My week in Portland began with a visit to a friend's practice space. That's not entirely true, it actually started with an Americano at the Stumptown on Belmont. But then we were off to the building -- a converted storage place of sorts, gritty white and industrial -- wherein a variety of Portland musicians and bands (some well known, some never-to-be known) convene, shred, tinker and bash. Most of the rooms are no bigger than a west coast walk-in closet, or a New York City apartment. The amps and drum kits, PAs and instrument cases make the rooms even more cramped, so that you're really enveloped by whatever it is you do in there, pressed right up against the notes and chords, the melodies and the beats.
Each door in the building is numbered with a large black or red ink numeral printed out on white computer paper. They give the place a college dormitory feel, with each person working towards their own degree. Matriculation takes a while and most will never graduate. Then again, who really wants to? Occasionally, someone will scrawl a word or two on the door sign. The one next to my friend's space is now marked with the term "man cave." (The best thing we heard out of the man cave was: "Is it overkill if we all just play the same thing?" After listening to them shred for a few hours, I wanted to slip a note under the door that simply said, "overkill is what you do best.") As a side note, the practice space recently added a women's restroom -- always a nice gesture, thank you -- and both bathrooms' labels have charmingly incorrect grammar: womens and mens. But, hey, musicians practice here, not English majors.
And this deserves its own paragraph: within the practice space is a band called C--ntifer.
On Friday night, I went to the Wonder Ballroom and saw The Cribs. The Cribs are a band from Wakefield, England that for many years consisted only of three handsome, eager and talented brothers, two of them twins. Recently, Johnny Marr joined the band. (I don't know for whom I'm writing this next sentence but I hope no one: Johnny Marr was in The Smiths.) Marr and singer/bassist Gary Jarman call Portland home these days, so the show was a bit of a homecoming for the group.
I've always liked The Cribs' music, at least the bits I've heard. Their singles like "Men's Needs" and "We Share The Same Skies" are riff-based and catchy, but infused with enough swagger and sour to give them darkness and depth. They write a lot about place, being stuck and wanting out, about one's lot in life and the way it can feel unavoidable. The Cribs remind me a bit of The Libertines, a band I really came to appreciate. Both groups occasionally brush up against the essence of early Clash. As if to say, 'sure, we can rise above but we can also have pride in exactly where we are and who we are.' In other words, the lyrics mean something. And The Cribs deliver it with energy and urgency.
There were some other very Portland-centric shows that I missed during my visit. Like Explode Into Colors playing a series called You Who, which is a live variety show for children that was started by Chris Funk of The Decemberists. And then there was a Third Sex reunion show. It's not likely a band you've ever heard of, but it rocked through Portland in the mid-1990s, sort of a little sister band to Team Dresch.
After being away from Portland for nearly six months, there were some aspects to the city I had forgotten. For starters, the slow, overly courteous drivers who I tried not to honk and rage at in my adopted New York state of mind. (I'll be honest, I've always been a honker, but now I know there's a city that will accept this part of me, and it's not in the Northwest). Also, after taking some effort with my appearance on the east coast, I quickly remembered that dressing up in Portland is both conspicuous and unnecessary. Instead of the giant suitcase I packed to the gills, the contents of which I belabored over for far too long (5 pairs of shoes, including heels! A dress!), I realized that a backpack stuffed with jeans and a few sweaters would have sufficed. Within a day of being in Portland I remembered the fine art of layering.
Lastly, I do love the signage in Portland. There was a special notice to bicyclists who were encouraged to use the drive-thru at the local and progressive fast food joint, Burgerville. And then an utterly aggressive paragraph on another local menu about how the salad bar was NOT to be taken advantage of by sharing it with friends, nor could one go for seconds and then ask for a to-go box. Salad is serious.
As I fly back to New York I already miss the Rose City, mostly my friends and the familiarity, but also Portland itself, in all its beauty and quiet, its vastness and, yes, even its sense of entitlement. But tonight, back in NYC, I can quicken my pace, fall into a fast moving stream of people and figure out what I want to do out of the thousand or so options.