did. The band's bombastic, intricately layered rock and wordy lyrics might translate a bit better over headphones than in a bar. The album is really strong, and AotS turned out its songs with plenty of verve, so keep your eye on these guys. Zach Dundas
PAYING ATTENTION SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO
Hiss and Vinegar
* OLCC TO B COMPLEX: DROP DEAD
This week, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission quashed nightclub B Complex's hope to sling sauce. A previous ruling in the club's favor by a state administrative law judge forced another vote on an application first denied last spring. The booze czars were unanimously unmoved, sticking by claims that B Complex (320 SE 2nd Ave., 235-4424) failed to demonstrate "willingness and ability" to overcome traffic and safety concerns. The next step? B Complex can take the matter to the Oregon Court of Appeals.
* FAME. I'M GOING TO LIVE FOREVER. I'M GOING TO BE A STAR.
As a typhoon lashes the glassy pavement outside H&V's palatial offices, we are gratified to learn that several Portland musicians are making good in that vast world beyond the Rainlands.
King Black Acid just recorded the soundtrack for the forthcoming (insert your own hamster-related witticism here) Richard Gere flick, The Mothman Prophecies. To judge by its website, the film appears to be a sorta Blair Witchy bizness regarding a winged apparition. It's due in January, as is the KBA-enhanced soundtrack. In the meantime, Daniel Riddle and his post-psychedelic pranxsters play Saturday, Dec. 8, at Berbati's.
The Dickel Brothers, those pale riders of the Old Tyme plains, recently seized the ear of Brit wunder-DJ John Peel. The BBC icon's been spinning the Dickels during his world-renowned radio show.
Sarah Dougher's new album, The Bluff, garnered a splashy review by rock-crit éminence grise Greil Marcus in the Sunday New York Times a week and a half back. The occasional WW contributor's disc is out now on Mr. Lady Records.
Finally, rumors are rife that neo-New Wave kids the Prids zowied a wayfaring Courtney Love recently. Apparently eager to relive Portland punk days of old, the former Miz Cobain reportedly hit the scene at Satyricon, where the Prids' hits-from-the-'80s style knocked her flat on her well-publicized ass. Whispers of an L.A. management deal buzz in the wake of this fateful collision. (As reported in the O by Jonathan Nicholas, Courtney also stuffed her face at Zinc Bistrot on Northwest 21st, but that's none of Hiss & Vinegar's affair.)
* THE QUIET ONE
By the time you read this, George Harrison will have been eulogized widely and well. Not much we can add to the plentiful tributes to the Quiet Beatle, who succumbed to cancer last week. Let it suffice to say that Harrison was living proof that the son of bus driver born into obscurity can re-wire the culture with just six strings. And, of course, he'll be missed.
* PENGUIN CLASSICS IN MAXIMUM SECURITY?
Books for Prisoners, a non-profit effort providing free books to federal and state inmates on request, needs cash. And we all know that '80s cover bands mean BIG MONEY. Spokeswoman Sara (who's using just one name to prep for her role as Prince) says members of Portland bands Machine That Flashes, Dead by Dawn, The Curse and Malcontent plan to convene under the names PDX Revolution (covering His Purpleness) and X-Rated (tribbing X) at the Red & Black Cafe tonight. Find the little communard coffee joint at 2138 SE Division St.; call 282-2610 for more info on Books for Prisoners.
* THE MONEY TRENCH, PART ONE
From the frontlines of innovative marketing comes a dispatch from Factory West Studio, based just across the Mighty Columbia in beautiful Vancouver, U.S.A. According to a recent letter from rep Connie Valentine, Factory West is owned and operated by "highly creative, extremely productive, fiercely independent, reclusive" artistes Doug and Heidi McCall. The McCalls' self-released pop-rock album Siberia (the title a comment, perhaps, on the earthly lot of the highly creative, fiercely independent and reclusive) features the song "Marvelous Men," a tribute to Muhammad Ali, Willie Mays and Michael Jordan. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Even more intriguing, the McCalls eschew traditional sales paths for their opus. "No .com, no stores, no distributors," reports Valentine. Instead, you gotta call Factory West's toll-free number, 1-888-560-WEST, to touch the magic.
* THE MONEY TRENCH, PART TWO
Need quick cash? Try liquidating memorabilia of the famous and deceased! A recent eBay auction flogged the original signatures of Kurt Cobain and William S. Burroughs used to decorate T/K Records' 1993 vinyl 12-inch "The Priest, They Called Him." The single-sided record featured Burroughs' unmistakable creak over some Cobain guitar chaos, with the artists' respective sigs etched into the B-side. Five thousand copies were pressed. A seller acting on behalf of Thor Lindsay, former bossman of the defunct Portland label, sought a whopping $7,500 for the original scrawls plus assorted other goodies. The asking price seemed high: Another of Cobain's John Hancocks started out drawing sub-C-note bids, though eventually the bidding did top out at just under $5,000.
* VARIETY MEATS
Local techno label IMIX Records and Tube, the cylindrical bar at 18 NW 3rd Ave., are teaming to launch a new Sunday club night called "Transport." The evening of DJs, digi-art and "futuristic nibbles" is billed as "a night for pampering the haggard and overworked weekend warrior with soothing sounds and a 'spacey' atmosphere." Sez here that "sci-fi lounge attire is encouraged but not required." Egads...New product from locals Jeff Trott, The 6-Minute Heartstop and Shorty & the Mustangs is out or due to drop soon...
Make me laugh, clown boy: email firstname.lastname@example.org.