This year’s Bender—an annual festival of garage rock, punk and lo-fi sounds at Northwest Portland pinball bar Slabtown—isn’t packed to the brim with big names. But it is packed with carefully curated, solid-to-excellent bands you should be more familiar with. So, to properly introduce you, we’ve decided (in the midst of this awards season) to bestow honors on the Bender’s bands based on the one thing nearly all of the festival’s bands have in common: their filthiness. So without further ado, we present the first annual Scuzzies.
Greg Ashley has had his fair share of bands: the Mirrors, the Strate Coats, the Gris Gris. But the Oakland-based singer-songwriter’s solo psych-pop material is more interesting than any of that, with wide-ranging influences from cool jazz to the Beach Boys and a playbook full of old-school self-recording techniques. This is good songwriting made better by a healthy love of lo-fi recording. Saturday, Feb. 6. 9:20 pm.
You can’t spend this much time eating leftover pizza in basements and expect your jeans—mean as they may be—to stay clean. Portland’s Mean Jeans play old-school, melodic punk rock weaved with a peculiar fashion sense that’s as much influenced by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as it is by the Ramones. New disc Are You Serious? proves the Jeans have the hyperactive chops to rock the shit out of bored kids and lost grown-ups alike. Sunday, Feb. 7. 10:50 pm.
They don’t come much dirtier than Steve Turner: His best-known band was called Mudhoney (a Russ Meyer film and ingredients that can turn silken hair into dreadlocks overnight), and it was the grandpappy of grunge. We’re not sure exactly what to expect of Turner’s new band, Cheap Flight (the Seattle icon has shown interest in country, blues rock and blistering punk throughout his career), which makes its debut tonight, but we’d put 10 bucks on it sounding dirty. Saturday, Feb. 6. 11:10 pm.
With screams and emphatic ululations often posing as words, Ty Segall is a pro at keeping things short and not so sweet. Segall’s tunes may not often meet the three-minute mark, but that doesn’t stop him from charging through fun, lo-fi rock that colors outside the lines. Friday, Feb. 5. 10 pm.
It’s the first few chords from the Hammond organ that give The Foxgloves away: The band is channeling ’60s pop at its most lofty and innocuous. The quintet combines thin electric guitar with snappy drums to create a sound that pulls from groups like the Jam and the Monkees. Saturday, Feb. 6. 3:20 pm.
Not to be confused with San Francisco’s Girls, The Girls hail from Seattle and bring layers of buzzing synth to their speedy post-punk. The future looks a lot like 1983, and you’re invited to witness it: The Girls’ brand of angular rock, with staccato guitar strums and dystopian lyrics shouted from all corners, is going back to the future. Friday, Feb. 5. 9:20 pm.
Even if King Louie—the nom de grunge of Louisiana native Louie Bankston—never makes another lick of music in Portland, he’ll always be famous for co-writing the grimiest blast of pop-punk this city has ever seen. Louie moved to Portland in 2000 and helped shape the sound of the Exploding Hearts’ Guitar Romantic, but he’s remained active since then, releasing numerous full-lengths for Goner Records (the Stax/Volt of garage labels) and debuting a new band for Bender. If anyone questions his scuzz merits, just know that this is a guy who once stole money and food from a family he was staying with in Beaverton. Saturday, Feb. 6. 10 pm.
Unless its baker has decided to go the Voodoo route and inject his or her delectables with cough syrup, there’s really nothing dirty about a cupcake. That is, until you hear the spiky, sweet punk-pop tunes of Oakland’s Dirty Cupcakes, an all-female trio that covers the Stones’ “Get Off of My Cloud” and sounds like Shonen Knife and the Vivian Girls. They’re cute on the outside, but looks can be deceiving. Sunday, Feb. 7. 7:40 pm.
Why do the Spider Babies deserve a spot in the scuzzy hall of fame? Well, the band got there by doing what it does best: drinkin’, fuckin’ and fightin’ its way to the top. In the early ’90s, Spider Babies borrowed the best bits of rockabilly and snotty ’70s punk, adding lots of crude sex jokes. To honor its 18th anniversary, Spider Babies is playing a reunion show filled with “hits” like “Junior High School Cuties” and “You’re Bi.” Keep it classy, guys. Sunday, Feb. 7. 11:30 pm.
SEE IT: The Bender runs Feb. 5 through 7 at Slabtown. Matinee shows are free. Evening shows are $12 daily or $25 for weekend pass (until Friday night). 21+. Full lineup at slabtownbar.net.