Arya Imig, aka the “Godfather of House Shows,” had a birthday this past weekend and, in keeping with his encyclopedic involvement in local music, hosted a two day, 26 band extravaganza to commemorate the occasion.
Split between two of the city's finest domiciles/music venues, this year's Sound Judgment Festival featured local music ranging from the bare whispers of Love Menu to the brain-stem melting racket of White Fang. The resulting compendium of basement troubadours (and the waifish young things who love them) provided an extensive buffet of memorable moments. Here are my highlights of the weekend.
Day 1: Friday Oct. 10, the Green House
7 pm - Michael the Blind
The residents of Northeast Portland's Green House have divided their basement space into three possible performance areas, each with a distinct decorative “theme” and varying degrees of half-lighting. As Michael the Blind heads into the latter half of his gorgeous one man set, this cavernous space feels almost too intimate. Michael's songs create a rare phenomenon wherein a solo songwriter busily emoting and strumming his guitar is not only original but also breathtaking.
8:05 pm - Sleepyhead
Sleepyhead is an amazing MC who, for some reason, has remained below most official radars. Plugging in his iPod Nano around 8 pm, Sleepyhead starts rapping to a crowd of about five people. By the time he's on his third song the attendance has ballooned to 20 and everyone is eating it up. Mental note: pay attention to this guy.
11:30 pm - Magic Johnson
The bilingual punks of Magic Johnson are best enjoyed in spaces so compact that the band's trademark red eyeliner is smeared inadvertently onto the faces of attending fans. The Green House accomplishes this feat by housing the duo's performance in the smallest possible section of their basement/venue, whose cramped occupants quickly dissolve into giddy anarchy. “Vamonos,” indeed.
11:45 pm - Mattress
Throughout the entirety of his performance Rex Marshall, aka Mattress, looks as if he's stuttering on the edge of absolute derangement. Between switching up a collection of distorted cassette tapes and waving a light bulb in menacing circles above his head, it seems as if Marshall is concentrating a majority of his energy on not getting sucked into the dark vortex of his songs. It's shocking and mesmerizing and a hell of a thing to watch.
12:15 pm - Shaky Hands
Though all the performers at Sound Judgment are pretty close to the top of their game, it's immediately apparent that the Shaky Hands are working on another level. The band is tight almost to a fault and even their cover of Credence Clearwater Revival's “ Bad Moon Rising” sounds comfortably lived-in. A pleasantly weightless conclusion to a varied night of music.
Day 2: Saturday Oct. 11, The Coop
7:33 pm - New Century Schoolbook
Upon arrival I am informed that Street Plant is a half hour late for its set. This tardiness will eventually spread to over three hours and in the meantime I head inside to check out New Century Schoolbook, who is currently laying out its whimsically theatrical tunes with customary abandon. A girl standing next to me mentions that lead singer Johnny Askew reminds her of a young Elton John. It's hard to disagree.
8:20 pm - The Whines
In the course of its 20-minute set, the Whines go through two cigarettes, three tall boys of Rainier and at least two additional tall boys of PBR. This is in addition to replacing guitar strings, bantering with audience members and playing a half dozen grungy thrashers to an increasingly rowdy crowd. Impressive guys, very impressive.
8:45 pm - Love Menu
Love Menu's subdued autoharp is the utter antithesis of the rowdy sludge with which the Whines have recently plied this audience and it is almost amazing that the same half-buzzed group of ruffians has performed the sea change from sweaty moshing to reverent silence within a space of no longer than five minutes. If anyone has earned such attentive devotion it is Love Menu's Emily Katz, whose throaty whisper enraptures the Coop's packed living room.
10 pm - Doubledutch
Having shouldered some of the significant “post-Eskimo and Sons” expectations, Doubledutch takes the stage with an unhurried series of sound checks and inspections of its various electronic paraphernalia. The band's set is an impressive mixture of psychedelic electronics (and they get major brownie points for sampling Kanye West) but it's hard to view the group without mentally comparing it to Eskimo and Sons. At least not yet.
12:20 pm - White Fang
White Fang is a band that (to me anyways) doesn't make much sense on record, but boy-howdy does it know how to work a crowd. The band's “hippies on meth” live performances are excellent at blurring the line between audience and performer—and for a community so incestuous in its creative endeavors, they are the perfect act to close this celebration of all its varied constituents.
BONUS! PC-PDX.com has pictures from the fest, and they turned out great. Check 'em out here
The Shaky HandSpace
Michael the BlindSpace
Photos of Magic Johnson, Mattress, and Doubledutch by Nilina Mason-Campbell