Thursday, June 16, 2011

Portland and Unexpected Music

 Portland is a city that is full of surprises.  I met some friends of mine from work at Eugenio's on SE Division the other night to listen to my new favorite Portland band, Tortune.  Little was I to know that one day later, I would be told that the band was my work friend, Katie's, new favorite thing, having her instantly qualify it for a blog post for my 25 People Project.  Katie loves Tortune for many reasons, but mostly, she loves the vibe the father-daughter duo put off.  The sometimes goofy interactions that happen on stage and the happy-go-lucky spirit of their performances enchants her.  The lead singer, Lex, has a voice that is unique and almost always spot-on.  They are worth seeing repeatedly, and while they seem to have a strange penchant for The Smiths, you never leave a show without a big grin on your face.  I have been a big fan of the band's, to the point where Katie and I have dubbed ourselves "Tortunians".   I first heard them in a basement.  Due to this, and their amazing musical prowess, I instantly believed they were destined for greatness.  Most people I meet in basements are.  This is just something the universe does, I cannot explain it.

When I arrived at the bar/restaurant, after noticing its incredibly small size, I bellied up to it.  Though the bartendress was not busy, she did not come toward me or wait on me.  The bar itself was tall, and I am short, so I figured that she could not see me.  This type of situation happens more often than you might imagine.  I got up on one of the bar stools and knelt on it so that my head practically hit the hanging wine glass rack.  Still, nothin'.  Then, my friend Jason showed up.  We sat and chatted for about five minutes.  He waved to the young lady and made a motion with his throat as if he was parched, saying something to the effect of "I'm parched!"  She came over, walked right by us, and opened a beer bottle for another guy whilst pointedly ignoring us.  Oh, Portland, how I love your belligerent service personnel.  They never fail to disappoint.  As she was attempting a second walk-by, I blurted out after her if I could have a glass of wine.  She looked at me like I was ridiculous, and said, eyebrow raised, "which one?"  I pointed to my friend Carie, the band mom for Tortune, and said, "give me what she's having".  I got a glass of wine, Jason got a beer, and we set about talking to Carie and waiting for Katie.

Carie had her own story of said bartendress, where they (the band) had showed up at roughly 6:30 to get a feel for the place, and waited for her to come out of the bathroom for roughly twenty minutes.  There was literally no one else in the place while they waited.  When she finally did come out, Carie said she seemed a bit flustered.  The three of us surmised that she was on some type of excellent drug, and began discussing the possibility of getting some from her in our best are-we-or-aren't-we-joking voices.  I love making jokes about taking drugs.  It makes me feel like I'm 16 again.

A couple of minutes later, Tortune started playing.  While words cannot do justice to this dynamic father and daughter duo, I will attempt a description.  Lex, the daughter, lead singer, flutist, guitar player, and song writer of the duo has an intensely likable stage presence as well as a voice that is strong and sweet and quite breathtaking.  Hilary, the father, base player, bad joke teller, drum machine operator and back-up singer is the back bone of the pair, laying down a beat that is reliably funky.  Yeah, I told you, words really don't do justice....especially when they read like a laundry list.  They refer to themselves as a Father Daughter Death Pop Duo.  I believe that description pretty much says all of it.

A few songs in, Katie arrived.  Katie is a younger person, in her mid-twenties, who, as far as I can tell, pretty much always says what is on her mind.  She also has a habit of calling people "kitten" which for some reason sounds adorable to me, though I have no idea why, as I hate cats.  I was kinda hungry, so I ordered a pizza, which was pretty good except for the burnt parts.  Jason ordered a meatball sandwich which he noted, with surprise, that he actually liked.  I had another glass of wine.  The bartendress forgot to take any money for my pizza and wine, and as I was considering not reminding her, Katie told me that she was crying because she ran out of cheese for the pizzas. Katie had a unique perspective on the whole Bartendress Situation: 

"I love the local yocal bars that are small, charming hidden places that serve great food, however there was a hitch with Tortune's chosen location; the girl behind the counter.  She was slow to take an order and even slower to pour a drink.  Nothing terribly out of the ordinary until tears were shed over cheese, or should I say, lack of cheese.  Two people in the crowd had ordered food and the small venue had RUN OUT OF CHEESE.  Obviously this was a big deal and she began to go all shades of crazy.  Later, at one point during Sneakin' Out's cover of Dark Side of the Moon, our dear server lit a cigarette and smoked about half of it behind the counter.  Eyes still bloodshot from the cheese fiasco, she announces that despite everyone's enjoyment of Sneakin' Out, she will be closing down in 15 minutes.  Which brings my attention to the obviously sorely disappointed die hard fan with a seahorse broach and fanny pack dancing in her chair like a crazed gypsy; she was really something.
When the darling mess of a bartender had enough of us, she released this sound that reminded me of that scene in Jurassic Park when the fat guy gets spit on by the Dilophosaurus.  You know that amazing high-pitched sound the dino makes before he spits?  She did it almost exactly the same-totally awesome."

I don't know about you, but there are some things that I simply cannot do, and not paying for food which was served to me by a clearly unbalanced woman is one of them.  So, I paid.  Tortune finished their set, and, while the next band, Sneakin' Out, was setting up, I went out to ask Lex and Hilary if they would be my project's official band.  They seemed incredibly excited about it, and told me that they would research the project and let me know if they felt it was a good match.  During this time, Katie made small talk with the bartendress, and I cannot be sure, but I suspect she probably offered to help.

It was about that time that I noticed a larger man with a mohawk wearing a pink tutu.  Said man was putting together a percussion set which consisted of, among other things, a tambourine, bongos, a typewriter, a glockenspiel, cymbals, and, of course, a cow bell.  Another guy was carrying around a mandolin, getting it in tune.  It was a pretty crazy set up, and as I had never heard of this band before, I figured at the very least I was in for yet another wonderful Portland Oddity.  And then they started playing.  And I couldn't believe I was lucky enough to stand in the same room with them.  They were all incredibly gifted, incredibly tight, and their music was impressive, hysterical, and immensely enjoyable.  They covered Billy Squier, Black Sabbath, The Rolling Stones, Beethoven, Pink Floyd, and, of course, did a very nice instrumental of Nine to Five.  They did instrumental versions of so many songs, weaving melodies into each other, there were times I was convinced they could just keep adding in tunes and go on forever.  At one point, I found myself wondering why I hadn't first heard them in a basement.

They played and played, and with each instrumental, revealed more of their humor, expertise and breadth of knowledge.  They were fantastic.  We were singing along to the songs we knew, and cheering them on between numbers.  It was amazing the amount of sound these three men put out of their instruments.  It truly sounded like a larger band.  After a bit, I went outside to talk to Carie and listen to the band through the bar's open windows.  That is when I noticed people walking by carrying drums.  I assumed of course, as it was the week of the wretched Rose Festival, that this is why the drums were walking by with such regularity.  I soon found out it was an entirely different animal.

Jason, Katie and I decided to walk down the street near the end of the Sneakin' Out set, and as we walked down to the corner, discovered where all the drums were going.  There was a collection of roughly fifteen people, all dressed in white and red, most of them carrying drums, with a trombone and trumpet or two mixed in, tuning up, getting ready for Sneakin' Out to be finished.  As Sneakin' Out wound down, this amazing Brazilian-esque drum band, Free Beat Nation, started winding up.  Led by one guy in all white, they played, and started marching around the corner to the front of Eugenio's.  It was wonderful.  Jason and I started dancing, as Katie went to go find more beer.  They played Carnaval-style music, everyone around them dancing or filming with their iPhones or cameras.  Katie came back about mid-way through, beerless.  They played about five or six numbers, all fantastic, high-energy and incredibly fun.

Katie, Jason and I went down the street to grab one final drink and unwind from the night's festivities.  As Katie recounted later: "Victory is where our night wound down.  We talked about work, life, and where we might land in the future.  In these moments, I am overwhelmingly happy to be with a pair of amazing people to enjoy a drink with."

We all went our separate ways, Katie and Jason on their respective busses, and me on my bike.  It was a beautiful ride home, the air was crisp and I was still buzzing from Free Beat Nation.  Looking back, the whole night seemed magical, crazy bartendress and all.  Later, Katie told me that as she walked from her bus to her apartment in NW, she experienced an unfortunate side-effect one must sometimes endure during Rose Festival: "I was a couple of blocks away from my quaint studio apartment when a man on a bike goes by.  My attention was pulled from the bike rider to a black jeep filled with suburbanites yelling out its windows to the bike rider: "you're fucking homeless and a n$##er!"  For the rest of my short walk home I could not get their angry words out of my head. I fell asleep hoping the mystery bike rider knew just how much a disgusted bystander wished she could change that moment."

Looking back on the night and hearing Katie's recounting of her view of things, I have to wonder how it is that people as generous as those who fill the night air with amazing music share oxygen with those who fill it with hate speech.  I have often used the contrast of opposites in my writing to delineate balance and the value of great things, but I think I would find Tortune, Sneakin' Out, and Free Beat Nation just as wonderful without the existence of such hatred.  I would find my friends wonderful, quirky and hysterical, without the murky depths of fear and ignorance that sometimes surrounds them.  As surprising and out of the blue as that great music was, nothing is as shocking as hatred, nothing astounds as this type of ignorance.  I would still love Portland, and all the people in it, even if it did not come with this awful and unexpected music.

No comments:

Post a Comment