[ORGAN JAMZ] When the McMenamin brothers purchased funeral home Little Chapel of the Chimes (open-bar burial services still pending) three years ago, they transformed the North Killingsworth Street landmark into a recognizable brewpub franchise while maintaining the most beloved elements of the former establishment—that saving grace that distinguishes the brothers' empire from, say, the Romans'. Among the furnishings, they found a vintage pip organ. True to form, the brothers immediately set to its restoration and asked Portland's best known rock keyboardist to host regular performances.
Being McMenamins, they also asked her to cover Dead tunes. "They requested that I play classic rock—a lot of Dylan, a lot of Beatles and Jerry Garcia," says Jenny Conlee, key- and squeezebox-goddess for the Decemberists. "I took that list and said, 'Well, I'm going to put Rush in there, too, [and] maybe a little Journey.'"
Rush's "Permanent Waves" did appear in a recent set, followed by the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" and "Penny Lane"—which, suddenly, seemed always to have been missing a glockenspiel stop. "It's sort of ironic to think about rock on a pipe organ," Conlee continues, "but some of the songs honestly translate well."
At the Chapel Pub, Conlee plays a 2/4 Robert Morton organ that was originally installed at Seaside's 420-seat Strand Theatre in 1925. "There was a phenomenon in the silent-film era when they had these theater pipe organs. I don't know where they all went—they're so massive!—but they should be used. [It] harkens back to a time before electricity. Back in the 1700s, there'd be people in the back of the church actually pushing bellows," Conlee explains.
Crowds weren't quite that participatory at a recent gig. Owing to the Chapel's structural constraints, guests at the farthest edges of the building seemed unaware Conlee was playing (or that she was playing songs they knew by heart) until chancing by her alcove.
"I've been trying to investigate better and better tunes, thinking of adding some Deep Purple to the repertoire—this week I just learned [Iron Butterfly's] 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,'" Conlee confides excitedly. "This could be a movement across the country—pipe organs and pubs, trying to find the perfect song."
Conlee plays Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Chapel Pub. 7:30 pm. Free. All ages. Also see music listings.