[SINGERS-SONGWRITERS] I arrive at McKinley's bungalow, staggering distance from the Space Room and other upper-Hawthorne watering holes, to find the three ladies of Dirty Martini perched on countertops, sipping cocktails, awaiting homemade pizza from the oven and giggling up a storm. As I'm handed a drink, the band members' lifestyle duties are spelled out: McKinley cooks and bakes (besides pizza, there are fresh peanut-butter cookies), Lara Michell mixes cocktails (no small task in a band named after one) and Stephanie Schneiderman DJs the stereo (after fruitlessly seeking a Jeff Buckley CD, she picks Liz Phair). The division of labor reflects the group mentality that's developed among these three formerly solo singer-songwriters in the three-and-a-half years of their collaboration.
Indeed, a different Dirty Martini greets Portland at the band's pair of concerts this weekend and on its new sophomore disc, Tea and Revenge
: not the seated, songwriters-in-the-round format with which they began their collaboration, nor the tough pop-rock sound developed with former member Lea Krueger. Following Krueger's departure—to focus on solo work shortly after the release of the band's eponymous debut—the remaining three shifted their creative balance and forged ahead. Co-writing songs for the first time and toning down the sonic bombast that sometimes obscured their carefully blended voices, the women (joined by co-manager Ned Failing on drums, Michell's Stolen Sweets-mate Keith Brush on bass and the evocative keyboards of Todd Bayles) now boast a fully blended musical cocktail.
Co-producers John Askew and Dave Allen (the former Gang of Four bassist, who also co-manages the band with Failing) crafted the new album's sound after, says Michell, "Dave heard us rehearsing in the RV on tour" and decided to "tear down the arrangements so the vocals were the centerpiece of everything." McKinley says the unifying sonic concept then took the form of a Where's Waldo-like game called "Find the Carny": "There's always a moment that sounded really carnival, like the skinny guy with the tattoos that runs the Tilt-A-Whirl too long 'cause he's drunk—an element of dirty, chaotic danger." Michell sums up the not-too-pretty aesthetic: "Something had to be wrong in the right way."
Dirty Martini performs with Amelia and Michael Jodell, Friday, Sept. 29 at the Bagdad Theater. 8:30 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. All ages. The group also performs with Susie Blue, Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Mission Theater. 8:30 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. All ages.