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May 16th, 2007 Jason Simms | Music Stories
 

Menomena, The Thermals, The Bustling Townships, May 11 at Cleveland High School

Benefit proves that schools can still rock 'n' roll.

     
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IMAGE: Justin Kent
[SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK] If you saw 62-year-old Bob Wise Friday at the Cleveland High School benefit for district music programs—glasses, just a little gray hair left, Black Flag T-shirt—you probably mistook him for a supportive teacher or Hutch Harris' father. But Wise and his wife Nancy Murray came to the show for the same reason everyone else—they are huge fans of Harris' band, the Thermals.

"We had bands play every Friday and Saturday night," Wise told me of his own high school in Idaho. "There was dancing for three or four hours." This is hardly the case in Portland's schools, and many, like event organizer Dashiell Robb's Lincoln High, have no proper music courses at all.

Things started slow (and seated) last Friday. A half-dozen Township fans sat on the tops of their chairs toward the front of the room. I asked them if they had seen the Townships before. "I see them every day on my way to fourth period," said 15-year-old Cleveland freshman Lauren MacKenzie-Noice: Two-thirds of the Townships are Cleveland seniors.

After setting up their own equipment, Menomena shook the stiff crowd, now standing and clumped together at the foot of the stage, with the low saxophone moans of "Twenty Cell Revolt," drawing some enthusiastic shouts and some inexplicable moshing. A half-dozen high-school boys shoved each other to the lucid, perfectly played art rock, more just trying to be cool than to recreate the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video. "I keep forgetting we're at school!" a girl told her boyfriend excitedly.

Throughout the Thermals' hourlong set, an entirely appropriate half-mosh, half-wiggle continued without any loss of the crowd's momentum. Though Jane Ferguson, a Cleveland drama teacher, looked on nervously from the side of the stage, Robb told me Sunday that reactions from administration to the show—and the $5,000 it raised—have been overwhelmingly positive. Truthfully, Ms. Ferguson never had to worry—there was a distinct sense of comfort and shared fun between the Thermals and the kids. And the latter were well aware that the former were from Portland: "It means so much more that all the bands are local," MacKenzie-Noice told me.

During one of the Thermals' less frantic tracks, "St. Rosa and the Swallows," the whole front of the young crowd spontaneously began clapping their hands over their heads, making a slow smile appear through bassist Kathy Foster's perpetual rock head-bobble. Bob Wise, who nodded contentedly among the sweaty teens, must have felt like a kid again. He had only one complaint: "It would have been the perfect show if the Lifesavas had played, too."

 
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