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January 10th, 2007 Jason Simms | Riff City
 

Shanghaied

A visit to Portland's shady places with Kiss Bank and company.

     
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By the time you read this, the members of gypsy-folk band Kiss Bank will be en route to the Mississippi River, where they'll rejoin the Miss Rockaway Armada, a 20-foot-long vessel they helped build from salvaged materials last year. But very early last Friday morning, two of those members (and three friends) were lugging instruments down Northeast Going Street—two blocks from my house. I hopped out of my van, thinking they might be good subjects for LocalCut.com's "Friendly, Friendly World," in which I interview street musicians.

Friendly, indeed: Within a few minutes, the patched, tattered and in some cases dreadlocked crew was in my Econoline with the intent to Dumpster dive. I shall not divulge where we acquired burritos and produce at 3 am, but one Portland Dumpster is apparently popular enough for local metal band Nux Vomica to post a flier there.

Next stop: "Pirate Town," a hollowed-out, graffiti-covered, riverside concrete building with a towering smokestack. Kiss Bank's accordionist, 21-year-old Brandy Gump—who was a Rose Festival ambassador in 2004—gave those of us who had never been there the tour.

Then the accordion was unpacked. Metal brushes on aluminum mimicked a snare with surprising accuracy, bottles tapped on the concrete floor acted as a xylophone, and it suddenly made sense why "Lost," another member of the group, had been toting around a crate full of recyclables all night. Though two members shy—Kiss Bank is normally a four-piece with guitar and violin—the duo performed a breathtaking rendition of "Shanghai 91," an eerie, epic sea chanty about white slavery in the Northwest. I watched my breath steam out in the cold and listened intently to their confident, effortless playing—which won the month-old band a New Year's Eve gig at the Someday Lounge.

During the latter half of the hour-long jam—which included covers of "You Are My Sunshine" and OutKast's "Hey Ya!"—a grill was built from a sheet of metal and scraps of wood found in Pirate Town, and the burritos were warmed. Our hungry group included Will Ooo, the band's 23-year-old friend and (unofficial) resident of the Alberta Street Clown House, which harbors a crew of Last Thursday performers. Ooo, who recorded Kiss Bank's demo, First Kiss, gestured toward the makeshift apparatus and said, "Not a lot of people in this part of the world have an appreciation for this sort of thing." Junk grills, free burritos and trespassing are indeed good for the soul, but the soundtrack made this particular night downright surreal.

It was nearly dawn when I delivered some of the group to Brandy's parents' house—and the rest to the various couches on which they were sleeping. Kiss Bank left around 24 hours later for New Orleans. They hope to return to Portland in time for the Rose Festival this June, but in the meantime, you can be jealous of those along the Mississippi who will stumble upon Kiss Bank's haunting and charming informal performances like I did.


For more about Kiss Bank, check out this Thursday's installment of "Friendly, Friendy World" on LocalCut.com and visit MySpace.com/kissbank.
 
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